1998 – Outside Music
The second album from Australian folk trio The Waifs is an entrancingly beautiful acoustic ride through the wide brown plains and sun drenched gums that make up the distinctive sound of folk music Down Under. Starting off with softly melodic Heart Lies this record instantly captures the imagination and moves it to sublime new places, and the listener is not let down as they are instantly gratified with the mellow-pop follow up People Who Think They Can. The vocals are all so perfectly harmonized, and the guitar lines are so deliciously earthy that it really is hard not to get lost in the smooth sounds of this delightful little record. Really it is a treat to hear.
Don’t get the wrong impression though, Shelter Me is not all patchouli and Joan Baez; no, this album also has its fair share in the way of out and out rock songs with just a little bit of a rock twist. The catchy, beat driven title track, for instance, injects the record with a good burst of energy to keep the listener interested before swinging them straight into the tender tear-jerker of Lest We Forget, and the raw blues of Time To Part works incredibly well even if it doesn’t bring in any drums.
I would, however, liked to have heard slightly more of these rockier numbers, or at least had them spread out a bit better throughout the album rather than having them predominantly loaded near the beginning. I mean, it’s all well and good to get my hopes up with an enchanting mixture of pure folk melodies and solid rock beats, but it’s just cruel if you don’t deliver what was promised by halfway through the record. This is a relatively small quibble I have with Shelter Me, however, as even the more folksy songs are well composed and performed enough to keep my interest the whole way through, and none of the tracks come across as throwaway even in the slightest.
Besides the wonderfully handled stylistic balance on this record I also have to credit the very fine musicianship that is heard throughout the album. I mean, the guitar lines are simply yet never boring, with occasional flourishes that send tingles down the spine, and the Simpson sisters’ have an amazing vocal talent for providing immense power and subtle understatement all at the time. It really is something that has to be heard to be believed the way these two women sing. Possibly my favourite Australian vocalists of all time (perhaps not, but as I listen to the record right now I can’t seem to make myself bring any others to mind).
So, in conclusion I have to say that The Waif’s Shelter Me really is a magnificent album full of depth and complexity that is worthy of high praise and high acclaim. Each and every track on it weaves a golden thread of subtle beauties mixed in with a strikingly bright sense of earthy worldliness that all work together to form a spectacularly powerful record.
I can’t really say that it’s one the greatest records of all time, because it really isn’t (heck, it’s not even the best Waifs record!). I mean is has its share of issues and small pitfalls, but despite these trifling matters it remains something that really does deserve a good hard listen. And when you do I think it’s something that you’ll have a hard time not falling in love with it. It truly is a must have for any Australian music fan.
And here is the sublime track Lest We Forget from Shelter Me
The bonus track Billy Jones (Jazz Version) tacked on at the end of Shelter Me deserves an honorable mention, not because it really adds anything in particular to the flow and charm of this record, but because it’s just a whole load of fun, and what’s an Australian folk album without just little bit of fun?