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MUSIC: DIESEL – 30: The Greatest Hits

| 30 August 2018 | Reply

MUSIC: DIESEL – 30: The Greatest Hits 
August 2018
Reviewed by Shane Pinnegar

It’s startling to cast your ears back over Diesel’s thirty year career and realise just how fully formed his sound was when, as a skinny, floppy-haired twenty-three year old, his debut album Johnny Diesel & the Injectors was released.

Mark Lizotte to his Perth schoolmates, Diesel had been playing the pubs circuit for a bunch of years in a bunch of bands by the time that album was released, and had most recently played on future brother in law Jimmy Barnes’ third solo album Freight Train Heart and toured the country with his band.

The sound was the perfect amalgam of Lizotte’s Dad’s record collection and his own formative years: pub rock n’ roll and Motown soul combined seamlessly to give us Aussie top ten hits Don’t Need Love, Soul Revival and Cry In Shame – all included here along with Lookin’ For Love and Since I Fell For You.

It was almost exactly three years of hard touring before follow-up Hepfidelity hit the racks, and the wait was worth it. Where the debut album had risen to #2 on the Aussie album charts, this second album hit the top spot, spawning two more top ten singles in the exquisite Tip Of My Tongue and Come To Me. Love Junk and Man Alive scraped into the top twenty, but both remain firm live favourites and perhaps deserved better.

The following year’s The Lobbyist album again hit #1, with Never Miss Your Water displaying some funkier chops alongside his always-soulful vocals and assured, bluesy guitar work. Masterplan and the beautiful acoustic version of I’ve Been Loving You Too Long both appear here.

That was the end of Diesel’s major chart success, but far from the end of his quality recordings. Solid State Rhyme was his third album in three years and featured All Come Together and 15 Feet Of Snow, both superb slices of a mellower style of soul, the latter leaning more towards gospel than his previous work.

1996’s Short Cool Ones was a more R&B flavoured album in collaboration with Chris Wilson, and their gritty cover of standard I Can’t Stand The Rain features here. 1999’s Soul Lost Companion was the first album to be released under his birth name Mark Lizotte, and saw most of his endearingly rough musical edges sanded down and smoothed out to appeal to U.S, radio, but the songs lost some of their individuality in the process. Both singles rom the record, Dig and Satellite, appear here.

2002 saw Diesel living back in Australia, and Hear was released under his more-well-known-here Diesel moniker. Angel Face, Getta Kick and Battleworn all feature here, with the sound somewhere between his soulful post-Injectors days and over-produced American album.

2006’s Coathanger Antennae proved with its title that he still had one eye on The States, but wisely the album was made with more emphasis on recording live in the studio than production. However, despite his usual exemplary songwriting, the three tracks presented here – Saviour, Crazytown and Steal My Sunshine – all lack that raw spark of his earlier work, traded off in favour of over-polished radio friendliness.

The title track to 2008’s Days Like These shows a bouncier pop feel, whilst the ever-eclectic Diesel went back to his roots on 2009’s Project Blues: Saturday Suffering Fools. Walkin’ The Blues features here, featuring some great finger-pickin’ banjo.

Only the title track appears from 2013’s excellent Let It Fly, then two covers – Dylan’s Queen Jane Approximately and Buddy Holly & the Crickets’ Rave On – from 2016’s equally excellent Americana. Both these albums brought Diesel back to playing for himself rather than trying to appeal to radio audiences, and the results speak for themselves, both albums reaching the Australian Top Thirty.

There have been a few compilations throughout Diesel’s career, so it’s a little surprising that this focuses on the earlier days rather than more recent material. As a career-spanning retrospective it certainly works well – his songwriting skills, plus those as a guitarist (and other string instruments) and soulful vocalist are always evident, regardless of the pros or cons of the production of any particular album.

In what is most likely another annoyingly bland marketing decision from the label, new track Give Me Saturday Night opens the album. Given that the rest of the tracks work in consecutive order, surely it should have nestled in neatly at the end of disc 2? Regardless, it’s a good example of where Diesel finds himself now: comfortable with his legacy, no longer desperately chasing radio plays, but pitching his music firmly in the easier listening side of bluesy rock n’ soul.

Category: CD Reviews

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