“I’ve got no soul/Cos country music to me sounds like rock’n’roll,” admits Fraser A Gorman on ‘Broken Hands’. On his debut album ‘Slow Gum’, the singer-songwriter and part-time carpenter makes it easy to imagine his younger self hanging posters of Bob Dylan and Hank Williams on his bedroom wall rather than more typical teenage idols like David Bowie or Kurt Cobain. Gorman says it himself on opener ‘Big Old World’ as he sighs “It’s a strange old time to be in love with Elvis” but his twanging guitars, coarse strings and drawled tales of love and life feel less like homages and more instinctive and organic.
Like country’s luminaries, the 24-year-old Melbourne resident has a knack for vivid storytelling. ‘Big Old World’ tells of “a boy from north Melbourne” who “nearly killed himself sipping life from a lead paint-filled balloon”, and ‘the girl from New York City” who “nearly lost her mind gazing out of the window of her hotel room”. It’s wistful and picturesque, Gorman’s words doing detailed brushwork as they echo over his roughly strummed acoustic guitar. ‘Book Of Love’ has the singer on bustling high streets and lounging by swimming pools, trying to woo a girl who’s chaperoned by her rock’n’roll-hating mother. ‘Blossom & Snow’, meanwhile, finds Gorman delving into more heartfelt territory on a visit to his father’s grave. “I go talk to him/He don’t say much,” he relays over gently picked guitar and sad bursts of harmonica.
It’s not just country’s first generation of stars that Gorman emulates, though. ‘My Old Man’ has tinges of Ryan Adams in its blustering Americana, complete with fiddle and swinging chorus. ‘Mystic Mile’, with its thundering drums and lilting organ, feels more akin to Wings’ more epic moments, while the surf-y shuffle of ‘Never Gonna Hold You (Like I Do)’ offers up snatches of backing vocals reminiscent of The Supremes. The production, too, is largely crisp and glimmering, adding a modern gild to a debut that breathes new life into old sounds.