Stories of Ghosts

Deborah Conway and Willy Zygier
Contemporary, Rock
Intercorps/MGM, 2012
Reviewed by , March 1st, 2014

I conclude this review on the day that Australian female rock icon, Chrissy Amphlett died. There is a slight synchronicity – Deborah Conway, like Chrissy Amphlett, appeared and thrived in a male dominated industry, in no way kowtowing to sexist assumptions of what women in rock should be. Deborah Conway has carved out a unique and challenging career. Everything she’s done, just about, has been eminently worth listening to. This album is no exception. The voice, once a rich alto, is now hewn with the experience of too many gigs, too many late nights, too much time on the road. There’s the whole range of a middle-aged woman’s experience in the syllables. It is a voice which might not pass an audition for a reality show, but a voice that can, as it does on this album, be a questioning skeptic, or the voice of God herself. As the album is an atheist’s view of the Jewish Old testament, this variety and power is vital.

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The Old Testament is hardly new material for pop: around 1957, Jerry Lee Lewis wailed Great Balls of Fire, with imagery taken straight from the Book of Daniel. In 1965, Bob Dylan cynically reported ‘God said to Abraham, kill me a son’. Nick Cave often uses apocalyptic Old Testament imagery as well. Conway comes from a female, Jewish, atheist perspective. The lyrics are permeated with this cultural approach. It’s a philosophical album, but it’s not pretentious – she’s never out of her depth.

The songs run an emotional gamut from anger, to joy, to sadness, to questioning. It’s an album with much sonic variety, though it is a subtle album. Conway slyly suggests, I think, a deeper philosophical and theological knowledge than most rockers admit – the title G-d suggests to me the Old Testament Rabbinic practice of removing the vowels from YHWH, as the name was too holy to pronounce by mortals.

The other creative input, Willy Zygier, is a marvellous instrumentalist. Beautifully played and arranged music supports, leads, follows and is essential to the story. They’ve done eight previous albums – the last one, Half Man, Half Woman, was released in 2010.

This is a fantastic album. It may not sell in platinum quantities, but it is a thoughtful, thought-provoking emotional trip.


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