When I read that Jason Freddi’s Dreaming Australia mixes immigrant Australian and Aboriginal strands and addressed the enormous changes transforming his native country, I expected an unwieldy and painfully topical release appealing to a niche audience. I am happy to say he confounded my expectations.
It’s a song collection that wouldn’t be out of place at an Americana music festival. His influences, as well, extend much further than the purview of his island home. Blues, a smattering of rock, folk, singer/songwriter, and Australian influences coalesce in these songs to present listeners with an idiosyncratic yet readily identifiable aesthetic.
He mixes his own material with well-established traditional songs and Australia-centric covers. “Water to Drink”, a Freddi-penned track, opens the album. The rustic musical accompaniment is fitting for several reasons, but one of the chief strengths is how it focuses the listener’s attention on Freddi’s lyrical acumen. Delivered with a weathered yet musical voice and conveyed via a captivating vocal melody, Freddi depicts the struggles of water scarcity with poetic eloquence.
“Solid Rock” is a definite highlight. This cover of the Australian band Goanna’s 1982 hit radiates a level of intensity that its predecessor lacked. Freddi’s vocals may strike some as a bit mannered, but others will hear a singer who gets under the skin of the song and claims it as his own. There’s no simplistic regurgitation of another band’s glories. It’s a vibrant and dramatic re-interpretation.
One of the album’s most interesting originals is “I Support Coal Mining”. There are listeners who will struggle with the literalness of the song, its title, and many of its lyrics, but a careful listen to the song reveals more. Freddi capably balances the artistry of declarative statements with much deeper and poeticized sentiments. The song’s key refrain ending each verse pins a sorrowful human note on an already gritty and heartfelt performance.
He teams with producer and multi-instrumentalist Isaac Barter to write “West Arrente Rain Song”, continuing the theme of water’s importance in Aboriginal and Australian life. Its gentle acoustic amble helps the song stand out from the pack, without question, but Freddi’s superb command of language is the track’s crowning achievement. John Williamson’s famed track “A Bushman Can’t Survive the City Lights” receives sensitive treatment from Freddi that stays close to the original without ever sounding like a carbon copy.
I believe that the title song is one of the album’s unquestionable peaks. This sparse yet deceptively simple track serves its purpose as the release’s marquee number when you notice how neatly it sums up many of the album’s central themes. It has a distinct personal quality as well. Freddi distinguishes himself here, as elsewhere, as a vocalist who truly inhabits the moment.
Dreaming Australia’s finale “A Song of Glory” does an impressive job of straddling the line between elegiac and rousing. The same low-key mood dominating much of the collection persists during this cut and we can hear passion as well as nuance filling each syllable of Freddi’s vocals. It brings this unique and often mesmerizing work to a soft conclusion that leaves me wanting more. It will, however, suffice for now.
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