The Sound Cafe
Freemantle Based Singer-Songwriter Helen Townsend Pushes Genre Boundaries on New Release
Fremantle-based singer-songwriter, Helen Townsend, has made a point of looking at life from every possible angle. It has fuelled her song writing since her 2014 debut release - Wayward Heart - and is something she furthers with her latest release – Love, Lies ‘n’ Leaving.
While Helen has carved out a reputation for edgy Americana music – one that has pushed the genre’s boundaries from roots rock through blues and country to folk - with Love, Lies ‘n’ Leaving, she has taken a more introspective approach. A collection of lush acoustic-based duets with Shannon Smith, the five-song EP gives Helen the opportunity to indulge another side of her musical personality – harmonizing.
“For as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved male and female duets,” Townsend explained of the inspiration behind Love, Lies ‘n’ Leaving. “One of my favourite albums is John Prine’s In Spite of Ourselves where he sings duets with different female artists. My love of duets and harmonizing really grew from there. In my own writing I’ve always tried to look at things from different vantage points. I love the flexibility a male voice gives the narrative. You get to hear both sides of the story.”
In bringing Shannon into the spotlight on Love, Lies ‘n’ Leaving, Helen gave the electric guitarist and vocalist a quick immersion in Americana music.
“Shannon is a rock god,” Townsend said with a laugh. “He has a strong background in harmonies but it’s mostly been in classic rock ‘n’ roll bands. I had to give him a quick education in all the music I love – Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, and John Prine. Shannon really embraced the music, but there were times when we were working on harmonies where I had to say a little less Beatles and a little more Johnny and June!”
While Helen’s previous recorded release – her 2019 album Little Lover – gave the multiple WAM Award nominee a more tempered musical approach to her craft, Love, Lies ‘n’ Leaving takes that one step further. The airy acoustic-driven orchestration and arrangements give Helen and Shannon’s exquisite harmonies the space they need to soar.
It is something that has propelled the release’s first two singles - “Devil’s Curse” and “We’re Through” - and is what captivatingly drives the EP’s latest single, “Where Are You Now.” As the pair’s lush harmony vocals gracefully explore the ramifications of a complicated relationship, a swirling serving of banjo intimately manipulates the mood. It’s almost as though the musicians are sitting in the room performing for you.
“I really wanted to bring my music back to where it’s just a group of friends sitting in a room playing together,” Townsend said. “So I wanted the record to sound like we were playing in your lounge room. I love performing my rockier stuff with a band but that’s just one side of what I do. This is another more intimate side.”
Recorded in Helen and Shannon’s hometown of Fremantle, Western Australia, Love, Lies ‘n’ Leaving features a who’s who of west coast musical elite, including recipients of Golden Guitar, ARIA, and Grammy awards. Complimenting Helen and Shannon’s guitars and vocals are two-time Grammy Award winner, Lucky Oceans on dobro, three-time National Banjo Championship winner and Golden Guitar recipient, Ian Simpson on banjo, Ben Franz from the ARIA Award winning band The Waifs, on upright bass, James Church from multi-Golden Guitar Award nominee, Montgomery Church on dobro, and Dave Johnson on mandolin.
“It really is an incredible band,” Smith added. “We had our expectations for the songs before going into the studio but when we got in there someone would bring in something that would take a song in a completely new direction. Being part of that was fantastic. I would hear someone play something and say, ‘That’s my new favourite part!’ And I said that over and over again.”
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