LOVE, LIES ‘N’ LEAVING
The art of the song writer is to take the deeply personal and make it universal, and then to shrug it all off by saying, “I don’t know where that came from, those lyrics aren’t about me at all.”
Love, Lies ‘n’ Leaving sees Townsend in some of the best form of her career. Crank up the volume and dive into these songs. Listen carefully and they will break your heart, but they’ll put it back together for you again as well.
On her latest EP, Love, Lies ‘n’ Leaving, Helen Townsend, with Shannon Smith, does all that and more. Recorded as a means of getting back to her roots, literally — now that borders are beginning to open, Townsend wants to tour these songs on the east coast where her family lives — the five songs that comprise the EP see Townsend also stripping things back to the bare bones of her country music origins with some beautifully realised Western swing, and bringing back the duet.
First things first, there’s something about this collection of songs that could persuade you to keep the volume low while listening, almost treat them like background music. Don’t! Crank up the volume and these songs will reward you with a richness of harmonies and instrumentation that shows why they demand pride of place. These are not songs to be talking over at a dinner party. This is music for listening to.
Lyrically, the four originals on this EP give a very personal account of Townsend’s life and current preoccupations. Opening with ‘Devil’s Curse’ — a cowrite with Belle Harvey, a WA country music artist who has adorned many a local recording with her multi-instrumental talents and song writing capabilities — Townsend gets straight to the heart of the matter, lyrically speaking, with the opening lines, I may not be the reverent kind / But I’ve had my share of hell / I may not be the honest kind / But I can honesty declare… ‘Devil’s Curse’ is a love song, but nothing is ever straightforward in Townsend’s interior world and by not shying away from the complexities of life in her song writing, she has gifted the rest of us, those without poetry in our hearts, some moments to pause for thought, recognise and contemplate our own complexities.
‘Devil’s Curse’ is an accomplished opener to what is, in Love Lies ‘n’ Leaving, an EP that encompasses just about the whole of life in its 20 or so minutes of run time. Even the cover of The Civil Wars’ ‘If I Didn’t Know Better’, where the duetting begins, may as well have been written by Townsend, as two life weary lovers exchange gentle barbs that may or may not reflect her’s and Smith’s own experiences. Thematically, we’re delving into lives that have seen their fair share of pain and heartbreak, there are under- and overtones of alcohol and drug use/abuse and, at times, a sense of ennui that is only enhanced by the minimalist approach to instrumentation and arrangements that are a feature of Love Lies ‘n’ Leaving.
By now you’re probably thinking you should steer clear of these songs. Not so. The triumph of Townsend’s song writing on Love, Lies ‘n’ Leaving is that she has held a mirror to herself — one of those magnifying makeup mirrors that leaves no wrinkle or fissure undiscovered — and still found within the sum of her experience a life wholly worth living.
That’s where the universal appeal of Townsend’s music lies on Love, Lies ‘n’ Leaving, in the nurturing of the life force that urges us all to carry on no matter how bad things may appear. Besides, when it results in the delightful bluegrass of songs like ‘Where Are You Now’, the metaphysical fairytale view of love in ‘If You Were Real’ and the heartbreakingly joyous duetting of closer ‘We’re Through’, you can be assured that, no matter how bad things get, music will carry you through.
Love, Lies ‘n’ Leaving sees Townsend in some of the best form of her career. Crank up the volume and dive into these songs. Listen carefully and they will break your heart, but they’ll put it back together for you again as well. When all is said and done / What’s done can’t be undone, but it’s how you carry on that counts and, on Love, Lies ‘n’ Leaving, Helen Townsend is carrying on just fine, thank you very much.
Listen to Helen Townsend on Spotify now.
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Helen Townsend launches Love, Lies ‘n’ Leaving on 16 May at Kidogo Arthouse in Fremantle. Click here for event information and tickets.