Wake From The Dream | Billie Reid (Busking)

“Australian musician Billie Reid’s music is timeless … steeped in Americana and his own hurt”

A few years back, when I was living on the other side of town, I knew a group of guys who shared a place. Some of them were on the way to places that they’ve since made it too. Others are caught up in the same routines that troubled them back then, and I can see resentment in their eyes and hear excuses in their voices when I run into them. I was one of their visitors, and I like to feel I was pretty welcome. And then there was Baz.

Baz would roll up to the apartment with his guitar, and sing his heart out while he thrashed out a few tunes. He assumed people liked what he was doing, but he was wrong about that. His influences were as obvious as his desire to tuck into some of the guys’ food when they were preparing some. I still have occasional contact with Baz. He remembers those days fondly, asks about the other guys, who I have to find excuses not to hook him up with, because they’d not be keen for me to do so.

We all have our role models, people who shape our lives in one way and another. It was pretty clear who Baz’s were. The problem wasn’t that he had them, we all do. It was that they overwhelmed any sense of who Baz himself was. In the same way that he’d changed overnight from a football and beer kind of guy to a festi-goer complete with dreadlocks, Baz sought to embrace someone else’s identity because he was unsure of his own.

In his mind, Baz was like singer Billie Reid. But there’s a world of difference between soaking up influences and expressing your own feelings and thoughts through them, and what Baz was doing when he sang borrowed protest songs and cadged snacks in someone else’s front room.

Let’s be clear, you’re not going to connect with Billie Reid if new sounds are your thing. His music is timeless, steeped in Americana. You’ve heard this kind of thing before – and he does it very well. He infuses his own concerns, his own hurt, into compact songs that have echoes of Green On Red, William Elliot Whitmore, even Husker Du and Joe Strummer at times.

All of those influences come together on ‘Ode To The Dudes’, and you can tell that he’s listened and learned. In just under half an hour, Billie Reid delivers 14 short but un-hurried songs. Over a dozen musical bullets in the time it takes some acts to hit their stride.

It’s maybe in the compact size of the songs that you can tell Billie isn’t American himself. He’s Australian, and has listened to a whole bunch of music and digested what makes it work that players who are part of the tradition might not get. Others dawdle, do overlong solos, meander. Billie is in and out with two minute songs that have all the ups and downs and pathos and insight of six minuters by many other artists.

There’s a nod to more Australian sounds in there too, a hint of Midnight Oil in some of the more politically-charged numbers. And I get a sense he’d be a great live performer. There’s perhaps a bit too much polish to the production for my tastes, and I suspect on stage the extra energy he’d bring to the proceedings would make up for any fluffed notes and tuning problems.

In these days of digital downloads and dance mixes, it’s hard to be sure there’s a place for someone with Billie Reid’s talents. I’d like to think there is. A song that feels real when it’s about the love that never quite connected between people is always going to find a place in my heart. It’s a theme he returns to frequently, and convincingly. The fact that he does it with such brevity is the surprise.

Oddball art-rockers The Residents released ‘Commercial Album’ in 1980. It featured forty songs, each lasting one minute, each comprising an intro, verse, and refrain or chorus. Liner notes suggested each track should be listened to three times consecutively, to make a pop song. Billie Reid has done something of that sort here, only without the annoying whimsy of The Residents. Songs like ‘Black Silk Dress’, ‘Hard Hard Woman’ and ‘Love Song 612’ have compact clarity, but they also connect emotionally in ways that linger well beyond their duration.

Charlie Reynolds