I must admit – as a headbanging kid trying to learn to play AC/DC tunes in the 1980s – I did not get Midnight Oil. There were no shredding solos for a start and the band members had short (or no) hair. This all changed for me when I saw them play a packed Sydney Entertainment Centre during their Blue Sky Mining tour, sometime around 1990. I’ve no idea how I had missed Rob Hirst’s visceral drumming, the force and invention of Moginie and Rotsey’s guitars and Peter Garrett’s larger than life persona, but I’ve been a fan ever since. When Declan Kelly’s Oils tribute Diesel n’DubÂ Â came up for review I was keen for a listen.
Declan Kelly has been a fixture on the reggae and roots scene in Australia for some time now in solo mode and with his band The Rising Sun. He’s also no stranger in bringing people together for albums, such as his Neighbourhood project. For Diesel n’Dub he has assembled a stellar cast of Australian vocalists to feature on the tracks. In addition to his role as producer, Kelly sings and takes care of the drumming duties.
Stylised tribute albums are often fuelled by self-conscious irony (Frank Bennett cheerfully crooning Radiohead’s ‘Creep‘‘) or just plain silliness (anyone remember Dread Zepplin?). Diesel n’Dub easily sidesteps this. The tracks are reimagined with an authenticity that honours the integrity of the original pieces on two levels.
Firstly, Kelly’s reggae pedigree is beyond doubt and he has pulled together a killer band who understand the genre. Additionally, the potent lyrical content is emphasised, given the relative musical sparseness of the new tracks. Kelly notes, “…to invite prominent Indigenous singers to sing the parts once sung by Peter Garrett seemed very fitting.â€ Emma Donovan’s forceful take on ‘The Dead Heart’s and Frank Yamma’s intense vocal on ‘Beds are Burning’ delivers these songs with fresh perspective. When Yamma sings “it belongs to us” – Garrett, of course, sang them – it’s a very powerful moment on the album.
The tracks featured on Diesel n’Dub are well chosen and most move seamlessly into their new stylistic home. ‘Power and the Passion’ opens with it’s familiar horn lines, but it’s Kelly’s half time backbeat that shifts the piece. Katie Noonan takes on the jerky vocal phrasing and imbues it with an effortless ease and grace. The dubbed out tribute to the most iconic drum solo in Aussie rock is a treat, too.
Tony Hughes’ regular gig is fronting reggae stalwarts Kingtide, so it’s no surprise he sounds so at home on this record. He delivers the goods on an exuberant ‘King of the Mountain’, with The Stiff Gins backing vocals adding a Wailers type vibe. Pat Powell brings his enigmatic spoken word to both ‘Beds are Burning’ and ‘Read About It’s – joined on the latter by The Stiff Gins in fine form.
Alex Lloyd delivers a haunting ‘Armistice Day’ whilst Kelly himself sings a beautiful version of ‘Truganini’. ‘Put Down That Weapon’ works so well as a reggae tune you’d wonder why it wasn’t always done that way as Tina Harrod’s vocal shifts from smooth to stern in a great performance. Radical Son’s warm baritone brings a fitting melancholy to ‘Short Memory’, although I’m not convinced the song is the best candidate for a dub make over.
The album was mixed by Mad Professor, who also contributed a remix of ‘Beds are Burning’, laden with fuzzed out echoes.
On paper, the thought of a Midnight Oil tribute album done in reggae and dub styles is odd to say the least. However, Diesel n’Dub clearly works so well on a multitude of levels.
Proceeds from the album go to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation.