Broken Hill – Billy Roberts and the Rough Riders (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Although you might associate Billy Roberts and The Rough Riders more with foot-on-the-monitor, fist-in-the-air, low slung rock and roll sound, we shouldn’t forget that this sonic posse is just as deft at wielding poised and poignant music too. And that is the vibe to be found on this latest sonic slice.

It’s clearly a song about the effect that a year of lockdown and social isolation, about the blame game and economic shutdowns, about bureaucracy and the effect of the machinations that the powers that be impose in usIt is also a song about an oasis in this sea of adversity, political powerplay and draconian measures. A place called Broken Hill. It is clear what Billy Roberts thinks of the current situation but the song is delivered in vague enough terms that it could be about any number of economic downturns or national emergencies from times past.

And musically it’s a charm, blending understated acoustica with some gorgeous wide-screen and cinematic sonics. Through picked guitars and simple beats, Broken Hill builds a wonderful sonic platform through which resonant guitars licks and chiming and curated notes, bluesy solos and sweeping strings are etched and infused. 

The result is a soundscape built from textures and tones rather than dominant riffs or more obvious, sucker-punch dynamics. I mean, they are good at that too, but this is not the time. Broken Hill is about sonic suppleness and musical subtlety, about ornate and interlocking layers of music working in harmony, it favours grace over groove, it rolls rather than rocks, it moves with both poise and poignancy.

We have had gentler, more reflective tunes from Billy and the boys before but Broken Hill does feel like a new benchmark and if a band is not living on its creative edge then it is taking up too much space. Something that you couldn’t accuse this band of.

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