Roger Knox and the Pine Valley Cosmonauts
Stranger in My Land
Country music, at least in the United States, is more marketing that anything else. But in Australia, it's another thing entirely. There it is the voice of protest for the nearly invisible Aboriginal population, and one of the leading voices is Roger Knox. Jon Langford (The Mekons, Waco Brothers, and leader of the revolving country review the Pine Valley Cosmonauts) met Knox on tour down under years ago, and knew they should work together. Stranger in My Land is the result, and it is one of the most significant and tuneful releases you'll hear this year.
Knox is known as "the Black Elvis" and "the King of Koori Country" and has been a huge success in his native land for years. He sings the songs of long lost Aussie legends such as Dougie Young ("The Land Where the Crow Flies Backwards") and Harry Williams ("Blue Gums Calling Me Home," performed here with Kelly Hogan on harmony vocals). No matter the unfamiliarity with the material, the vocals of Roger Knox combined with the group Langford gathered to assist him make the 12-cut album seem familiar almost at once.
Travis and Dallas Good of The Sadies provide a lion's share of the backing, and guest vocalists such as Andre Williams ("Stranger in My Land") and Charlie Louvin on "Ticket To Nowhere" -- possibly his last recorded performance before he died in 2011 -- add star power to the record, but Knox doesn't really need it. The songs tell the tale of a lifetime of oppression, cruelty, and indifference that Aboriginal peoples have faced for years, and Knox delivers them all with hope and humility. It is a look at a world and a culture few Americans know, and what better way to encounter it than with music. Jon Langford should be commended for bringing Stranger In My Land to our ears, and one hopes that the universal struggles that Roger Knox chooses to sing will find supportive listeners, far from his home. Powerful, powerful stuff.