March 2023: Emma Donovan & The Putbacks
I’ve been following and presenting music from Australian acts for the past 15 years or so. Fat Freddy’s Drop, Public Opinion Afro Orchestra and, of course, Hiatus Kaiyote are always on the radar. There have been a couple of dropped plans to see Hiatus Kaiyote in nearby cities, and this May in Maryland may be the right time and place.
Emma Donovan, an indigenous singer-songwriter with her renowned family band The Donovans, is an award-winning performer who has been applauded by both Wax Poetics and Rolling Stone magazine. I discovered her through her collaboration with Melbourne act The Putbacks. Their 2020 album Crossover and 2022’s Under These Streets have received multiple awards from the Australian Independent Record Labels Association (AIR). Last week, it was announced that an Emma Donovan & The Putbacks US tour will be making an early stop in Pittsburgh. Having played a single here and there from Crossover on The Soul Show, it was time to give the album an end-to-end review.
Crossover covers everything from rockish soul to soulish folk. Australia definitely puts its own spin on the genre, sometimes with edgy guitar and chanting backdrops. The tracks most familiar to a stateside ear would be the opening ballad and title track. “Don’t Give Up On Me” brings a spacy vibe reminiscent of Bilal’s collaborations with Adrian Younge. “Hold On” is another ballad, and one of the prettiest songs on the album. “Mob March” brings an interplay of slide and lead guitar to a conscious theme, and the background singers/chanters deliver thickness behind Emma’s own powerful delivery. The song gets downright psychedelic by the end. “Yarian Mitji” and “Warrell Creek” are spoken in indigenous tongue(s); the former has some serious Rod Argent keyboard vibe, for the old Brit rockers out there.. “Pink Skirt” is perfect storytelling. “Pretty One” is the album’s folk/soul closer, and it is a perfect example of how to sequence album tracks, leaving the listener in the right end state. If for no other reason, soul lovers need to hear Crossover to experience how America’s soul music backtracks through the diaspora.
Emma Donovan and The Putbacks perform at Pittsburgh Playhouse on March 25th.
In the last quarter of 2020, Pittsburgh City Paper created a space for soulshowmike’s album picks. Archives are available at your fingertips. Enjoy.
[from March 2023 on, SSMAP will revert to exclusive posting at soulshowmike.org]