CD FEATURE – 2020
HOLDING BACK THE LEVEE (INDIE)
PANDEMIC PICKET LINES PSALM
“There's a picket line on the lawn/ families screaming, lives are torn/ there's nowhere left to go/ along with everyone you know/ rumours turn to tears/ nightly news relays the fears/now who can hold the torch/ who can stand and keep watch/ now I don't know what to say this time/ just a face in a long, long line.” A Face In A Long Line - Mitch Dean.
Timing is everything in music - just ask Edithvale singer-songwriter Mitch Dean.
The guitarist and songwriter for Mornington Peninsula band The Distance wrote his evocative social comment anthem A Face In A Long Line well before the pandemic decimated the health and economy of his home state and way beyond.
But, unlike the New York City and Washington trump chump he didn't descend into jingoism to gloss over the colossal casualties crushing humanity in a vain transparent campaign to win an election.
Instead Dean illustrated the plight of peers and fellow human beings suffering in a vivid video that headlines Nu Country TV this Saturday - July 11.
The singer's new album entrée song A Face In A Long Line is a good example of the power of roots country music as a mirror of society.
Equally importantly it could be a trigger for an optimistic rebound after the latest storms of life recede.
But right now with lockdowns turning long suffering poverty stricken residents into prisoners of politicians it's a mirthless mirror.
Dean blends news footage of Centrelink queues, front page headlines and random workers and families into a powerful portrayal of our plight.
The singer super-imposed his guitar and harmonica playing into scenes filmed at locales diverse as Pura Milk factory at Chelsea Heights and locked up factories.
“ A Face In A Long Line is one that I really loved for its overall sound and encapsulates all the things I was trying to reach for,” Dean revealed.
“The story it tells feels very relevant for what our country and the whole world is going through right now. It's a song that documents hardship and paints the portrait of a worker seeking to look after their family as the world twists and turns around them. It's the harsh anonymity of becoming a statistic in troubled times.”
Dean is a long-time employee of J V Marine in nearby Braeside - a business that also employed Trevor Swift, father of award-winning Berwick country singer-songwriter Andrew Swift.
So how much did the plight of Dean's fellow workers impact his song?
“Yes, a handful did lose their jobs,” Mitch explained.
“It's been very hard times. The Government assistance has been a saving grace. Things have bounced back over the past month. No more overseas trips and no Melbourne Boat Show has helped with sales for sure. And maybe people not being allowed to fish made a lot look at their boats and look to upgrade.”
GUN FIGHT AT CORRAL IN THE SKY
“Roaming the streets like an only son/ holding on tight to his father's gun/ hiding in the shadows till the moment slips away/ his best friend Jackie by his side/ target of laughter all their lives/ they only wished to see a smile start to fade.” - His Father's Gun - Mitch Dean.
“I had the first few lines written on a piece of paper from many years ago and stumbled upon them and thought I could make a story from it. I really like that style of song where you just conjure up a totally fictitious story. To me it feels like it's based in the 50's. Like the movie Stand By Me kind of setting. That's what was in my head, I think.”
Equally evocative is the poverty primed prediction of What Can Go Wrong where the singer expands on the wisdom of saving up pennies for a rainy day.
“What can go wrong is a fictional tale of a couple who are down on their luck,” Mitch explained.
“Things always seemed to go wrong. And the guy in the story trying to reassure his gal that things are going to get better. Thrift shop counters, it's all in the past, just say you will now the dye has been cast.".
Dean's latest release had a long incubation with parallels to his early songwriting.
“I started this album three years ago,” says Dean.
“I just write my songs in a small back shed. And do the demos at home.”
Recording is more streamlined with production by Colin Leadbetter at local studios The Aviary in Abbotsford and EOR in Edithvale.
Album guests include James Gillard on bass guitar and vocals, Damian Carafella on drums, acoustic and electric guitars and mandolin and legendary Sam See on piano and organ.
Celebrated singer-songwriter Kevin Bennett adds his vocals to the title track.
HOLDING BACK THE LEVEE
“Holding back the levee, I can't let it loose/ Oh lord would you believe/ got the whole town depending on me got the shakes in my arms/ feel an aching in my knees/ dark clouds closing in/ I'm thinking boy I hope they can swim/ their words calling out, brings an aching from within.” - Holding Back The Levee - Mitch Dean.
The album title track can be interpreted in many ways but it's not based on recent flood prevention by farmers and downstream denizens in Queensland , Gippsland and coastal communities.
“It's a metaphor,” Dean confessed.
“Someone holding onto a worry or a secret that kind of thing and not wanting to let it loose.”
It may seem like a sibling song of Let It Fall where a tree is used as a metaphor for creating something you lose control of.
“It was not an intentional sibling song (great that you remembered that previous song of mine) but someone else has drawn that comparison as well. But yes, the tree is a metaphor for a relationship. Two people who let it grow too tall and maybe should have not nurtured it when they knew it wouldn't work.”
Song analysis is a craft with diverse dimensions when you listen to Dean's songs.
The message is don't take all the songs too literally - especially Please Don't Wake Me where the father of one of the characters hits the bottle after a car crash.
“This is an imagined story,” Mitch recalled.
“I think I had the chorus line in my head and felt like it was meaning a car crash kind of story. Where he closes his eyes and sees his girl smiling so he doesn't want to be woken up as he misses her. So I worked backwards from there and conjured up a tale of a guy who took his girlfriend on a drive, but they have a crash and she dies. Then he talks about the shame of living in the town with all her family and friends still seeing him and blaming him.”
Dean doesn't write simplistic sagas so Broken Wing was definitely not inspired by an injured bird.
“ Broken Wing is about someone who couldn't be helped or didn't want to be helped no matter how much was offered,” Dean explained.
“Someone who you knew was always going to fall. The bird is the metaphor. We knew in time when this day would call, there'd be nothing there to break her fall."
The singer's salient sequencing is apparent.
He punctuates Broken Wing and Let It Fall with In The Stream – nostalgia fuelled flashback to an era long before the Internet, social media and other futuristic inventions.
You might recall when kids played in streets, paddocks and pastures of plenty and were not trapped by techno addiction.
Maybe that's why the character driving his life away didn't fall asleep at the wheel in Far Above My Head - the album's fitting finale - reaches his destination safely.
“I think he got there in the end,” Dean concluded.
“I like this song at the end too. It's a bit different to the rest and seemed like a good fit for the end of the album.”
You might ask why Dean's album received such a protracted prognosis.
Well, apart from the isolation precluding Dean and many peers from live concerts, festivals or even an historic hootenanny, it deserves to be heard and bought.
It's unlikely he will receive as much worthy mainstream exposure as his one-time duet peninsula partner James Reyne who survived harrowing health handicaps to also boomerang in July with a new album.
If you can't find Holding Back The Levee in your local record store you can contact Mitch direct at his web page.