Ordinary Men is part of Luke Vassella's contribution to the documentary “Undermining Australia: Coal Versus Communities.” It's four songs; three of which are instrumental, of sparse, primarily acoustic guitar music that is by turns melancholy and resilient. It's a good fit for a documentary carrying environmental and social messages, but it works on its own: a softly undulating world of single notes, soft chords and rustic aesthetics. Still, for good measure, Vassella also threw in silver coins as shakers, wooden sticks, traveller's instruments, mandolin, harmonica, and the classic country sound of pedal steel.
The title track is brilliant. It is a breathy, piano-driven affair with spacious notes, swathes of backing female vocal harmonies and in the background, like the brightest point of a sunset before it completely disappears, gently constructed string arrangements and overdubbing. The lyrics give tribute to everyday people content to go about their lives. "No one gives a damn about them / and that's kinda the way they like it" says Vassella before putting himself in the same category. This is the only track to feature Vassella singing, which would already make it stand out from the rest but it is also the most subdued in tone.
The main theme for "Undermining Australia" also makes effective use of composition, with soft piano tinkling and guitar strumming suddenly stopping, then beginning again with more overdubbing (and harmonica!) before giving way to low crescendo of a vocal choir. Vassella repeats the process for dramatic effect, and it works splendidly. The other two tracks are less complicated but nonetheless pleasant. "Moreton Bay" is a super-stripped down track with just Vassella and a guitar and I believe a pedal-steel guitar. "Mine Hum" is more textured but doesn't deviate too far away from its predecessor.
Vassella is an artist who I would say creates music with strength through simplicity, as his MO. Ordinary Men is a taut listen not in spite of the music's general calmness but because of it. There are moments when I'm reminded of Japancakes, and to a lesser degree John Fahey. I think fans of raw folk music will find the most enjoyment in this EP, but the quiet beauty is worth consideration from fans of any genre.
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