In his own words, Dave Wright & The Midnight Ramblers are in pursuit of one thing primarily — a perfect four minute song. When he puts pen to paper and pick to guitar strings, the Australian singer, songwriter, and bandleader tackles an array of subjects within the realms of what he calls “Australiana” — a melting pot of bluegrass, folk, Celtic, country, and traditional Australian bush balladry.
He says his subjects are about “ravers and boozers, girls, cars, Australia, mariticide (!), diggers, truckers, sadness, sickness, drunks, heartbroken mothers, angry fathers, desperate sons … and death. Lots of death.”
Wright and his band, The Midnight Ramblers — Wright (vocals, guitar), Rob Barber (mandolin, banjo, vocals), Tim Cavanagh (upright bass, vocals), and Connor Ross Hicks (fiddle, vocals) — have maintained that tack since the band was initiated in 2017, having evolved out of Dave Wright & The Midnight Electric, an outfit he formed in 2010. That band released four albums and two EPs that focused on roots rock, but Wright eventually decided to put his emphasis and efforts into The Midnight Ramblers, first as a side project that could satisfy his love of bluegrass, folk, country, and storytelling songs, and then as a full-time pursuit.
Nowadays, the Ramblers continue to delve deeply into Wright’s extensive catalogue while they reimagine many of his seminal songs in a decidedly down home style, one which intermingles a country croon with blazing bluegrass. They parlay their approach while sharing their close-knit harmonies, rolling runs on banjo, and a decided fiddle frenzy.
Again, in Wright’s words, the band specializes in a “rollicking, boot stomping, good ‘ol fashioned country hoedown.”
“My songwriting influences are wide and varied,” Wright says. “However with the Ramblers, I tend to be influenced by artists like Old Crow Medicine Show, Wood and Wire, Chatham County Line, Sturgill Simpson, and The Punch Brothers. The Steve Earle and Del McCoury Band album, The Mountain, was a key influence on me starting the band, as was Bruce Springsteen’s We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions. Australian musicians Paul Kelly and Mick Thomas are integral to my writing style, as they taught me to maintain an Australian voice with local stories. Both have adapted their catalogues at one time or another to feature traditional styles of music. I greatly admire the songwriting of John Hiatt, John Mellencamp, Jason Isbell, Patterson Hood of Drive By Truckers, and Ben Nichols of Lucero. I am also a huge Cure and New Order/Joy Division fan, and I have Ryan Adams to thank for bringing a young lad to country music when Heartbreaker was released.
To date, the band has performed solely in Australia, having toured extensively throughout their home state of Victoria. They performed at the Americana/Roots festival Out On The Weekend in 2021 and are scheduled to play the Yackandandah Folk Festival 2023 next month.
“Bluegrass and traditional folk is very niche, even in Melbourne, despite its burgeoning Americana scene,” Wright explains. “However every time we play, we leave people smiling and happy. It’s a joyful thing! We have a dedicated and loyal fanbase, and have slowly built a following over the six years of the band.”
To date, the band have recorded three albums — 2019’s Turn Out The Lights, Live at Jimmy The Saint which was released the year after, and Darkness Calling, scheduled for release in June. Their music can be found on both Spotify and Bandcamp.
“The band is a vehicle for my original songs,” Wright notes. “However we have thrown the occasional cover into our set, including Wagon Wheel by Old Crow Medicine Show, Graveyard Shift by Steve Earle and the Del McCoury Band, Friend Of The Devil by the Grateful Dead, Atlantic City by Bruce Springsteen, and Our Sunshine by Mick Thomas and Paul Kelly.”
Naturally then, Wright has a very specific opinion as to why bluegrass music is so popular worldwide.
“I find bluegrass to be an infectious, uplifting style of music,” he says. “You can write and sing songs about dark subject matter, but when married to a rollicking, stomping beat, they don’t appear to be quite so dour. It’s the perfect sleight of hand. Plus, audiences love the way we perform, all gathered around a single microphone, weaving our instruments and voices together. It’s so pure. The tone of the instruments is unadulterated and natural, and the blend of fiddle and mandolin is magic. There is nothing better than seeing a top class bluegrass combo in full flight.”
We would have to agree.