LIKE AMERICA, AUSTRALIA IS A melting-pot nation, populated by immigrants from various countries--including Ireland. It is not entirely surprising, then, that some Australian cultural forms greatly resemble those of the Irish. One example of such cultural emulation is All Fools Day by one of Australia's most popular underground bands, the Saints. Although the Saints hail from down under, their latest musical effort would rather roam the green hills of a certain Northern land--preferably by the side of Van Morrison, Ireland's greatest singer.
What is surprising about All Fools Day is that it does not aspire to Morrison's bluesy work with Them, nor to his famous jazz-inflected tunes on Moondance and Astral Weeks. Rather, lead-singer and principle Saint Chris Bailey produces a near perfect cop of Into The Music, one of Morrison's more recent and unjustifiably over looked disks.
Take "See You In Paradise. "Not only is that the sort of title a hippie mystic like Morrison would invent, but the opening piano chords mimic the Irish guru's "Bright Side Of The Road" with no mean precision. Similarly, "First Time," a rave up with some inspired drumming, sounds like it was written after a careful analysis of "Wavelength," and "Celtic Ballad" could be a cut on any one of Morrison's albums.
But Bailey has chosen his hero well, and Morrison's influence alone is enough to make All Fools Day a pretty good record. "Just Like Fire Would" is a catchy single, relying on some brisk acoustic guitar strumming in the vein of "Full Force Gale." Moreover, the title manages to recreate fairly accurately the easy pace and daring vocal rhythms of Morrison's best work.
Although Bailey is good songwriter and student, he falls far short of his idol in vocal dexterity. A hulking man, Bailey can handle the low notes with gruff growl. But when his voice tries to soar and twist like Morrison's, his short-comings are all too evident. Whereas Morrison can take an extremely simple melody and wring out surprises, Bailey can only increase the volume of his bellow.
Despite this failing, however,All Fools Day is an album with its heart in the right place. In a year when Bono Vox is being hailed as the great Irish singer, it is nice to hear from a party like Bailey who realizes what great soulful vocals are, even if he can't always muster them up himself. Sometimes, good rock music is simply a matter of choosing your heroes well.