The Bush Ballad
The bush ballad, or ballad of the bush, has been with us since colonial times (The Old Bark Hut, Springtime It Brings On The Shearing). They are plain rhymes set to traditional folk melodies.
The modern bush ballad grew out of our early recorded country or 'hillbilly' music, much of which was American influenced. Market forces soon shaped the genuine Australian ballad into the set form it retains today as a recognisable and perpetual art form.
Technically, the bush ballad adheres to a strict chord pattern of three, sometimes four and, at the most, five (as in Gumtrees By The Roadway and That's The Kind Of Life I Live). It may have a series of verses or verse/chorus pattern but the chord progression, once established, remains unaltered (as in The Pub With No Beer).
The occasional minor or seventh chord is permitted but never predominates. And, unlike folk music, the root or tonic key is most always major.
Because of its narrative nature, the backing instrumentation should be, if not sparse, then certainly complimentary (Indian Pacific), comprising mostly acoustic guitar apart from bass and lead guitar. Stringed instruments and, occasionally, piano accordion or harmonica, may be added, but never brass.
The other factors are lyric subject and presentation. The lyric must deal with country life or people. Despite modernisation and change, country life remains a distinct, recognisable identity. And it is this that the lyric must interpret.
Finally, the artist's presentation must be straightforward, devoid of blues or pop inflections, and demonstrate sincere empathy with the lyric.
- John Minson