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Katie Noonan and Karin Schaupp


Many artists have compiled their version of the national songbook, but this collaboration between singer Katie Noonan and classical guitarist Karin Schaupp stands as something quite unique.

The Songs of the Southern Skies concert tour, based on the duo’s album of the same name, is a collection of Australian and New Zealand songs – including two originals composed for the project.

The songs are a mix of the very high-brow and radio pop classics, but interpreted through the pristine hands of Schaupp, and the purity of Noonan’s extraordinary voice, they become something else completely.

On a simple Dunstan Playhouse stage, with two microphones adorned with flowers, the pair gently, precisely, tease out the layers of some of our favourite songs.

“Saturday Night” by Cold Chisel, which always captured the existential sadness of the early hours, becomes something very aching. “Man of Colours” by Icehouse, written for Iva Davies’ parents, and Noonan’s own “Emperor’s Box”, a tender song to her father, are given filigreed treatment with Shaupp’s virtuosic runs and Noonan’s soaring voice.

“Heart’s a Mess”, an early, much-covered song by Wally de Backer (better known as Gotye), is a highlight, with the Young Adelaide Voices choir bringing extra oomph and energy to the plaintive chorus.

Two originals composed for the pair, one by celebrated Australian composer Elena Kats-Chernin, and the other a competition winner by Adelaide’s Andrew Georg, both use Judith Wright poems as lyrics. Both could probably be best described as art songs – serious, challenging and very beautiful.

Schaupp solos on Tim Finn’s “I Hope I Never”, virtuosically and making the most of the melancholic melody.

A highlight for this reviewer was hearing again the almost forgotten Vince Jones song “Rainbow Cake”. The jazz singer and trumpeter included it on his 1987 album, It All Ends Up in Tears, and I hadn’t heard it for years.

It should count as one of our great songs, with its evocation of a long-married couple hearing kids playing on the street, sharing a cup of tea and a slice of the eponymous cake, while musing on love and the passing of time.

My one quibble is a small one – several of the more blokey hits, particularly “Into My Arms” by Nick Cave, and “Friday on My Mind”, the Vanda and Young classic, lacked their testosterone-laden drive, but you could argue its absence was the whole point. Nevertheless, both were interesting interpretations and, to be frank, I could listen to Schaupp and Noonan play anything together – they’re that good.

 Katie Noonan and Karin Schaupp played at the Dunstan Playhouse on Friday night.

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