Jason Freddi “Dreaming Australia” (LP) 

It’s always invigorating discovering a singer/songwriter that you haven’t heard of before. There’s a thrill for music devotees when you hear them for the first time. You take in their musical idiosyncrasies with surprise, listen for distinctive turns of phrases, and draw common reference points with other artists, if such reference points exist. I came into Jason Freddi’s Dreaming Australia wholly unfamiliar with Freddi as either a performer or writer and finished my first pass through the nine-track release convinced I heard a powerful songwriting voice working near or at the peak of his impressive powers.

INSTAGRAM: https://www.instagram.com/jason_freddi/

He begins the album with one of its best songs. “Water to Drink” held my attention for a number of reasons, but the highlights for me are his vocal delivery and flawless writing. He eschews even a single extraneous word and does a jaw-dropping job of balancing the social concerns underlying the lyrics with its often pointed and evocative imagery. Dreaming Australia adopts an acoustic tilt for much of the album, even when Freddi involves other musicians, and this opener introduces us to his approach.

“Solid Rock” is another example of singing and message merging to create something indelible. He’s pulling from another writer’s pen for this specific track, covering Australian rockers Goanna. I hadn’t heard this song before Freddi’s album and it sent me scurrying back to compare his version to the original. Goanna’s take on the song is still powerful over forty years after its initial recording but tied to its times, whereas Freddi’s interpretation possesses an instant timelessness. It’s the musical treatment and, once again, the vocal that helps send it over the top.

“I Support Coal Mining” has an interesting balance between “talk-singing” and regular vocals that kept me listening. It embraces the topical a little more overtly than other tracks on Dreaming Australia and its debts to folk music, even the American variety, leap out at you bolder and more obvious than ever before. “West Arrernte Rain Song”, his co-writing contribution with producer and multi-instrumentalist Isaac Barter, comes at the album’s midway point and has a pastoral feel despite its lean and bare-bones musical identity. It’s admirable how, time after time, Freddi manages to transmute distinctly Australian concerns into all-encompassing ones that resonate with listeners of every persuasion.

SOUNDCLOUD: https://soundcloud.com/jasonfreddi

He underlines that with another cover, this time of John Williamson’s “A Bushman Can’t Survive on City Lights”. The dislocation and eloquent sorrow of the song gains a lot from its acoustic setting. It’s a wise decision on Freddi’s part to jettison the harmonica present in the original and, instead, keep the listener’s attention with nothing more than vocals and acoustic guitar. It helps us focus even more on the fine lyrics and their message. “A Song of Glory” finishes the album on a similar note. It’s a great song of leave-taking that reinforces Freddi’s artistic commitment and the intimate, if sometimes ambivalent, relationship he shares with his homeland. Affection and discontent exist side by side. It’s a more than proper ending for Dreaming Australia and whets my appetite for more from Jason Freddi in the future.

Mark Druery