At its best, music is capable of transformation; unfortunately you would never know this if you happened to flick across your radio dial or switched on your television today. Capitalism, for all its emphasis on the free market, actually hates competition and diversity. So, when there's nothing happening in pop, people get more interested in traditional or folk music, and given the disengaged state of today's pop industry, it's hardly surprising that I found myself this past year listening to stuff like Elvis Presley, Ricky Nelson, Alan Vega and Muddy Waters. Music that is wild ragged melodramatic melodic, unpredictable and joyous. With "Firecracker" I decided to indulge myself in these essential ingredients."
- Stephen Cummings
Firecracker is Stephen Cummings' thirteenth, repeat thirteenth solo album. But we're not superstitious and Cummings' thirteenth turns out to be as essential as any of his other twelve. Musically, Stephen has always preferred to go his own inimitable way and, in doing so, has surprised, exasperated, delighted and captivated critics and fans alike for the past twenty odd years. This tenacious approach has made SC's music vibrant, ardent and relevant for all this time. There's no sad cabaret to be heard in these parts.
While his last couple of releases have been outstanding collections of songs of a largely downbeat nature, a definite change of tack is shown with this new CD. Stephen decided it was time to cut loose a little, kick up his heels and have some fun. The Firecracker songs were chosen from a clutch of 25 written in a six week creative bender and, stylistically, they hark back to pre-Sports days with the Pelaco Brothers, when guitars twanged and singers crooned or hiccuped straight to the heart songs in the key of love or thereabouts.
A fine cast of musicians was assembled, initially in (one time Pelaco Brother) Joe Camilleri's Woodstock Studio. Once the basic tracks were done activities shifted to Shane O'Mara's Yikesville Studio in the Melbourne suburb of Yarraville, interestingly enough the suburb Stephen was brought up in.
In the engine-room, we have Peter Luscombe and Peter Jones on twin drumkits and long time cohort Bill McDonald on bass. Snout's Ross McLennan plays some Juno synth strings and supplies perky backing vocals and Rebecca Barnard also makes an appearance or two on B.V.s.
It has to be said that this is much more a guitar record than Stephen's done for some time.
Fittingly, the guitar lineup cuts across three generations and must be one of the best to appear on one record in recent years. Shane O'Mara played acoustic rhythm on an ancient Maton and his trademark melodic riffing on electric guitar is all over the Firecracker grooves. One of the bona fide legends of Australian music, Ross Hannaford of Daddy Cool, puts his own stamp of genius on several tracks, throwing in a couple of classic Hannaford solos and that funky rhythm only Ross can do. Bringing us right up to date is Chris Cheney from The Living End, a Stephen fan from way back who jumped at the chance to play on the record. Chris plays some searing guitar that's instantly memorable and reminds us that what goes around comes around.
The quality of the songwriting combined with Stephen's peerless vocals and the talents of these singular musicians results in an explosive synthesis of rockabilly structure and sixties rock and country intensity with a modern sensibility. This is not a mere exercise in nostalgia - it's another essential chapter in the musical life story of Stephen Cummings.