Wollombi-based singer songwriter Andy Abra has released his first album, Andy Abra and The Big River Band, after decades of playing and performing throughout the Hunter Valley.
He's played guitar since he was seven years old. He grew up on Slim Dusty, Hank Williams and Johnny Cash. As a child, he attended the Tamworth Country Music Festival with his dad; Andy would busk Slim Dusty while his dad read the paper.
"I had six Slim Dusty songs. I'd play them over and over again make $70 and think I was the richest kid alive," he says.
When his voice broke he started singing Johnny Cash instead of Slim Dusty.
Abra comes from a large family of musos. He played with his cousin Kellie Cain, and eventually joined the family band, The Untidy Sidies, and has evolved into doing his own show.
When music producer Nash Chambers had moved into the Wollombi area, Abra became mates with him. Chambers was a positive influence, pushing Abra to do more original material.
When Chambers moved to Nashville, Abra decided it was finally time to make the album. Despite the fact that everyone loved his covers and wanted an album of them, he wanted to do his own thing.
His self-titled album was recently released with eight songs featuring a plethora of musicians Abra is proud to work with.
"We recorded nearly all of it live, so it maintains the sound that we're known for at gigs," he says of the album.
Song writing is a slow process for Abra. He'll write them in his head on a long drive home from a gig. He'll hear a melody and he'll work out an idea and then put it to music later.
He loves collaborating and has included heaps of local talent on the album including five other guitarists: Christopher Dale, William Crighton, Jason Winn, Brian Dillon, and Marty Burke.
His favourite song on the album is the one he didn't write, Ain't No One Night Stand, by Brian Dillon.
It's definitely a country music album, and Abra's voice is similar to Johnny Cash. Abra wouldn't describe himself as an Australian country music artist, but his last song on the album, Wandilla Fire, is particularly notable because he fully embraces his Australian accent in this song.
Abra thinks Australia has a lack of identity when it comes to country music.
"I've always had problem with singing the Rs. I've heard that some people can balance the accent. Too ocker is a bad thing too American is bad as well," he says.
He's not too worried about how country the album is, and he reckons people take the idea of being stuck in one genre a bit too seriously anyway.
He's looking forward to more gigs where he can play his own material. He gets a bit tired of being the background music at shows.
"I'll take those gigs over cleaning the toilets, but at the end of the day, I like when you can make people feel something. That's what music is about," he says.
"That's what I've been taught. If you can make people feel something then you're doing something right."