Jason Freddi ties his songwriting and music to his homeland, Australia, in a way few artists can claim. His collection Dreaming Australia is a brief release by modern standards, only nine songs, and derives its material from a cross-section of modern original material and traditional Australian songs. Freddi’s art blends immigrant Australian and Aboriginal influences into a potent artistic melting pot rife with flavor and endless possibilities. It’s Freddi’s first solo endeavor after working with rock guitar bands and even indulging in an audacious trio of albums recasting Shakespeare’s poetry in an alt-country format. He’s taken the lessons learned from those projects, as well as working with some of Down Under’s best producers such as David McLuney and Roger Bergodaz, to apply them to this song cycle.

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The opener “Water to Drink” has ample rewards for listeners. Those encountering Freddi’s voice for the first time may be caught unawares by his voice, but it’s a remarkably emotive vehicle for his work, particularly given its limitations. It isn’t what you would deem a “classically beautiful” singing voice, but unerringly conveys the material. The vocal melody is compelling and has a rhythmic quality that holds our attention.

It’s socially conscious material, but unlikely to date. Freddi writes lyrics in such a way that they plant their flag in two entirely different camps. They have specific relevance to the issues he’s addressing but possesses an all-encompassing humanity that stretches far past their initial source of inspiration. “Solid Rock” is the first of the album’s superb covers. Originally released in 1982 by the Australian rock band Goanna, Freddi tackles the tune in a highly stylized fashion while remaining faithful to the original’s intent. His performance, however, embodies a glowering demeanor that borders on threatening. It’s a simmering assertiveness that you hear rather than the comparatively breezy treatment of the original. The added intensity is welcome.

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“The Convict’s Lament” is another Freddi composition. He deepens the evocative treatment of earlier songs with an echo-laden vocal reminiscent of late Bob Dylan. It never sounds calculated, however, and framing the lyrics in such a way serves the eye-popping wordplay well. The first-person perspective gives his songwriting powerful immediacy. “I Support Coal Mining” has telling references in its lyrics. The line “all the friends I’ve had are gone” harkens back to the American folk song “Delia”, made famous by Dylan and Johnny Cash, among others. His social concerns sometimes play a little uneasily within such a context, but it’s still a brave piece worthy of repeated listening.

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His version of John Williamson’s “A Bushman Can’t Survive the City Lights” forgoes select elements of Williamson’s original, namely the presence of harmonica, but otherwise adheres to Williamson’s take. Freddi also dispenses with any post-production effects and opts, instead, for a straightforward vocal and acoustic guitar rendition making this one of Dreaming Australia’s most effective performances.

He returns to the first-person perspective in his songwriting for the album’s nominal title track “Dreaming Australia Now”. It continues the same low-fi presentation of the preceding cut but adds drums and harmonica to his compositional toolbox. The relaxed ambition of Dreaming Australia belies the scope of his aspirations – Freddi wants nothing less than to give a musical portrait of his home at a critical time in its history. He’s succeeded, by any measure, and entertains us all the while. 

Garth Thomas