Wednesday, February 22, 2012


The Old Bar

To discover such a fascinating band playing for free at an inner city venue on a Tuesday night is something worth documenting, and when the songs begin to cause a pool of drool on the floor of the venue due to the number of dropped jaws, attention is due.

Kinch Kinski and the Strangers are a sporadically gigging local band who specialise in a strange mix of blues, jazz, pop, cabaret and crunchy rock all of which is interesting enough, but they have one crucially differentiating asset; Joseph Tafra. Tafra is a songwriter blessed with a quick wit, humility, timing, a vast vocabulary, and a proclivity for tackling that hardest of songwriting beasts to tame; the story-song.

The pacing and intonation of Tafra's vocal style is so free and open he almost strays into an ethereal lightness a la Van Morrison. Conversely, his subject matter is so gritty, humanistic and dark that we never leave the corporeal. As the first song Bar Open begins, a crowd is drawn in from the street and from the other rooms in the venue. Ostensibly, there is little to differentiate this band from hundreds of others, guitar, bass drums and a singer, that is, until the songs unfold and you realise something wholly unexpected and remarkably original is taking place.

Tafra's voice and lyrics are vibrant and expressive, the band rugged and deftly responsive to the twists and turns the lyrics take and the mood he pushes. Second song The Curse opens up like a wound with its heavy, chugging riff and Tafra’s impassioned yet measured vocals narrating the story of a beautiful woman, a city street and murder. ‘I found God on Johnston Street / and I left him there begging for change / The sound of rain in his ears’ he sings on Johnston St. The audience listens spellbound.

Few Australian songwriters write with Tafra’s verve and imagination; Gareth Liddiard, Glenn Richards and Laura Jean spring to mind, and like them, Tafra doesn't shy away from the art required to turn personal experiences into naked works of joy and wisdom. His lyrics betray a heavy bookshelf, but these allusions are not used to alienate, rather to draw from, as a glassblower would dye. Songs such as Dark Cloud and Blues, Blues Everywhere But No One Left to Sing allows his gravelly expressiveness to glow and the epic stretch of the latter song shows his skills as an arranger, the quality of Linden Lester’s deft basswork and the expressiveness of drummer Sam Johnston. Finishing with the ramshackle insanity of Bosch Blues – a song that reaches near Ute Lemper levels of emotional complexity - and Fireflies, a song described by Tafra as 'a jazz-pop punk number about existential horror' which elicits dancing from some audience members, the case is made for Kinch Kinski and the Strangers to be one of the true hidden gems in Australian music today.

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