The Australian blues scene is not one I’m particularly well-acquainted with, though I do remember a gig I attended in Fremantle over a decade ago as featuring one of the best electric blues bands I’ve ever heard. However, Hat Fitz and Cara are new to my ears, though their album After the Rain is apparently their fourth. The CD is due for release in the UK on December 5th, 2016. It’s far from being ‘pure’ blues, but it has deep roots in the idiom.
The bulk of the vocals are taken by Cara Robinson, with harmonies and the occasional lead vocal by Hat Fitz (apparently known to Cara as Fitzy, but that seemed a little over-familiar for a reviewer who’s never met them). Cara also plays ‘vintage drums’ and washboard, while Hat plays electric guitar, Beeton resonator guitar, and mandolin. Dave Stephenson adds trombone and trumpet to ‘After The Rain.’ The songs are all credited to Hat Fitz and Cara, and are “inspired by true events of our lives past and present.” Which sounds like the worst kind of rock star self-indulgence, but in fact these are songs that deal with situations with which most of us can identify. No trashed hotel rooms here.
‘Going Home’ has an electric guitar opening strangely reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Albatross’, but is lifted by Cara’s powerful vocals and some effective lyrics into a bluesy ballad. As on most of the tracks here, the sparse instrumentation has the drums well to the fore.
‘Doing It Again’ has also been released as a single, with Cara’s vocals solidly supported by mandolin and drums. ‘After The Rain’ again features Cara’s vocals and Hat’s electric guitar, propelled by snare-heavy drumming and sparse brass.
‘Tank Man’ is a boogie-ish piece with overdubbed slide and lead vocals from Hat. If you like Seasick Steve, you may well like this too. The next track, ‘Rosie Hackett’, is actually my favourite: a slow ballad/story song with sensitive slide echoing the vocals, an attractive tune, and restrained percussion. ‘Try’ has a false outro that I found rather wearying, and the ‘real’ call-and-response outro is extended too far for my taste. The guitar is slightly off-pitch in places, too. The recording has an anthemic tone that I suspect works very well live, though.
The lead vocal ‘Won’t Bow Down’ is another boogie-ish piece dominated by Hat’s vocals, interspersed with some evocative wordless chanting. In the slower ‘Running Man’ Cara’s vocals are underwritten by bluesy guitar. The vocal includes some interesting vocal call-and-response effects in a song that I could well imagine as another single. ‘Keep’n On’ includes unison vocals by Cara and Hat, and concludes the album in suitably upbeat style.
I can see – or rather hear – why this duo is so popular: given Cara’s hard-hitting, soulful vocals, it’s not surprising that she has received an Australian Female Blues Vocalist of the Year award, though ‘Rosie Hackett’ shows that she can sing subtly and sensitively too. The songs are generally excellent. The instrumentation, often stripped right down to guitar (or mandolin) and drums, means that the drums are very in-yer-ears. A little too much so for my taste, though I’ve no reservations about Cara’s technique, and the balance is probably just right for live gigs as a duo. And, I suspect, some will find that same emphasis on percussion very danceable.
Artist’s website: http://www.hatfitzandcara.com/
‘Doing It Again’ – live and official: