on 11 January 2013
This is Robert Forster's second solo album, after the Go-Betweens split (temporarily, as it turned out), and it follows quite a different track from most of the Go-Betweens output, and from Forster's first solo collection, "Danger In The Past". The name is slightly misleading, "Calling From A Country Phone" isn't *quite* country music, although there is clearly some Americana influence, with pedal steel putting in an appearance. It is a bit folkier than his earlier output, and indeed than most of his subsequent recorded releases too. Although perhaps here "country" hints at "rural", in contrast to the urbanity of the Go-Betweens or "Danger In The Past". The seascapes on the album artwork hint at a place of coastal retreat.
Above all, though, what characterises this album for me is its occasional sheer emotional exuberance - at times it is wonderfully, and for such an arch performer as Forster, untypically unrestrained and open. This is probably most evident on "Drop", which appears to have the Los Angeles riots of 1992 as part of its backdrop, and in the wonderful, seemingly deeply personal "Beyond Their Law", which talks of the great security found in marriage over violins, while Forster's voice, in the key lines, is more impassioned (and tuneful) than ever. That said, that song could happily be 90 seconds shorter - it has said, abundantly, imposingly, forcefully, all that needs to be said, in its first two verses and refrains. It's still one of the finest songs that Forster has written or performed, however. Which, given the quality and range of his back catalogue is not a negligible compliment...
"Falling Star" is another gem, where the sparking instrumentation fits the lyrics perfectly - another exuberant song of joyousness, while "The Circle" is probably the most immediately accessible track. The opening track, "Atlanta Lie Low" is actually extremely restrained, while a couple of other tracks are also rather understated and all the better for it.
The album sleeve's epigram, a poem to the Autumn sun - described as untyrannical, not ever present, "the giving and taking that many say is the way to live", while not necessarily in keeping with every song, perhaps sums up well the (further) step away from the youthful frivolity (and associated occasional melancholy) of the Go-Betweens that this album represents - it is maturer, more considered, even at (perhaps especially at) its most emotional moments. It's a lovely collection of songs and still a joy to behold and to listen to, almost 20 years after I first encountered it.