Alesa Lajana took to the Brisbane Powerhouse stage this weekend to launch her latest album Secret Garden. Joining her were electric string quartet FourPlay, (including multi-instrumentalist Shenton Gregory, who co-composed Secret Garden), Dheeraj Shrestha on Indian tabla and Danny Doyle on Didgeridoo.
Doyle opened the show with an earthy, ethereal rumbling before Lajana greeted her audience in the Gungarri language and acknowledged the traditional owners of the land. She then told us the story behind the first song Lightning Ridge, a folky, upbeat track about a game she and her schoolmates used to play when she attended the Brisbane Independent Learning School, a place she said "just let her play for about 10 years."
All of this set the scene for the rest of the night, as Lajana led us on a journey through an album that's very personal, very beautiful and very Australian.
While Lajana is well known for her first album Celtic Gypsy and for taking her muscial inspiration from all over the world (including Scotland, Ireland, India and Spain), Secret Garden feels like it was written with the wild, lovely and lonely Australian landscape in mind. Songs like the haunting Brolga's Dance and the song that translates as You Hear My Heartsong conjured up visions of red dirt and pink sunsets and Lajana's lilting Australian accent wove around the audience with warmth and assurance when she sang.
Lajana and co-composer Gregory have been working on Secret Garden for three years, and the thought and care that has gone into the album is obvious. Each song is the perfect vehicle to show off Lajana's considerable instrumental talent on both the acoustic guitar and accoustic lap-steel slide guitar and her powerful and highly polished voice.
The carefully crafted lyrics tell stories about family, childhood, the land, nature, love and the launch was a wonderful chance to get to know the background behind the songs, which lent them an extra warmth and presence. This Blind Heart, she told us, is about the boy that didn't like her in return and the gorgeous title track of the album is about the passing of someone special to her. As a singer and a storyteller, Lajana is full of sweet wit, genuine gratitude and a natural friendliness that makes the whole experience so relaxed and joyful.
My only criticism of the night was that the Powerhouse Theatre felt too enclosed and polite for such an earthy, wild, folksy album. Although being in a "real" theatre obviously lends the right gravity to such an important night for Lajana and her fellow performers, this is the kind of music you want to sway to, the kind of music you want to drink a wine to as the moon rises and perhaps would have been better suited to the Turbine Stage. But that's a small quibble, and definitely did not impede on what was such an enchanting, wonderful night.
Brisbane Powerhouse presents
Secret Garden Album launch
Featuring Fourplay String Quartet
Venue: Powerhouse Theatre | Brisbane Powerhouse
Date/Time: 7.30pm, Sat 17 Jul 2010
Tickets: Adult $32, Conc $26, Gallery $24