Sam Shinazzi has long been a staple of Sydney’s inner-city indie scene, regularly popping up at the likes of The Hoey and The Sando. Stories You Wouldn’t Believe is his number album and the first under his own name since moving away from the C-Minus Project banner. He has also collaborated with the outstanding Sydney alt-country singer songwriter Jenny Queen and earned support slots for the likes of The Mountain Goats, Bonnie Prince Billy and Evan Dando, all of whom can be counted as influences on his laidback but emotional brand of folk-rock.
Despite the title, the album is more about shedding new light on the familiar than conjuring up the strange: these are simple songs about friendship, heart-on-sleeve reflections of mid-life pleasures and pains. A definite standout is Wyoming where Shinazzi reminisces about a night stroll with a quartet of friends: “I never felt more alive than that night …went walking through Wyoming”. The Wyoming in question, he points out, is “Not Wyoming USA, but the Central Coast…Australia”. Wyoming is also typical in combining the local references that will appeal to admirers of the Candle record stable with the type of plaintive, lyric-based Americana championed by Uncut magazine, the likes of Josh Rouse and Richmond Fontaine.
The playing, featuring Starky’s Beau Cassidy on bass and Peabody drummer Graeme Trewin, is tasteful and restrained, at times conjuring up the same brand of lush melancholy patented by one of Shinazzi’s heroes, Joe Pernice. The production, meanwhile, from scene veteran Wayne Connolly (The Vines, Youth Group, ven)
is sympathetic as usual and never too slick. And Shinazzi’s voice, at times reminiscent of Ben Lee, is an unapologetically Australian drawl, the perfect foil for these languid tunes.
These are low-key stories to be sure, but full of warmth and unashamedly romantic. There’s no small amount of honesty either – witness the self-doubt on penultimate track Getting Too Old “I’m getting too old for this shit I won’t beg anyone for anything” or the knowing self-appraisal in Until Sunrise – “I drink and I smoke and the words come easier”. Elsewhere, Shinazzi casts his world-weary, but not unbroken gaze over relationships gone sour, opportunities missed and, no doubt, the eternal disappointment that comes with being a Cronulla Sharks fan. Still, this is one singer-songwriter who knows he is and has settled on some more modest, yet still admirable, ambitions: “I belong in a coffee shop / I belong in your heart”.
The record is dedicated to the late, great Elliott Smith. Surely there can be no better compliment than to say the great tunesmith would have found something to like in Stories You Wouldn’t Believe – something in the melodies, the sincerity and the sympathy for the underdog found here. Like Smith’s back catalogue, Shinazzi’s song cycle is proof that if you delve beneath the surface of the top 40 carousel and trend-of-the week music press, there is real treasure to be found. This really does deserve its spot in your iPod playlist, the CD stack by the stereo, and yes, in your heart.
by Daniel Herborn – Sunday Jan 29, 2006