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And Now For Something Completely Different

What if David Bowie was from Australia instead of London, England? Maybe his glam, flashy (and let’s face it – awesome) style would be a little more acoustic and folk-focused. But I’d be willing to bet that he would have the same low and strong, yet quavering, voice, and he’d still have an undeniable streak of originality and rebellion. Also – his name might be Tom Bolton.

Australian Tom Bolton’s album When I Cross the River is awesome. Besides the fact that he really does sound like an alternate-reality version of Bowie, Bolton’s folk-rock tunes are highly original – I don’t think I’ve heard anything like them. The album opens with its title track, which couples acoustic guitar with keyboards and accordion. (The accordion pops up again later, too.) The effect is whimsical, and it’s just odd enough to be delightful instead of strange. You can catch Bolton’s accent from the beginning, too, which also gives “When I Cross the River” an air of complete uniqueness.

The acoustic in “Three Hearts” stands out because instead of sounding pretty and poetry-reading-coffeehouse-worthy, it comes across as gritty, grungy, and rockin’. The contrast is really neat, especially with Bolton belting out the chorus with his no-fuss, dead-on, Australian-accented vocals.

The ballad “Silver” matches electric lap-slide guitar with synth and violin, creating a spacey, mysterious, echoey atmosphere. It doesn’t sound out of place, though, because there is still an element of gritty folk amid the psychedelia. The extremely diverse “Whose Army” is one of the best of the album. There’s bluesy electric guitar, a backup singer providing rhythmic breathing (really! and it sounds cool!), snappy female harmonies, a head-bobbing steady tempo, and a hint of the Talking Heads in the eerie hooks before the chorus.

“Hey You, Yeah You” is hard to explain, but I’ll try. It has bits of spoken word throughout, and the narrative lyrics make it almost sound like a kid’s song at times. It’s also funny, and you’ll sing along to the “hey you, yeah, you, I’m talking to you!” after the first listen. The song is assuredly weird, but accessible at the same time, which might make it even weirder. The simplistic, sweet, country-tinged ballad “All I Can Do” is a good choice to follow “Hey You, Yeah You.”

Later on in When I Cross the River, Bolton uses the melody of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” in his song “Little Star.” He plays it with only acoustic guitar and a few backup singers, which is the sparsest instrumentation on the album, but the song doesn’t need anything else. It doesn’t even need more than its minimal lyrics: “little star, help me shine.”

Overall, Tom Bolton’s When I Cross the River is really enjoyable, and would be good for anyone who’s bored with their music collection and wants something totally new and different. I’ve never reviewed anything from Australia, or from anyone above the age of 35, but I’m really glad that I did. Check out Tom Bolton on his myspace and website.