I was at the Oxford Art Factory when Laura Jean launched her album, ‘Devotion‘ in 2018. At that concert, Laura Jean brought her sister on stage to dance when she sang ‘Girls On The TV’. It was an incredibly moving experience, especially given the subject matter of that song. It is one of those moments in life that only music can bestow, a memory etched deep in the brain, eliciting a lump in the throat each time it is remembered.
Now, four years later, Laura Jean is back with a new album called, ‘Amateurs’. She has spoken about how it is about the anti-art and anti-intellectual culture in Australia (but which may apply equally to other parts of the world too.)
“Amateurs means to do something for love, not money, and somehow it’s become a dirty word, shorthand for a failure. These songs arise from my acceptance that I will always be an ‘amateur.’ At the same time, in making this record I was fuelled by a desire to create something inordinately luxurious and beautiful.”Laura Jean
Laura Jean worked with producer Tim Bruniges on Gadigal Country during the 2020-2021 Covid lockdowns. Erkki Veltheim (Gurrumul, Archie Roach) arranged the strings for ‘Amateurs’, which were recorded in Naarm/Melbourne by ‘Devotion’ producer John Lee. Aldous Harding and Marlon Williams provided backing vocals on three songs (Teenager Again, Amateurs and Folk Festival).
The word amateur recurs throughout the lyrics of this album not only in the title track but also in ‘At The Folk Festival’, ‘Market On The Sand’, ‘Rock ‘n Roll Holiday’ and ‘A Funny Thing Happened’. The album is a celebration of pursuing something for the love of it and often not for monetary gain. This is the uncomfortable position that Laura Jean and many artists have found themselves in with the advent of streaming services and especially after receiving little or no government support during the recent Covid lockdowns. It’s the lottery of life and incomprehensible viral internet trends that catapult random people to fame and fortune and leave others, perhaps more deserving languishing as unknowns.
‘Amateurs’ is built on a bedrock of strings and glorious piano and is therefore quite distinct from ‘Devotion’ which was more synthy. It is somewhat reminiscent of Joni Mitchells’ ‘Blue’ album, which Laura Jean name-checks on ‘Folk Festival’ – “Oh God I wish I was born in 1953, When I first heard Blue I should’ve been 18”. As is the case throughout this album, the intimate is fused with bigger issues, in this case, climate change when Laura Jean later sings, “Oh God I wish I was born in 2003, When the world heats up I’ll only be 33”.
Mitchell isn’t the only artist that is name checked on the album, Crowded House get a mention on ‘Market On The Sand’ – “Walk by a bluejeaned girl, she’s singing Crowded House, The one they wrote about the Melbourne weather changing around” she sings as she exquisitely weaves a snippet of the melody for ‘Four Seasons In One Day‘ into that song.
The album has a number of songs that have observations about contemporary society, but there are also tracks that are more personal. ‘Pauly’ is about a parrot that, Laura Jean sings “chose to die in the wood shaves” instead of leaving his cage. Indeed the album’s cover art features a Crimson Rosella as do Laura Jean’s press shots for the album. On ‘A Funny Thing Happened’ Laura Jean sings, “A funny thing happened when I looked at you, Cats scattered and Jesus cried, Will you stay with me all night?” It is this blending of the intimate with bigger issues that makes this album so memorable and cements Laura Jean’s reputation as an outstanding musician, able to deliver incisive observations in an inordinately luxurious and beautiful way. Laura Jean’s music is touching and intimate and not reliant on some quirk of the algorithm to reach her audience.
Buy ‘Amateurs’ HERE.
Photo Credit: Rochelle Marie Adam
Laura Jean will be touring Australia early next year.