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Jack Carty & Gus Gardiner Jack Carty & Gus Gardiner
Album: Hospital Hill
Label: Absolute
Tracks: 10

Fellow Australians from New South Wales, singer-songwriter Carty and Gardiner, formerly bassist with the now defunct Papa vs Pretty (no, me neither) first met in a lift at university and have been buddies ever since, the latter regularly contributing bass and cello to the former's albums This, however, is the first time they recorded together as a duo, Carty on guitar and vocals and co-writer Gardiner behind the arrangements and as part of the Australian Chamber Orchestra string quartet. Affording a chance to revisit 'Kindness Is A Dying Art' from the last album, Home State, which is given a whole new identity, ditching the drums and swathing it in violins and viola.

Veined with themes of nostalgia, time passing, roads travelled and gratitude owed, it opens in muted, reflective mood with 'Facing South', the lament of a songwriter driven to the conclusion that nobody heeds what you say and that "Words are useless, words are weak." The rest of the album rather rebuffs that.

Introduced by melancholic cello, the slow waltzing, gradually swelling title track is steeped in childhood nostalgia, of being "only fifteen, playing Super-Nintendo… trying to feel in control of someone or something", of the pangs of teenage love slipping away and wondering whether the passing of time has rendered what he said and felt then of less worth.

The same concerns inform the album's similarly nostalgic closer, the hurrying percussive guitar work of 'Stargazer', as he looks back to the songs he wrote at seventeen, admitting "I can't relate to half of the things I said…the only way I know it's me are the memories in my head." He even allows himself a whoop.

Earlier, the falsetto-sung 'People Don't Care' returns to the opening song's theme that "People don't care about songs anymore", its pessimism underpinned by the pizzicato violin and forlorn sweeping cello. 'Hotel Rooms' is no cheerfest either, a simply fingerpicked musing on the endless string of identical, anonymous rooms that form the life of a struggling travelling musician with "always the same view…instant coffee and miniature shampoo…and under my feet the carpet wearing thin just like me." Understandably, it has a bit of a downer on motivation and optimism, success becoming "a concept hanging on a string", as pouring your heart out, it seems to move further away the closer you get.

Similar vulnerability, a sense of trying to cut diamonds from the tail of comet (as he puts it on 'The Road, A Snake'), of finding compassion a hard hill to climb, suffuses pretty much all of the other tracks. But, throughout, he maintains a grip on a hope for a better tomorrow, with even the stark strum of 'Low In The Highlands', where history repeats, there's the determination to not give up trying, while love provides the forge and the anchor in the sparkling fingerpicking of 'Apple Tree' ("you are my love, my gravity") and the slow waltzing 'Antipodes' where, far from home and brought to his knees, it sets him free, to want to make a change and "stick around". I certainly hope he does.

Mike Davies