GRANT McLENNAN – Singer Songwriter

Posted: November 20, 2017 in ALBUMS, MUSIC
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Grant McLennan Australian alternative singer-songwriter and guitarist. He co-founded the Go-Betweens with Robert Forster in Brisbane in 1977. In addition to his work with the Go-Betweens (1977–89, 2000–06) he released four solo albums, Watershed (1991), Fireboy (1992), Horsebreaker Star (1994) and In Your Bright Ray (1997). He also undertook side-projects and collaborations with other artists. McLennan received a number of accolades recognising his achievements and contributions as songwriter and lyricist.

In 1977 Grant McLennan met Robert Forster at university. Forster encouraged him to learn bass guitar and to form an alternative rock band, Along with Robert Forster, Grant McLennan became one half of the song-writing team behind The Go-Betweens. While The Go-Betweens were on hiatus during the 1990s, Grant McLennan embarked on a solo career, releasing four solo albums, two albums with The Church’s Steve Kilbey, and one album with the Far Out Corporation. McLennan’s songs which evoke the impressions and imagery of the regional background of his childhood include “Cattle and Cane”,“Unkind and Unwise”, “Dusty in Here” (about his father), “Boundary Rider” and “Bye Bye Pride”.

I’m not going to pretend that McLennan’s 1990s work out-shines his songs in the 1980s with The Go-Betweens. It’s certainly not uncommon for pop musicians to do their best writing in their twenties, and there was a sense of McLennan struggling to find his solo identity in the decade. After balancing perfectly with the acerbic, angular Forster in The Go-Betweens, he could be a little overwhelmingly saccharine by himself, and he flirted awkwardly with the mainstream on his first two solo records.

Robert Forster and Grant McLennan play an acoustic version of ‘Cattle & Cane’ and talk about writing a song about growing up in Queensland while living in London. ‘

But 1994’s countrified double album “Horsebreaker Star” is a masterclass of song-writing, even if it tends to blend together, and McLennan is among my favourite song-writers, like a comforting blanket with his warm voice and melodic charm. McLennan didn’t get the chance to add to his solo catalogue after The Go-Betweens’ reunion in the 2000s, dying prematurely from a heart attack in 2006, but here are some of his highlights from his 1990s:

“Providence” (Jack Frost) In 1990 Grant McLennan on lead vocals, bass guitar, lead guitar and keyboards formed a rock band, Jack Frost, in Sydney with the Church’s front man, Steve Kilbey on lead vocals, bass guitar, lead guitar, keyboards and drums. The group released a self-titled album in 1991 and the pair resumed the collaboration in 1995 for a second album, Snow Job.
McLennan’s collaboration with The Church’s Steve Kilbey was recorded in 2 weeks, with the pair playing most of the instruments themselves. McLennan’s work with Kilbey is moodier than his other solo work.

“Surround Me” He released his debut solo album, Watershed, under the name G. W. McLennan in 1991, which was produced by Dave Dobbyn on Mushroom Records’ White Records label. For its United Kingdom version it appeared on Beggars Banquet. It was an “ambitious and highly personalised collection of songs charted McLennan’s emotions in the wake of The Go-Betweens’ break-up. [it] revealed McLennan to be, in turns, the introspective singer/songwriter or the carefree and gregarious performer. McLennan “isn’t the most talented singer; his voice is a bit plain, and his range somewhat limited. He isn’t the most gifted guitarist his playing sometimes amounts to basic acoustic strums. He is, however, a truly exceptional artist who, in the spirit of Lloyd Cole, crafts moments of brilliance to fit his limitations the mainstream sound works for this hooky slice of pop/rock, and its big chorus.

In November 1992 McLennan issued his second album, Fireboy, which was produced by Dobbyn again,  compared to his previous one and found it was “an even more melancholy set of songs that boasted fuller (though never obtrusive) arrangements, it “finds the musician in excellent form, with a baker’s dozen worth of songs that won’t challenge preconceptions, but do make for a great listen all around” with “sweetly sparkling, sometimes barbed, numbers. During 1993 he toured Australia with a backing band comprising Michael Barclay on drums, Pedro Bull on keyboards (both ex-ex-Paul Kelly and the Messengers), Maurice Frawley on guitar (ex-Paul Kelly and the Dots) and Phil Kakulas on bass guitar (ex-Blackeyed Susans) One track “Fingers”
Another song from Fireboy, a moody piano ballad that missed the cut for Intermission, the excellent compilation that McLennan released in tandem with Robert Forster, documenting their respective careers in the 1990s.

McLennan’s third album, Horsebreaker Star, appeared in December 1994 as a double-CD. It was recorded in Athens, Georgia with American session musicians and was produced by John Keane it was McLennan’s most consistently catchy solo album providing 30 snapshots of a resigned romantic while unrolling tune after sweet, simple-seeming tune. its wide-screen outlook, the album shifted from country rock to bright acoustic pop with a great deal of optimism and passion. It was “more of a country/Southern rock bent…his ear for focused, sharp lyrical portraits of life and love, paired with his ever-striking crisp singing style, continues to lead the way. Opener Simone and Perry sets the tone nicely, similar to previous character sketches like The Go-Betweens’ ‘Right Here’.

In September of 1997 McLennan released his fourth solo album, In Your Bright Ray, with Wayne Connolly producing (You Am I, Bluebottle Kiss, Underground Lovers) returns him to his more well-trodden ground, [and] is as warm and soft as a cake out of the oven, a just-washed blanket, and an Eskimo coat. In 1998 he collaborated with Powderfinger’s Ian Haug on guitar in Far Out Corporation. In Your Bright Ray
The title track from McLennan’s final solo album is beautiful and restrained, a sunny, thoughtful piece of pop.

McLennan died of a heart attack at the age of 48 and was survived by his fiancée, Emma Pursey.

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