There were those of us who were worried that Australian “country soul rock ‘n’ roll” artist Dan Sultan might not have another album in him. Sultan released just two singles in the interim between 2009’s ominously titled, Get Out While You Can, and this year’s full-length release, Blackbird – more of a tease than regular creative output. Thankfully, it seems the drought is over, with Sultan announcing the impending release of a new EP, Dirty Ground, just months after the release of Blackbird, and wrapping up his sold-out Australian tour.
Dirty Ground may be comprised of B-sides and extras, but it promises to be much more than just the watery coffee grounds of the album-making process. Collaborations with Paul Kelly, Alexander Burnett (of Sparkadia) and Pip Norman (of TZU) indicate exciting potential for the as-yet unreleased tracks, but for now we have to be content with newly released single “Mountaintop.” Thankfully, it’s a winner. Co-written with Something For Kate’s Paul Dempsey, this is Sultan at his intimate best: guitar in hand and heart on sleeve.
Close your eyes and you just might feel as if you’re sitting in Way Of The Eagle Studios with the man himself; Sultan’s achingly soulful cry “I’ll climb up to the mountaintop” pouring into your eardrums from a mere two metres away. Accompanied only by modest acoustic guitar picking, “Mountaintop” stands on its own two feet as a solidly written tune that doesn’t need embellishment to bluff its way through (though I did briefly daydream about a full gospel choir in the chorus).
Don’t be fooled by the barefaced vulnerability of the delivery though – the lyrics are puzzlingly cryptic. Sultan starts with “I’ve been writing in the book that your mother gave me last Christmas”, then promises to “walk across the valleys for you” before issuing forth with the gooseflesh-inducing refrain. There are backstreets, streetlights and lonely nights…but as so very often happens with truly transporting songs, the lyrics of “Mountaintop” are simply a vehicle to carry the listener to its emotive heights.
It’s not until the final phrase fades into nothing that you realise you’re a few million miles away with every desire to stay there a good deal longer. Hello replay button: cue more blissful drifting away. Rinse and repeat until November 7th, when the full EP is due to drop.