Jason Donovan, Kylie Minogue and Natalia Imbruglia are the biggest stars, but astonishingly Australian soap Neighbours also launched the music careers of many other actors, among them Deltra Goodrem, Holly Valance, Craig MacLachlan, Danni Minogue and Fletcher who, as Karl Kennedy, is one of the longest serving cast members. He’s previously released two albums as frontman with The Waiting Room and, following a recent EP, The Point is his solo debut on which, among others, he’s joined by Lachlan Bryan and guitars and keys and Luke Moller on fiddle, a sure sign of quality.
It’s melodic acoustic Americana with a sandpapery edge to the vocals and John Prine a clear reference point, indeed he includes a rather fine cover of ‘Fish and Whistle’, opening with the chiming fingerpicked guitar of the title track, a number which bizarrely incorporates the Cockney rhyming slang of frog and toad and dresses up a commentary on religion in a love song (“I can see the point/Of getting on my knees/And asking forgiveness/From someone I can please/I can see the point/Of seeking the truth/I don’t need it from God/Cause I can get it from you”) because, as he puts it, “what is the point/Of trying to get/Forgiveness from someone/You ain’t even met”.
Relationships are pretty much the basic staple, whether lost or found, the latter being the case with the somewhat Kristofferson-like ‘All That I Could Do To Set Her Free’ (“I never found a place I couldn’t leave/But there’s always a first time I believe/I never thought she’d get her hooks/So deep inside of me”) and the former on the strummed, reflective ‘Hey You’, a song for a friend who’s passed on (“you were my best friend/As a child/I miss ya/You helped me through the years/Can you help me now you’re not here…Are you really watching down on me/Or is that just make believe/Are you really there/Faith is blind/But I still need a sign/That you’re waiting down the line/For me to catch up to you”).
There’s a bluesy tinge to the gravelly ‘How Good is Bed’, a playful celebration of curling up under the covers after a day “Working for another man’s rules” because “Sleep is the most under-rated therapy/It’s better than any pill/The medicinal effect of lying horizontally/Designed to cure all ills” and, if you “Can’t sleep there’s copulation”.
The second half of the album follow a similar path with the Dobro-coloured break-up ‘Leaving’ (“Darlin the plans we made/The promises we spoke/What starts with fire/Ends in ash and smoke/I heard you say there’ll come a day/A promise would be broke/Darlin I’m leavin’/Coz one of us must go”), the Prine-flavoured regrets of time wasted in ‘Lost And Found’ (“The item of concern/Is a memory/It had fire in its eyes/It dreamed and made plans/To lofty heights it aspired/And it always took a stand/It was the envy of every man/the world was its oyster”) and that “It’s the saddest of times/When you look back/And realize/Just what you let slip away”.
‘Somebody’, a duet with Jennifer Hansen, has some ragtime blues picking and amusing lyrics about not taking responsibility for domestic screw–ups (“Somebody forgot to push record/Now we’ve got nothin to watch/Somebody left the lights on/How much is that gonna cost/Somebody left the door unlocked/Yeah well somebody was in a rush/Somebody left the seat up/Well, somebody forgot to flush”) but how it’s best not to apportion blame because “If we find out then somebody has to go/And if they leave then I’ll be left here on my own/Without somebody this house/Just ain’t no home”.
It heads to the end with the upbeat, brushed drums shuffle of ‘Jack’, a memory of his late grandfather and the stories of the many lives he lived (soldier, drifter, pioneer, farmer) that manages to sneak in a reference to a Holden Brougham, an Australian luxury car from the late 60s. From restlessness it shifts to calm and contentment with the resonator guitar and piano slow swaying ‘Quiet Time’ (“They’re home again on Saturday night/In their own bubble, of their own design/The children are sleeping, while they’re drinking wine/What more could they ever want?”), finally closing with the bluegrass-inflected country waltzing ‘Dance Through The Time’ and another about finding a partner to be your anchor in life (“Won’t you come with me/On a dance through time/You can show me your steps/I can show you mine/Join with me/In a serenade/I will sing your praises/Till the end of days”), in a poignant tale of being there for someone when things fall apart (“I loved you when you met him/I loved you when he left/I loved you when I told you/I can be your friend”), but not tempting fate by putting things into words (“Never will I speak of love/Lest it tear us apart”).
He’s never going to do a ‘I Should Be So Lucky’, ‘Too Many Broken Hearts’ or ‘Torn’, but if folksy Americana is your music, then you could do far worse than making this neighbour a good friend.
Artist’s website www.alanfletcher.net
‘Fish And Whistle’ – originally released on the EP Dispatches: