Photographer: Buttface McGee
Photographer: Buttface McGee
Long before that she was cutting her teeth in numerous bands, not least among them the Honky Tonk Angels, a 12 piece short-lived, but impactful, 70’s Nashville inspired outlaw/Opry country band. And, despite genre-jumping and bending over the years, it’s country music that’s quintessentially informed her evolution as a songwriter and performer. And continues to do so. In her own words, it began as ‘a solitary passion’: she discovered its ‘primal force’, alone, in her bedroom, as a young girl. She started crafting her own songs soon after while living in Sydney’s infamous bohemian Kings Cross. Developing her voice and honing her songwriting skills even while cooking short-order pizza for nighthawks, and raising her daughter in the crumbling splendour of a house that doubled as a rehearsal space for the numerous bands she cut her teeth with. A spell as a teenage movie star saw Lo starring in iconic Australian masterpiece The Year My Voice Broke, followed by roles in Red Dog and as notorious whistleblower callgirl Sally Anne Huckstepp in the cult hit Blue Murder, but through it all she maintained the clarity of her musical vision.
Lo is, first and foremost, a poet and storyteller; there’s an essential, timeless, rustic simplicity to her songs. They’re straightforward; uncompromising; soul-baringly candid. Across the five albums she has recorded since 2002 – six, counting her collaboration with her father, plus a solo EP recorded with Johnny Cash’s engineer in Nashville – her music has reverberated with a fearlessness, a stripped back honesty, her work drifts and rolls like wood smoke through country tinged arrangements, soul styled laments, and post punk variants of what may once have been blues styled rock’n’roll; her territory is bordered by word pictures, at one end, narrative, at the other. What results are transporting evocations: time veritably slows, or stills, while you travel to another place, peering through the window of your mind’s eye. They describe experiences that are simultaneously utterly personal and yet universal. They celebrate love in all of its forms and speak to the hopes and dreams of anybody who has ever tried to live even briefly in songs.
She has carried her music across Europe and America, chasing her own sonic muse. Lo’s songs reference such iconographic locales as Nashville and the Apollo, places that resonate with meaning, myth and musical fantasies, but she dresses the songs within a wider musical genealogy that is as much Ennio Morricone as The Ronettes. Listen to her music – really listen – and you can hear still the sound of yearning, the feeling of lost nights spent spinning the dial across FM radio stations and sensing an exotic world that always lay just beyond reach. A world familiar through the mystique of rock and roll; late nights in dark bars, hotel rooms with sun bleached wallpaper, loves past and current and lessons learned. It’s no surprise to learn that Lo loves Kris Kristofferson, Etta James, Bob Dylan, Bobbie Gentry and, most of all, Dolly Parton, and her work evokes a similar sense of honesty, telling human stories of seduction and love, essaying experience but always looking forward to the possibilities that lay just beyond the horizon in the dawn of the new day.
Carmen’s determinedly independent trajectory has seen her wind her way through a multitude of bands and genres, releasing her records on her own label, Chiquita Records, touring Europe and the US, showcasing solo at SXSW and opening for an amazingly diverse array of artists including Secret Sisters, The Drones, The Handsome Family, Kinky Friedman, Dirty Three, Mick Harvey, Don Walker, Renee Geyer and Beasts of Bourbon.
Sometimes Lo performs alone, a singer standing stage centre, guitar in hand, plaintively opening her heart and songbook for the ever-attentive audience. On occasion, she performs with an ever-changing backing band that has featured guests from fellow Australian outsiders the Bad Seeds or the Dirty Three, with her piano playing dad, or with favorite collaborators borrowed from Australian rock’n’roll royalty the Cruel Sea, The Mess Hall and the Holy Soul. It makes no difference really – her songs transcend and rise above whatever accompaniment is at hand to simply sound like a Lo Carmen song.
With her sixth solo album tucked under her rhinestoned belt, Lo has truly created a niche for herself, and staked out a claim for anybody who was saved by the promise of a song. Wanna get high? No. Really high. Nashville high. Give Lo a listen.
Dawn Kamerling – email@example.com
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