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The Whitlams Black Stump Share Resounding Debut Album ‘Kookaburra’

8 March 2024 | 10:38 am | Ellie Robinson

“Country music has a strong sense of time and place, so clothing my stories in a country music coat seemed like a natural progression to me.”

The Whitlams Black Stump

The Whitlams Black Stump (Credit: Damian Bennett)

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After more than three decades as one of Australia’s best and most iconic indie-rock bands, Tim Freedman and The Whitlams have officially marked a new era with their debut album as The Whitlams Black Stump: the transformative and kaleidoscopic Kookaburra.

It also marks a shift in sound for the revered quintet, inspired heavily by the country music Freedman was moved by on drives along backroads between Gunnedah and Dubbo, Orange and Tamworth. “I am a parochial lyric writer,” Freedman noted in a press release, “and country music has a strong sense of time and place, so clothing my stories in a country music coat seemed like a natural progression to me. I had to scratch that itch and investigate.”

Kookaburra stands as a heartfelt ode to country, but as Freedman explained, it’s also a heartfelt ode to the country: “Even though I have inner-city indie DNA, I do feel that when I play a particular selection of my songs, solo in a country town, that I am particularly Australian. I’m giving them something especially local, as opposed to generic. When all those people come in who have heard me on ABC local radio over the years, one of the reasons they are there is because they appreciate songs about their own culture.”

The album itself came together over a “feverish” four days in the studio, with the crew including producers Matt Fell (who also played bass) and Rod McCormack (who played banjo and guitar), as well as Ollie Thorpe on pedal steel, Terepai Richmond on drums and George Washingmachine on the fiddle. In addition to the ripping new song Fallen Leaves, the tracklist sports a spread of classic Whitlams songs shone through a bright new lens, and showstopping covers of tracks by Neil Young, Bernie Hayes and Perry Keyes.

Touching on why he chose to cover the lattermost artist’s 2003 tune The Day John Sattler Broke His Jaw, Freedman declared it “probably the best inner western country song there is”. He added, “The next best is my favourite Bernie Hayes song, Your Boyfriend’s Back In Town, which is a title that was crying out to become a country song.”

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As for how The Whitlams’ own tracks have been given new life, Freedman noted: “One important technical aspect of the album is that when I am redoing a Whitlams song they are now sung in a lower register than they used to be. As you get older your voice lowers, and it’s more natural to be able to convey them now in an age-appropriate key. I can unleash the crooner within!”

To accompany Kookaburra, The Whitlams Black Stump are heading out on a massive national tour, kicking off tonight (March 8) at Lizotte’s in Newcastle. All up there are 23 dates on the itinerary, rolling on through to the start of June – head here for info on all the shows they’ve got coming up. Then head here to get your ears around Kookaburra.

Kookaburra follows the release of The Whitlams’ 2022 album Sancho, which itself came as their first full-length effort in 16 years (following 2006’s Little Cloud). In a four-star review for TheMusic.com.au, Liz Giuffre called that last release “a mixed bag rather than a themed album”, and noted that “while there are flashes of the different ‘types’ of Whitlams of the past, Sancho carves its own path”.

Reviewing one of The Whitlams’ live shows in 2022, David James Young wrote: “A perfect balance is struck across the play-through – each song remains as emotive and vital as the first time you heard it, but the tweaks and twists along the way allow for the album as a whole to be appreciated in a new light.”