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Talk to people about Sara Storer and the same words keep being used: ‘real’, ‘unaffected’, ‘authentic’. It’s partly a way of acknowledging that she’s lived the life she sings about – growing up on a farm in Victoria’s Mallee, her grandfather a pioneer of the district, then teaching in tiny bush towns in Queensland and the Northern Territory.
But authenticity alone doesn’t make a great artist. Sara has a hungry writer’s eye, her songs full of vivid, telling moments and narratives that seem to drop the listener into a freshly minted world. The voice that tells these tales is open and unguarded; the music seductive yet energised. Her songs speak with great directness and immediacy, as if we had found ourselves on the road, or round the campfire, with the characters of the song.
Some songwriters take their inspirations from other songs; with Sara, the starting point is more often a scene torn directly from life. Her first song, ‘Buffallo Bill’, is typical: the story drawn from a retired buffalo shooter she met when working in a truck stop in the small Queensland town of Camooweal. She gave him the song as you would a gift, saw the tears it brought forth from the old man, and started to understand the power of song.
Soon she moved to the Territory, teaching in Kalkaringi, an Aboriginal settlement 500km south west of Katherine. There she developed her songwriting and began to play for friends – at parties and around campfires. A friend encouraged her to enter a talent quest at the town of Adelaide River, a dot in the red dirt of the far north. The ‘encouragement prize’ was a workshop at the Australian College of Country Music, held in the weeks leading up to the Tamworth Country Music Festival.
Sara took the two-week course in January 2000. Just four years later, she was back at the same festival – and won more awards in a single festival than anyone before or since: seven Golden Guitars.
She’d been busy, of course, during those intervening four years. When she first went to Tamworth, with her ticket from Adelaide River, she met the record producer Garth Porter. Garth recorded six of her songs and introduced her to ABC Music, who quickly signed the young artist. Her first album, Chasing Buffalo, came out later that year, producing three number one singles on the country charts – starting with ‘Buffalo Bill’.
Sara won the Best New Talent award at the 2001 Country Music Awards, and then – in 2002 – released her second album Beautiful Circle, this time with the stand-out song ‘Raining on the Plain’, a duet with John Williamson. By 2004, with that record haul of Golden Guitars, there was no stopping her. Two more acclaimed albums followed – Firefly (2005) and Silver Skies (2007) – and now the one you hold in your hands.
Paul Kelly, Australia’s master-songwriter, may have best captured her unique talent: ‘You know she’s paid attention,’ he says, ‘heard the bush waking up in the morning, listened to the worries thrashed out at the kitchen table, smelt dry summer wheat up close, dreamed of far away places in a bedroom with a window on a big sky, driven miles on dirt and bitumen and fallen in and out of love. She’s found her own way to sing the stories that are all around her and then inside her bubbling out. She doesn’t copy over-emotive, fake sincere twangy country singers from overseas. She’s found her own restraint and steel and lets her songs do their sweet, sly work.’
Let the sweet, sly work begin; press ‘play’ on Calling Me Home and let Sara Storer tell you a tale.