Bek-Jean Stewart is a singer-songwriter from Sydney’s Newtown, a place that is almost synonymous with music. Musical faces, familiar and famous, turn up at the zebra stripe or the post office. Among my Newtown muso sightings are Tim Freedman (The Whitlams), Tim Finn (Split Enz, Crowded House), Russell Crowe (actor/ The Ordinary Fear of God) and Bek-Jean Stewart, who was on the queue at Franklins.
When she is not buying dog bikkies, Stewart is writing and singing some of the most original songs you might hope to hear. Winter, Summer Suburban Exile is the second solo release, following 2007’s critically acclaimed Junior Years, for former Eva Trout singer-songwriter Bek-Jean Stewart. On Winter, Summer Suburban Exile Stewart once again has some great country-tinged backup from bassist/singer/co-producer Grant Shanahan, and John Gauci, whose piano and Hammond organ give this album its jubilant edge.
The long-term working relationship between the musicians on the album renders it seamless. Stewart’s voice is natural, soulful and throaty, with a sweeping range of emotional power. I was swept away by the opening song Lonely Sydney Skyline with its grand and dark view of “this impossible city”.
Through lyrical narratives which are at turns stark and sensual, as in Hardened Up My Slip, Bek-Jean Stewart lets us into her private world. This album is like a ‘Magic School Bus’ trip through the scenes and seasons of the poet’s year, from the shivering cold Street Where Your Daddy Lived to the lush grass of Henson Part Skies. We travel with Stewart to parks and kitchens, churches and bedrooms, which all become vividly real through the alchemy of her words and music.
Bek-Jean Stewart’s keen eye captures the friends and lovers who populate her songs from the inside as well as out, giving her work its dispassion and its humanity. Love songs, such as Hale Morning Face, Only One of You and Diving Bell are in the minority on this album that is about life, childhood, healing and, yes, occasionally love. No Sunrise, No Sunset is such a hybrid, with its luscious stream of consciousness, a la Joni Mitchell.
There is a moment in St. Mary’s Bells, when the mother is making breakfast, that is the lyrical equivalent of the Mona Lisa’s smile, enigmatic and enduring. Bek-Jean Stewart’s Winter, Summer Suburban Exile is a remarkable release from one of Australia’s most original singer-songwriters.
Bek-Jean Stewart will launch Winter, Summer Suburban Exile on Saturday, 13th November 2010 at Notes Live in Newtown.