album review: roger knox – stranger in my land

NEVER FORGET

Roger Knox & the Pine Valley Cosmonauts – Stranger In My Land. Out 2/12, Bloodshot Records.

One of the reasons I love Bloodshot Records — besides the fact that they release consistently great records, and also that they love me back, which is all I ask for from a record label — is that they are not afraid of anything in a release. Nothing, ever. If they believe in a record, they will put it out. They believe in this record; Jon Langford, who masterminds a lot of things behind Bloodshot collective projects, discovered Roger Knox, who is an Indigineous Australian Country / Western singer known in Australia as the Koori King of Country, and was instrumental in bringing this album to Bloodshot.

It’s Knox’s first US release and first LP of any kind since 2004, and it is an album of giant reach and deep personal connection; as the title Stranger In My Land suggests, the songs on this record take on many of the problems, heartbreaks, and acts of stupendous discrimination that the indigenous populations have suffered in Australia. The songs are songs of Knox’s fellow and past Indigineous Austrlian county / western artists, and he’s backed by the Pine Valley Cosmonauts as well as Kelly Hogan, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, and what may be Charlie Louvin’s last performance.

This record made me cry at my desk at work, with the strength and hope and despair of its songs. It is a document of survival and of happiness and of terrible injustices, and it feels as much personal and tiny as it speaks for an entire people. It ranges from a few great honky-tonk songs (“The Land Where The Crow Flies Backward” and “Scobie’s Dream”) to a few staggeringly gorgeous ballads, like “Took The Children Away”, a song about the separation of native children from the families. The Pine Valley Cosmonauts are always great musicians, and Langford has put a fantastic cast together, which just shows the care that was taken with this album.

Stranger In My Land showcases a musical genre I didn’t know existed, and uses the mastery of that to highlight terrible heartbreak and joy of sociological issues I didn’t know happened. It is a little painful, and a lot worthwhile. Knox has made a remarkable record that pays great tribute to what he has done, and suffered, and achieved, as well as what his fellow musicians were doing, and Langford and Sally Tims and Bloodshot have all assisted in putting this remarkable record into our hands.

It’s one of the best records of 2013 so far, and probably continuing forward. Nothing else you listen to this year will be nearly so important. You can buy the record on CD or digitally here, and you should.

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