6 Dec 2016

To Hell With These Streets by Greg Fleming and the Working Poor

From The Sampler, 7:30 pm on 6 December 2016
Greg Fleming

Greg Fleming Photo: Supplied

Nick Bollinger checks a new set of street songs from Auckland troubadour Greg Fleming.

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When Greg Fleming released his album Edge Of The City in 2012, it was the Auckland singer-songwriter’s first new collection of songs in almost two decades. Since then, he’s been making up for lost time, averaging a new album every eighteen months.

With an ominous rhythmic figure underscoring a weary, broken vocal, ‘City’s Waking Up’ opens the new album. Fleming is still reporting from the edge of the city, both geographically and emotionally. The city’s waking up, he sings, though you suspect this character has been awake all night. And the urban dawn doesn’t bring an end to his restlessness. Like a lot of Fleming’s writing, it’s like a sliver of a short story, the handful of precise details – the newspaper, the coffee cups, the people going home from the clubs – surrounded by some nameless loss or betrayal. It’s a strong opener, and sets the tone for an album that presents a consistently unglamorous picture of society’s flotsam, while employing more musical variety than anything Fleming’s done before.

The piano-led title track takes a big step away from Fleming’s usual guitar-driven roots rock, into a more sophisticated kind of pop. I’m actually reminded of Steely Dan, while the lyric picks up the thread of the song that precedes it.

Fleming’s voice remains raw and lived-in, like that of one of his burned-out characters, but he’s never delivered his songs with so much confidence or control, and the way his voice is pushed right up to the front of these tracks where there’s nowhere to hide is a measure of how far he’s come. He’s not trying to sing pretty – sometimes he doesn’t sing at all but rather delivers the lyric as a kind of monologue – but he sure gets the message across.

Greg Fleming used to call his band The Trains, but they now go by the name The Working Poor, which could refer to any of the characters in his songs. To Hell With These Streets is the most confident and most sonically engaging, as well as the most disgruntled album he’s made. But what’s extra impressive is the continuity with the rest of the music he’s made this decade. Greg Fleming is on a roll, and long may he roll.

Songs featured: City’s Waking Up, To Hell With These Streets, Lucille, Sick Of This Shit, Liquor Store, Badder Than.

To Hell With These Streets is available digitally on Bandcamp.