Painting pictures of coffee brewing in Carlton, joggers running 'round the tan and screams rising out of the MCG – Dirty River is Michael Waugh's loving portrait of Melbourne. Shimmering with the electric 12 string strains of an Aussie rock classic, Dirty River navigates the personal and communal, the contemporary and historical, the beauty and ugliness of Melbourne. It is a stirring anthem, celebrating Waugh's home city and the traditional custodians of the land.
Dirty River is the first single from Waugh's fourth studio album due for release in August through Compass Bros Records, produced by multi-award winning artist, Alt-Country songsmith, Shane Nicholson. The six year working relationship between Waugh and Nicholson has already garnered critical acclaim, Golden Guitar award nominations (including Best Male Artist and Best Alt-Country Album at the 2020 Golden Guitar awards) and an award for Best Folk and Roots Album at The Age Music Victoria Awards. The boldness and confidence of their partnership has culminated in a song that's as big as the 240 kilometre titular dirty river - Melbourne's Yarra. In the musical tradition of great Melbourne-based songsmiths, such as Paul Kelly, Dirty River deftly weaves a sense of place with inclusivity and unflinching honesty. It reminds us of who we are, where we've been, and of the dirty river that runs through the hearts of all Melbournians – wherever they are in the world.
Waugh has been acclaimed as one of the country's finest songwriters, lauded for his vivid stories of uniquely Australian places and characters, told in an accent that is idiosyncratically ours. While his first three albums have focused on Gippsland's dairy farming communities, in Dirty River, Waugh turns his pen to urban spaces. Melbourne might be the protagonist in this emotionally resonant narrative – but all Australians will identify with those rivers that run through the heart of our capital cities. Waugh has an ability to be deeply specific, and yet to create story songs that remind listeners of their own streets, towns, pubs, beaches, and homes. Dirty River will resonate with listeners across the country – Melbournians might know those drunken lines for souvas on Brunswick street, the joy of Carlton coffee and the satisfying taste of a beer pulled at The Retreat, but Dirty River might run through any Australian city.
Waugh wrote the song through Melbourne's long 2020 COVID-19 lockdown - 'When you're stuck within a 5k radius of your own home, you start to newly appreciate the beauty of your city', Waugh says. 'I'm lucky enough to live within walking distance of the Yarra, and on those precious masked walks, I became conscious of the importance of the river in the identity and history of my city. The river is so central to my home and yet I'd taken it for granted for the 30 odd years that I've lived here. I suppose that was the gift of COVID – I got to see my city through new eyes. This place holds my personal history as well as that of my community. And we live at a time when we all have opportunity to learn more about the story predating European invasion – and the spiritual significance of the Yarra runs through the heart of that story, too.'
The stunning music video for Waugh's new single (directed by Melbourne based photographer and videographer, Sean Kirkwood) visually celebrates what is iconic about Melbourne, including Flinders' Street Station, St Kilda Beach and the Melbourne tram.