I’ve been listening to Stu Larsen’s new EP Ryeford, and I want to tell you about it. Before I do, there are two things you need to know.
Firstly, I’m not a music reviewer, or a music professional, or even a musician. And this is a not a place you would normally read about music. The fact that I can’t help writing about Ryeford might tell you something about it.
The second is that the artist I’m going to write about, Stu Larsen, is my cousin. We’re related. I may be biased. You can judge. The truth is, that I listened to the music because Stu is my cousin. But I listened again (and again, and again) because I was captured by it.
Ryeford is Stu’s third release (depending on how you count). It was pulled together in a farmhouse on Queensland’s Darling Downs near the community of the same name. Consisting of just five tracks, it’s a short, focussed and powerful piece of work. And it’s a qualitatively different piece from the earlier stories that Stu sings. They were very good. This is something more, something else, something….special.
Stu is a musician, and that matters. But more, he is a poet, a story teller. And most importantly, he’s a story-inviter. I don’t know how he does it (and I don’t know if he realises it), but Stu’s music not only tells his story, but evokes your own (or my own….how about I just talk about my response since that’s what Ryeford offers?).
Ryeford is a story of the road. It is a story of rolling hills, of forests, of plains and open grasslands. It is a story of sea, and waves, of boats and trains. It is a story of home. It is a story of every place, and no place.
It’s Stu’s story. His life is one lived on the road. Constantly moving, searching, creating, listening, wondering, finding friends, finding home. And all of that becomes clear in Ryeford.
are we moving anywhere at all?
cradled by the comfort in the cold floor
and the open road that stretches
by the wayside fire
i hate that houses become homes
i’d rather make mine where I go
Listening to Ryeford, just like listening to Stu’s previous work, is like being invited into a personal and private place. A place where Stu peels back the layers to let you look inside. The music strips away everything, leaving him raw and exposed. It’s a tremendous privilege, and at times feels almost like I should apologise to Stu for evesdropping on what is so fundamentally a personal story.
And yet, in it, in the music, in the song, the story, I find myself. My life could not be further from Stu’s, but I am there in these stories.
Most powerfully, I find myself drawn to contemplate what place means to me. How does place shape me? How does place capture, or hide me? Every place, and no place.
My job takes me many places, working with many people, and constantly asking them to think about what place means to them. How does their place command their attention, offer life, provide possibility? And somehow in the midst of pointing to place for everyone, I find myself losing touch with my own place. I am everywhere, and nowhere.
Or at least that’s the story that Stu draws from me as I listen to Ryeford. Again, and again.
The music is haunting, beautiful, simple and complex. It is raw and honest. Fingers scrape on strings, breath sounds. Stu curls his vocal chords delightfully, making an everyday word a thing of beauty. It is at times fun, playful, inviting. At other times ridden with angst, almost-but-not-quite pain.
I can’t stop listening.
In a five-track EP with five songs I love, the highlight for me is without question the fourth track, This Train.
This Train makes its own images. I see the video that goes with this song, scenes flashing, evoked by the lyric and projected inside me. It is insistent and restless, but somehow safe and comfortable. It soars across the western plains of Queensland, sits at a farmhouse kitchen table, all dust and insects, warm days and cool nights. It might just be the most quintessentially Australian song I know.
I don’t know how to categorise Ryeford. I don’t have the labels. You’ll just have to trust me and listen.
And you should.
Because we are cousins, I want Ryeford to work for Stu. But because I have listened to Ryeford, I want you to encounter this music, this collection.
To see if it invites a story from you.
Maybe a story of every place, and no place. Or maybe something different.
You can find This Train and Paper Sails, the first single from the album, over at Triple J Unearthed.
Or you can find the whole of Ryeford at itunes.
Or you can find Stu here.
And you can see what Ryeford is about, where it comes from, how it is shaped, as you look in on Stu and his friends creating something special: