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Out Of The Wildes

18 March 2012 | 2:38 pm | Staff Writer

With the wildes on hiatus, Lachlan Bryan is emerging as one of this country’s brightest country hopes, writes Doug Wallen.

For his first solo album, The Wildes frontman Lachlan Bryan didn't do anything by half measures. He teamed with mainstream producer Rod McCormack (Paul Kelly, Adam Harvey), signed to McCormack's label Core and enlisted such guests as Catherine Britt and Kasey Chambers. But what makes Shadow Of The Gun such a success is its directness and clarity. The Wildes may have flirted with alt.country, but the Melbourne songwriter is going for something more universal.

Bryan downplays his talents, explaining that McCormack got him to sing while playing guitar rather than doing purely vocal takes. Coupled with the fact that most of the album was recorded live with a crack backing line-up, that kept Bryan from overthinking his vocals. “I was just singing it with the band,” he says, adding that instrumentally, “I was definitely the weakest player in the room.”

Bryan met McCormack after several mutual friends had said they'd get along. McCormack introduced him to the music of Mickey Newbury and Darrell Scott and found that they shared a deep love of songwriters like Townes Van Zandt, Gram Parsons, Steve Earle and John Prine. The partnership also made sense because Bryan wanted an album with the songs dominant but also nicely recorded rather than lo-fi. His latest experience before that was trying to record a second Wildes album in back sheds, and “it just wasn't really sounding right.”

So what is the status of that band, whose first album Ballad Of A Young Married Man showed so much promise in 2009? “People have different things they want to do with their lives,” begins Bryan, “and being in the band was a pretty time-consuming experience without being in any way financially rewarding.” Laughing, he notes, “I was the one guy in the band who didn't have any kind of career going on. Or even prospects of one.” Other members of the band either had full-time jobs or were pursuing degrees or looking at buying a house.

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Still, that didn't keep The Wildes from testing the waters for a follow-up record. “I was trying to keep us together to record an album,” admits Bryan. “Because I was doing some solo gigs, I was writing songs a bit differently. We were just all going in separate directions, but we're [still] not prepared to say that we're no longer a band.” He adds: “We're friends first and a band second, in a way.”

Meanwhile, Shadow Of The Gun is a calling card Bryan can be proud of. It's more like polished singer/songwriter country (minus the cheese) than alt.country or folk rock, but it's exceptionally well done. There's a bona fide crowd-quieting ballad in Secret I'll Take To My Grave, and Home Of The Blues is rightly compared to Hank Williams in the press sheet. The album title comes from a line in Going Straight, while Bryan defies expectations by making a song called Things You Left Behind all too warm and uplifting and I'd Rather Sing In Churches (“Cause I'm tired of being in bars”) more upbeat and bluesy than you'd ever predict.

On the topic of churches, though, there's talk of “my saviour” in Going Straight. While Bryan says he hates Christian rock, especially the self-righteousness of it, “I'm drawn to the God bits of country music. Religion was introduced to me via the church of Johnny Cash.” He continues: “I have a loose form of Christianity I believe in, but I don't attend church. And when it comes to writing songs, growing up with feelings of guilt and wanting to be redeemed comes up a lot.”

Touring solo, Bryan is soon supporting his hero Steve Earle and England's Ahab, as well as touring New South Wales and Queensland and hitting BluesFest. That's a career high for Bryan, who before The Wildes toiled in his share of short-lived acts. “In Melbourne bands form and un-form every week,” he muses. “I was in a few of those.”