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Christa Hughes’ first album for ABC Music, the ARIA nominated 21st Century Blues, was one of the most talked about Australian albums of 2010. Shonky picks up where 21st Century Blues left off - taking some of the biggest hits of the last few decades and reimagining them in a New Orleans ‘gutbucket’ style fused with Christa’s own innate sense of irreverent theatricality and sheer vocal power.
The album also features guest piano and vocals by the legendary Dick Hughes.
From classic rock and metal hits by AC/DC, Motorhead and Aerosmith to an amazing true torch version of the Jackson 5’s I Want You Back, the album also tackles the modern pop song. Christa’s take on Jesse J’s mega-selling Price Tag, with Dick’s thundering 1920s-style rant on the evils of money (definitively trumping the superficial original by American rapper B.o.B.), is destined to become one of the great cover versions.
The album also features two of Christa’s own songs the raunchy and suggestive Cheap Thrills and the ultra-topical Pig Flu Blues.
The album will be launched and performed in full at The Basement, Sydney on the 11th of November.
For bookings go to www.thebasement.com.au or Phone: 02 9251 2797.
1. Ace Of Spades (Motorhead)
2. Back In Black (AC/DC)
3. Toxic (Britney Spears)
4. Price Tag (Jesse J)
5. Cheap Thrills (Christa Hughes)
6. Groove Is In The Heart (Dee-Lite)
7. Walk This Way (Aerosmith)
8. I Want You Back (Jackson 5)
9. St James Infirmary (Trad. Blues)
10. The Hardest Button To Button (White Stripes)
11. Pig Flu Blues (Christa Hughes)
12. Take Me Out (Franz Ferdinand)
13. Mein Lust (Cabaret/Iggy Pop)
14. Herr For Life (Cabaret/Iggy Pop)
15. Price Tag - Reprise
16. Bulletproof (La Roux)
ABOUT THE ALBUM
No cow is too sacred, no blues too profane, that Christa Hughes will not take a tilt at it. She is an unstoppable force.
Where does music come from? Some will say from deep within; that it’s the very beat of the human heart. Others might say music’s everywhere all the time, just floating in the air waiting to be plucked out, as if we were mere messengers for the rhythms of the universe. Others still might laugh: Where does music come from? Well, New Orleans, of course!
Christa Hughes belongs to this latter category, obviously. It’s deep in her blood, this universal force. With a voice that comes from the birth (place) of the blues shot into an all-new time and space, she is Australia’s great low-down dirty diva and a virtual national treasure.
This album marks a sort of rebirth.
Of course, Christa has worn many different tutus in her two decade-long career – from blues shouter to rock bitch, cabaret queen, vaudeville hoofer and circus mistress, from the barrelhouse to the Opera House – but after her celebrated ABC Music release of 2010, 21st Century Blues, a duo album with her octogenarian father, legendary jazz pianist and singer Dick Hughes, it was as if she’d come full circle: back to where she started out as a teenager twenty years ago, singing alongside her old man on the old upright at the Shakespeare Hotel in Sydney’s Surry Hills, belting out Bessie Smith songs so strong she didn’t need a microphone either!
Now, like most things in Christa’s peripatetic career, which has grown organically rather than ever having been calculated or strategized, she has chosen to follow up 21st Century Blues not with a mere reprise, a Part Two, but rather to take it all another step forward. It is the wont of a true artist still hungry to keep it fresh for herself and her audience.
Shonky is one of a pair with 21st Century Blues but in a complementary rather than two-of-a-kind way. Recorded in Sydney with the Honky Tonk Shonks the same way they used to do it back in the glory days of the jazz age – live and fast; electrically! – the album sees Christa taking much of the approach and sound she returned to on 21st Century Blues, and applying it to a more contemporary repertoire. This is the true Razorhurst soundtrack!
The continuities and divergences are delicious: Shonky is very much a band album and not a duet with Dick, although Dick, in serious rude health, does put in four notable cameos. It is not a set of standards like 21st Century Blues, although it does contain a version of ‘St James Infirmary’. It had to have one! Which is an act of almost perfect symmetry – 21st Century Blues had only one atypical or contemporary song too – and indeed, it was that version of the Basement Jaxx’s ‘Good Luck’ that pointed the way when the Honky Tonk Shonks started coming together, shortly after the release of 21st Century Blues.
The Sydney Opera House had asked Christa to put together a new show. She devised a short season dubbed ‘Speakeasy Sundays’, in which she and her dad would play the first set, and for a second set, she would be joined by the band then coalescing as the Honky Tonk Shonks. In much the same way as a star was born out of all those smoky old Sunday sessions at the Shakespeare in the early 90s, it was out of these Speakeasy Sundays at the Opera House that this album has grown.
Christa’s principal collaborator in the Shonks is the band’s leader, trombonist and banjoist Grant Arthur. The 23-year old Arthur had sat in on a couple of tracks on 21st Century Blues – delighted to play in the New Orleans gutbucket style they always told him not to play at the Con – and he helped pull together a band that included a few of his other young tyro cohorts: Nick Garbett, trumpet; Justin Fermino, sax and clarinet; Sam Golding, tuba; Ben Daley, guitar; Leonie Cohen, piano; and Pete Neville, drums and percussion.
The Shonks’ self-prescribed brief was to work up a set of contemporary material in this New Orleans gutbucket style. The result, in one way, might prove how far music hasn’t come in almost a century! It’s no mean technical feat, after all, to deconstruct such familiar modern fare and find its essence in the roots, and then re-grow it from there – but such is the skill of Christa and the Shonks that they make it seem second-nature.
Shonky was recorded in two days, live in the studio, just the way they used to do it (although without, thanks to digital technology, all the scratches and surface noise! In fact, sonically, Shonky sparkles). With the arrangements already proven on stage, the players were free to let fly. Just listen to Justin Fermino’s baritone solo that comes in before the album’s even two minutes old – a baritone solo! in 2011! It’s fabulous! The only overdubs are on a couple of Christa and Dick’s vocals.
The album opens, like the fabled second line parades in New Orleans, with the pied piper call of fife and drums: That the track soon emerges as a version of Motorhead’s 1980 metal classic ‘Ace of Spades’, is just a taster for the twists and turns ahead over the next hour.
The track listing is catholic, just like Christa’s broader taste, going from other such heavy metal classics as AC/DC’s ‘Back in Black’ and Aerosmith’s ‘Walk this Way’, to contemporary electro dance-pop like La Roux’s ‘Bulletproof’, Jessie J’s ‘Price Tag’ and Britney’s ‘Toxic’. (Dee-Lite’s ‘Groove is in the Heart’, it might scare some to realise, is now two decades old!) It goes from the indie rock of the White Stripes’ ‘The Hardest Button to Button’ and Franz Ferdinand’s ‘Take Me Out’, to even a couple of Christa Hughes originals, ‘Cheap Thrills’ and ‘Pig Flu Blues’. There is an amazing true torch version of the Jackson 5’s ‘I Want You Back’ and two tracks back-to-back that work like a sort of Berlin mash-up, ‘Mein Lust’ and ‘Herr for Life’. Oh, and there’s ‘St James Infirmary Blues’ too, of course, a song that dates back to the eighteenth century and was first recorded in 1928 by New Orleans’ great shining trumpeter, Louis Armstrong.
From Louis Armstrong to Lemmy – it could only be Christa Hughes!
There is no cow too sacred, no blues too profane, that she would not take a tilt at it.
She is an unstoppable force.
Christa Hughes vocals
The Honky Tonk Shonks
Grant Arthur banjo & trombone, Leonie Cohen piano, Ben Daley guitar, Justin Fermino saxophones & clarinet, Nick Garbett trumpet, Samuel Golding tuba, Pete Neville drums & percussion
Dick Hughes guest vocals & piano
SHONKY– Christa Hughes & The Honky Tonk Shonks available November 11 on ABC Music / Universal