Rewind album: Sad But True, by Tex, Don & Charlie (1993)
Sad But True
Tex, Don & Charlie
In his time as the songwriting force behind Australian rockers Cold Chisel, Don Walker's lyrical majesty was more often than not obscured by the wall of noise the band produced (and was led by the wail of lead singer Jimmy Barnes). Walker helped produced the hits but it was only when you stepped back and really listened that the genius of the man's work could really be revealed.
Since that band's demise in 1983, Walker has continued to produce both alone and with various combinations which have allowed him to take the lead at times on vocals, something that his time with Cold Chisel rarely allowed. And the man's distinctly Australian nasal twang came as a surprise to many when he joined forces with singer Tex Perkins and guitarist Charlie Owen, and was able to have his fair share of the singing duties.
Walker slows the music down when he sings, and often this reveals the haunting laments so often at the heart of his work. That's exactly what fans found buried here, deep within the raucous noise and pub-yard bawls this trio have become known for since this debut. On the track Barlow and Chambers, Walker opens up an old wound - the 1986 hanging in Malaysia of two Australian drug runners - by positioning himself as witness to their last night on death row.
The case itself cast a dark shadow over the often fractious relationship the two countries have had since Malaysian independence in 1957. Australia has over the past century taken a strangely paternal stance, at times, when it comes to dealing with its neighbours in Asia.
International press coverage was sometimes skewed in favour of those caught and charged when they were found at Penang's airport with a stash of heroin in a suitcase. Malaysia had only recently amped up the punishment for such crimes, and the drama lasted through conviction, then appeal, and then beyond. Pleas for clemency were made, rumours were rife about corruption and incompetency, fingers were pointed, ethics and morality questioned, and politicians became involved.
But what Walker does on Barlow and Chambers is ignore the controversy that swirled around the case and return attention to what was often forgotten as the whole sad affair played out: the people at its centre. And so it is a song that is stripped down to its bare bones.
Walker chooses not to question the rights or the wrongs but instead to paint a picture - through words and music - of how it was perhaps that these two men faced down their fate, and the dawning realisation in those final moments that they were about to walk to their own deaths, all alone and a very long way from home.