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Alt Country Single Review: "Rocks and Cattle" by Blue Mallee

Karl is a longtime freelancer who's passionate about music, art, and writing.


Blue Mallee’s Rocks and Cattle begins with a warm pulse of flowing sound sliding under the strumming guitar and the plaintive breath of the harmonica. Blue Mallee’s voice is strong and there’s a bluesy feeling to his singing. A trumpet breathes into the song with a caressing, brassy voice as Blue Mallee’s vocals climb and soar.

The song has an acoustic warmth to it along with a feeling of brimming energy and deep emotive strength. The drums tick along with a smooth heartbeat as the trumpet raises its embracing voice. The harmonica bends and gives voice to a reedy flow of expressive notes before the song fades out.

Twin themes of the isolation of the Australian outback and the vagaries of human relationships fill the words of this song. The song starts with the narrator saying, “Work the land and grow. It'll pay you back.” It is a message both about farming and also about working on relationships.

The next line of the song talks about someone who people said was “just like a dry river bed, faded pages, numbers dated, not worth the slack.” There’s a sense of relief in the words, “It'll come again: mellow sun, heavy clouds, and a box of prayers.”

The complexity of a friendship comes through as the narrator talks about someone whose friendship was like a road of “dotted lines in the ones” and talks of a “blink” of cares. He says that he could have been what this friend needed like an “unstoppable storm, unleashing its rain.”

Fire shapes the Outback and when it comes to people we all know that where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Both could be referenced as our narrator asks “Will we let our fences down?” He goes on to ask “Could we deal with it now?”

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There’s a feeling of uncertainty and ambivalence in the lines, “Guess guessing's all we got for now, but I sure won't be putting your fires out no more.”

A profound sense of the harsh beauty of the land is clear in the lines that ask “O' ghost gum have you seen the desert blood oak basking in the sun? Have you been amongst the rocks and cattle when the day is nearly done?”

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