MICHAEL WAUGH – Beauty & Truth (Compass Bros Music)

Beauty & LoveAustralian Michael Waugh’s Beauty & Truth is a strong-voiced melodic folk album (produced by Shane Nicholson!) graced with a dramatic live buzz of electric guitar, drums, and bass – with the brave intent to “really grab at the truth and look at”.

The first song, ‘We Are Here’, is a big proclamation for the people “who have always been here” who will not “be silent anymore”. It’s a classic song of defiance, in Michael’s case, his gay sexual orientation; but in the tradition of great writing, it touches a universal voice that sings in brotherhood with those long-ago symbolic Diggers, who defied society’s norms and unconventionally punctuated Emily Dickinson’s poetic belief that “Much madness is divinest sense”. The great Dick Gaughan sings tunes like this one. Perhaps the song’s sting is more infectious as St. George’s Hill is now (Thank you, Wikipedia!) “a 964-acre private gated community with golf and tennis clubs”. John Lennon lived there, but it’s uncertain whether he played golf or tennis.

Then ‘Fix Me’ gets a folk-rock ride worthy of an Oysterband nod. Of course, the title is ironic, in that the chorus declares, “You can’t fix me I’m not broken”.  It’s another defiant comment against society’s commandments. Indeed, as (the great) Richard Thompson once sang, “We’re all working for the Pharaoh”.   

The title song, ‘Beauty And Truth’, slows the pulse with a confessional love song, with a prism’s glance into a wide open heart.

Indeed, and it’s just an observation, but this record will certainly appeal to fans of (the great!) Ralph McTell, circa his You Well-Meaning Brought Me Here album. Big compliment, that! Michael’s voice is forceful with a soft vaper trail. And the songs clutch a melodic timepiece’s second hand, and sing within that timeless paused pulse that pursues both Beauty & Truth.

That said, ‘Fathers’ Day’ is a distilled rainbow of remembrance and sad admission of “what I wouldn’t give” for “a call at three AM, hey dad can you take me home?” The song sings with the same beauty as Allan Taylor’s ‘My Father’s Room’, but it’s filled with lovely and bleeding images of a complex relationship carved into an always hopeful greeting card.

The tough and sweet tunes continue. ‘Out’ is a stern confession about being “an angry boy” who morphs into “an angry man”. John Lennon once yelled for “Help!” and Jackie Leven (he with the Troubadour Heart) sang about “A boy trapped in a man’s life”. This is brilliant psychological stuff.

And ‘Moved’ is the butterfly melody emerging from its cocoon. This, too, is brilliant psychological stuff.

Then, ‘Playlist’ stirs an acoustic cauldron and, once again, sings with a forceful voice with a soft vapour trail, recalling Ralph McTell’s urgency.

And ‘Young And Dumb’ spins a quick-step vocal, with banjo backing, that ignites defiant jet fuel into yet another coming-to-awareness proclamation against a society that is always way too quick to pass its conformist judgment.

The canvas broadens: The fiery ‘Songs About Women’, paints a picture of a “culture…antagonistic to half the population”. It’s a brilliant song crying for universal acceptance beyond any personal cause. That’s the “beauty and some truth” of this album. And then the song ‘Patsy Cline’ spills gender into a lovely dancefloor labyrinth, where it’s all right, for anyone, to “like to get my heart broken”. And the final word is given to the upbeat ‘To Be Alive’ – and (forever and a day!) “To be in love, to be inspired, to be alive”.

It’s a shame – not for a man to be “moved” with complicated emotions, but rather, for a society that still clings to an aged adage where, as the great Leon Rosselson declared, “The clergy dazzle us with heaven/Or they damn us into hell”. Yeah, perhaps, we are all still “Working for the Pharoah”. But Beauty & Truth sings more hopeful and always defiant songs glimpsed through (the always-mentioned) Emily Dickinson’s “certain Slant of light” – a “light” that understood “Heavenly hurt”, yet sings, thankfully, with the revelation that “We can find no scar”.

Bill Golembeski

Artist’s website: https://www.michaelwaugh.com.au/

‘Father’s Day’ – official video: