The highly anticipated debut album from country-pop breakout Melanie Dyer, Fresh is, fittingly, a true gem. It’s an apt description for the work of an artist raised in the picturesque surrounds of Inverell in Northern NSW – Australia’s famed Sapphire City. Few debut albums achieve the kind of multifaceted sparkle that Melanie Dyer delivers with Fresh.
At just 23, the Sydney-based singer-songwriter bursts onto the scene with startling vibrancy. The album’s lead single ‘Fresh’ is an established No. 1 hit, occupying the top spot on the official Australian Country Airplay Chart for five consecutive weeks, while Melanie herself recently performed for capacity crowds alongside Aussie country-pop powerhouse the McClymonts on the NSW leg of their mammoth Endless Tour 2017.
That Fresh should arrive glistening with the kind of polish and perfection that is usually reserved for the work of a veteran recording artist is no accident. Growing up on a farm at Mount Russell, NSW listening to Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton and Shania Twain, Melanie picked up a guitar for the first time at the tender age of 11. The rest is history – and the result of years of dedication and hard work. “I wrote my first song when I was 12, which was called ‘Life on the Land’,” Melanie recalls. “It became the anthem for Woolworths’ National Drought Appeal in 2007. It was really special to me, because I grew up on a farm, my dad’s a farmer, and I’m a country kid.”
At just 12 years of age, Melanie made her solo stage debut in the monumental NSW Schools Spectacular. The ensuing years saw Melanie graduate from the CMAA’s Camerata Programme twice, enter the coveted NSW Talent Development Project, before attending the famed CMAA Academy of Country Music. A 3-time Australian Song Writing Association Competition finalist, in 2011, Melanie was invited by the NSW Department of Education to compose the theme song for Education Week. From there, Melanie’s signing to Universal Music Australia in 2013 was a natural step forward.
“It was incredible,” Melanie says of making her debut album with Universal. “I’d been working on writing songs and collecting a catalogue of my own original music for years before I signed with Universal, but to have them then come on board and be excited and enthusiastic about my original material – and not try to make me something that I wasn’t – was really special. They’ve been really supportive in what I want to achieve and the style I’ve aimed for.”
Produced by the incomparable Lindsay Rimes (The McClymonts), Melanie’s 2015 EP Lifetime (Universal) was both a stunning artistic blueprint and a tearaway chart and commercial success. The title track soared to the No. 1 slot on the CMC Top 50, where it stayed for more than 7 weeks. Subsequent singles ‘Busy Doing Nothing’ and ‘My Stupid Mouth’ went on to crack the Australian Country Music Airplay Chart Top 10. Above all, the Lifetime EP signalled the arrival of a phenomenal new voice in Australian music – both in the world of country and on the vibrant local pop landscape. A dose of pure, infectious country-pop bliss, Lifetime thrilled with so much entrancing feeling.
Few young singer-songwriters in 2017 have covered more live ground than Melanie. Having appeared everywhere from Gympie Muster to CMC Rocks 2016 – where she performed alongside the towering likes of Florida Georgia Line, Jason Aldean and Kelsey Ballerini – Melanie delivered a staggering 23 performances across 9 days of this year’s Tamworth Country Music Festival (her 10th year at TCMF). “The recording aspect is one thing, but I think getting the music out there and engaging personally with people is just as, if not more important than having the songs on the radio or having them in their car,” Melanie says of her commitment to live performance. “It’s important to me that I can play live what fans are hearing on the radio.” It’s testament to Melanie’s robust and rounded work ethic.
“It’s not something that’s just sprung up and happening quickly,” Melanie says of Fresh. “It’s something I’ve been building for many years, playing the 3-hour pub gigs and playing the little background music cover gigs in Sydney. It all adds up to what kind of artist you’re going to be.” Fresh is not simply an expression of Melanie’s uniquely wonderful slant on country, pop, and the invigorating space in which the two styles intersect: it’s a thrilling statement of who she is as a singer-songwriter. True to that, Melanie either wrote or co-wrote every song featured on the album – some in Nashville, some at home.
“Because I’m a songwriter at heart, and it’s something that I’ve done always, it’s about my experiences in life,” she explains. “Moving from the country to the city, the people I meet and the experiences I have all shape my sound. I guess that’s where my country roots come from. Fresh explores just who I am. I have a strong sense of who I am, but the album is delving into little parts that allow me to show a different edge.”
Melanie’s admiration of the megastars of country-pop crossover – Taylor Swift, Keith Urban, Shania Twain – and their ability to fuse styles is palpable in her own work.
“I always want to stay…fresh,” Melanie chuckles.
Produced by Lindsay Rimes and Michael Carpenter of Australian country tastemakers Love Hz Studios, Fresh ranks among the year’s most comprehensively irresistible releases in any genre.
“Lindsay is a great producer and writer, and he’s kicking goals in Nashville, creating that country-pop crossover sound,” Melanie says. “And Michael Carpenter, who produced 5 of the songs on the album, had a nice, organic country approach. I played guitar on a bunch of the tracks, and we discovered little hooks and bits of bling and sparkle on the songs that we added as we went along. And we had so much fun! Lindsay’s great, pop-driven radio know-how, mixed with Michael’s homegrown, organic, raw production background – it sat really perfectly with who I am as an artist, that mix of country storytelling songs and fresh sound.”
A co-write with fellow world-beating Aussie Morgan Evans, album centrepiece ‘Fresh’ is an irrepressible dose of infectious country-pop perfection. Anchored by a pulsing beat and frenetic banjo part, ‘Fresh’ is that rarest of songs: a 24-carat dancefloor-filler that is equally suited to a country music festival main stage. It’s also emblematic of the versatility that makes Melanie the luminous artist she is.
“It was great to have Morgan on ‘Fresh’ – to have that homegrown collaboration,” she says. “We worked really well together. I remember driving over to the session, before getting to Morgan’s place, and I just had the word fresh on my mind. Being in Nashville, I just had this sudden inspiration. It was like everything was new and shiny, and I just wanted to try all of these new things. It works really well on a big stage, but it’s also really cool to just strip it back and play it raw. It definitely sets up the vibe for the whole feeling of the album.”
Stirring album opener ‘Dreamcatchers’, with its thudding beat, entrancing banjo rolls and soaring guitars, is a glorious template for Fresh as a whole.
“It’s a country anthem,” Melanie says of the track. “It’s an anthem for young people wanting to just be young and free. It explains the last couple of years: I’ve been discovering who I am as a young woman, growing up on a farm and then moving to Sydney. It’s a song I wrote with Phil Barton (Sara Evans) and Bruce Wallace (Dierks Bentley) in Nashville. I just instantly felt this freedom, going over there, and sudden inspiration to just be whoever I wanted to be.”
Melanie delivers one of the year’s most intoxicating vocal performances on swelling, string-enveloped torch song ‘Fit You In A Song’, before charting sensuous, slinky heights in ‘No Strings’ – the track’s hook-laden chorus brimming with rousing singalong intensity – and serving up a delicate dose of sun-dappled acoustica in the vein of Jack Johnson or Jason Mraz with ‘Up & Away’. “It was just me at home with a guitar, just sitting on the bedroom floor and playing around,” Melanie says of writing ‘Up & Away’. “It’s a song that wrote itself in a moment.”
At the other end of the spectrum, ‘Running Free’ is another of the album’s irrepressible anthems, with its soaring vocals and neo-soul undertow. “I still had country within me, but I was really trying to channel this pop sound,” Melanie explains of ‘Running Free.’ “The result is a really cool pop-driven country song – it’s so hooky!”
In an album of infectious, hook-laden brilliance, ‘Save My Cents’ ranks among the most captivating entries represented on Fresh. From the track’s glorious vocal harmonies to a chorus that’s an all-clapping, all-stomping call-and-response breakout, ‘Save My Cents’ is pure, blissed-out pop perfection. It’s a tune that will resonate with fans of everyone from The Lumineers to Taylor Swift and beyond.
Established fans will be delighted to find the breezy, laidback ‘Busy Doing Nothing’ – which previously featured on Lifetime – rounding out Fresh’s intoxicating lineup.
Fresh is a stunning debut album from an artist of unique maturity, integrity and vision. An incandescent trailblazer at the forefront of the ‘new wave, new generation’ of pop-crossover artists with an earthy, honest country heart, Melanie Dyer is a singer-songwriter who is uniquely able to harness the endless musical possibilities of 2017 and beyond. Above all, Fresh proves that, with any precious substance, be it sapphire or ruby, polished or raw, a gem is a gem, however it’s cut.