Nathan Cavaleri was once a household name in this country. He was a child star who possessed such a precocious guitar talent that many established musicians readily jammed with him on stage and invited him out on tour with them. By the time he had reached his early teens, Cavaleri had already played with many of the world’s greatest guitarists, among them were Mark Knopfler, Bonnie Raitt and B.B. King. He had also made regular appearances on the highest rating chat shows in America, had been signed to Michael Jackson’s label, and had even performed for the U.S. President.
Such a level of success would have been heady stuff for anybody, let alone for a kid who had not yet fully negotiated his journey through the jungles of an Aussie secondary schooling experience.
The fact that, for most of those early years in the limelight, he also had to stoically battle the effects of leukaemia treatment makes his childhood achievements even more incredible.
But Cavaleri’s dream of a life in music with all of its associated fame and opportunity abruptly ended as he experienced the worst of the Australian ‘tall poppy’ backlash from his peers upon his return to school. He subsequently walked away from all of his musical aspirations and refused to exploit his talent any further.
He was bullied badly enough, according to the recent edition of ABC TV’s ‘Australian Story’ that covered his life story, that for many years he even refused to use his own surname for fear of people having an adverse reaction to hearing it used.
Thankfully, over the ensuing years, Cavaleri has slowly regained the confidence to create music under his own name again, and he has finally recorded a new album of solo material.
His journey to reclaiming a place in our contemporary musical consciousness gives listeners a fascinating context to understand the more than usual flurry of expectation which has been generated by the album’s impending release.
Popular music has gone through many trends and changes of direction since Cavaleri first emerged and amazed us all with his rock guitar pyrotechnics. The subsequent decades, which saw him writing film scores and jingles and finding occasional session work, have broadened his musical palette considerably, and now he has also added stepping up to the microphone to his already considerable skill set.
The new album, Demons, begins with an exorcism of sorts as Cavaleri, plaintively singing in a voice that sounds more than just a little like indie folk rocker, Passenger, confronts his anxieties head on. In this gently assertive title track, a reflective, melancholic ballad, Cavaleri sings: ‘If I had it all again / I wouldn’t take it all for granted…’ It is impossible not to be moved by the honesty and regret this song conveys.
Castles In The Sky is more upbeat, with Cavaleri finding an appealing summer road trip type of groove and, even though the drums actually sound a little pedestrian here, he layers some tasteful playing across the track to make the song work.
Similarly, the following track, Hug, is another uplifting piece of indie pop. It starts off innocuously enough, but then gradually insinuates its way into your head, ultimately leaving you savouring its satisfying sugar rush of sound by its conclusion.
Demons, unfortunately, after such a promising start, then serves up a series of oddly sequenced missteps.
Before You Check Out is a simple acoustic ballad that is only rescued from being instantly forgettable by some of Cavaleri’s timely and tasteful guitar touches here and there, and, coming after the album’s strong opening trio of songs, it fails to sustain the impetus that has been achieved to this point.
The Drifter, an instrumental, follows. It’s a track which sounds like a lost outtake from a Hank Marvin or Duane Eddy album from the sixties. It is an interesting aural curio but does not really reach any great heights of virtuosity to justify its inclusion as a musical showcase.
Cavaleri also delivers a cover of Cold Chisel’s song, Rising Sun, which, in stripping away the original version’s raucous power and energy, backfires. It merely reduces the song to something akin to a dressing room warm up singalong.
Much more engaging and contemporary sounding is 29 Gold Stars. With its Prince-like playfulness and odd rhythm structures, it is the album’s standout track and suggests Cavaleri has found a style he could exploit successfully on future recordings.
Boho Limousine continues the echoes of Prince but is a little more traditional, and subsequently less interesting, in form. And, the penultimate track, Crush, sees Cavaleri conjuring up an oddly infectious stab at recreating the sound of those awkward sequin-wearing, hod-carrier Top 40 pop acts from the early seventies.
Chucky, another instrumental number, closes the album by conjuring up a fascinating stylistic amalgam – one where Cavaleri wonders what would have happened if JJ Cale had once joined T. Rex.
It is not a surprise that Nathan Cavaleri’s first solo recordings in decades come across as stylistically inconsistent. He must have had a lot of pent-up music in him that needed to get out.
But, all things considered, Demons is a pretty good album. It is certainly great to hear such a fine musician playing for us all once again and showing us that he has lost none of his natural flair, even if, understandably, this ‘comeback’ sounds a little tentative in places.
Nathan Cavaleri’s new album Demons is out now.
DEMONS NATIONAL TOUR
Nathan and his team are working with all venues in line with government regulations, and will proceed only in accordance with safe social distancing and COVID-19 safety procedures on a show by show basis.