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Inspired by tragedy, that young Jack River, she just keeps rollin’ along

Holly Rankin used a terrible loss as the springboard to her deeply personal brand of storytelling. S..

Holly Rankin used a terrible loss as the springboard to her deeply personal brand of storytelling. She's now channelled it into her debut album.

As a kid, Holly Rankin was always playing music. She started learning violin at just four, and over the years picked up piano, trombone and guitar, learning largely by ear. But it was only after the tragic drowning of her sister, Shannon, that Rankin started writing songs of her own.

"At 14, you're changing so much anyway, the world is opening up. And then this happens," says Rankin, now 26. "I just felt so overwhelmed by thought, so full of emotion, that there was no way I could express them except through songs.

"I don't know how else I could have let it out. You can't overwhelm your mum or your dad or your family. I was creating another world in which I could release my emotions."

Growing up in Forster, on the NSW coast, Rankin was "obsessed with spelling", a diligent diary-keeper, a surfer, a budding ecologist, and an SRC representative. In short, she says, "the kind of kid who emailed the local MP, then had them come into school to answer questions from the [students]".

Jack River (aka Holly Rankin).

Photo: Dana Trippe


But her love of music always ran deep, in particular for the old folkies – Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell – who "became parental figures" in her mind. "I'd listen obsessively, read about them, and store them as these pillars in my psyche. I felt like their music was a stable home, whereas my family life was so unstable."

Rankin's songs were so personal she didn't play them live, but she did put a couple of them on MySpace, under the name Isabelle Fire. Her transformative moment came at 17 when she snuck her way into Bluesfest, talked her way backstage, and met Julia Stone and producer Govinda Doyle ("it was surreal, like I was living my dream"). She recorded her first-ever EP, with Doyle, "the day she finished school".

The plan was always to record under a moniker ("I wanted to make other worlds, to explore them, and not feel tied to myself"), and after moving to Sydney Rankin recorded first as Desire The Horse before eventually settling on Jack River, the "pirate name" she had given herself in childhood.

Her chosen handle had the effect of playing with gender. "I thought the way people conceived of women in music was so tacky," she says. "I wanted to throw people, make them actually have to listen to the music."

Jack River finds the colour amid the gloom.

Photo: Darrn Luk

After releasing her debut Jack River EP Highway Songs No.2 in 2016, followed by a run of impressive singles, Rankin is finally releasing her debut LP.

Sugar Mountain – named after her favourite Neil Young song, not the Melbourne festival – is filled with songs gathered from across the years, many of which are working through the effects of grief.

"The album was made across this extremely dark period of my life that I used music to heal myself through," Rankin says. "The lyrics are about resilience in some form, and finding strength. No matter how dark the song, there's always going to be something in there about pushing out towards the light, towards something better."

Rankin sees the record as reflecting herself: music – this "spiritual, supernatural" thing – having been a way to get through dark times, to transform her life.

"For me, it's this incredible work of youth and sparkle and grit and glamour and colour, that has become my life through this obsession with music," she says of the record.

"I've found so much strength in all the songs. I'm hoping that other people, especially young girls, can find the strength in it that I've found myself."

Sugar Mountain is released today. Jack River plays a series of shows around the county in September. Details:

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So, we guess this means Beyonce and Jay-Z are OK then

The first couple of pop music took the world by surprise by dropping their first album together last..

The first couple of pop music took the world by surprise by dropping their first album together last weekend. As you'd expect, it's a statement.

There is arguably no couple better at controlling their own press than Beyonce and Jay-Z. When a video surfaced in 2014 showing Bey's younger sister Solange attacking her brother-in-law in an elevator, rumours of a strained marriage proliferated.

Rather than battle the tabloids, the spouses used the gossip to fuel the creation of two critically beloved, commercially successful records: Beyonce's Lemonade and Jay-Z's 4:44. And, in them, they offered just as many details about their private lives as they chose.

Beyonce and Jay-Z on stage in France for the 2014 On the Run tour.

Photo: Rob Hoffman

Now the couple have continued their domination of pop music, surprising the world last Saturday by releasing their joint album Everything Is Love, which is something of a sequel to those two solo records. Though they have collaborated for at least 15 years, this marks their first joint album, which they dropped under the name The Carters.

The record is a victory lap from a couple who have mined their relationship for universal truths and then presented them as art. It's a fierce love letter to success, to family, to blackness – but, most of all, to each other.

Artwork for the album Everything is Love by The Carters, aka Beyonce and Jay-Z.

Photo: Karl Quinn


Lyrically, it primarily focuses on two aspects of the Carters' lives: their marriage and their success. (more…)

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Rachel Griffiths: female characters are finally getting real on screen

Almost a year into the #MeToo era, Rachel Griffiths believes the likes of Mystery Road, Wentworth, P..

Almost a year into the #MeToo era, Rachel Griffiths believes the likes of Mystery Road, Wentworth, Picnic at Hanging Rock and Top of the Lake show that female characters are finally coming of age on Australian screens.

In a spirited speech at the launch of a new state government scheme to support more women directors in television, the actor-turned-director said it was exciting to see female characters move beyond "the typical tropes of 'likable, f—able, adorable'" to "more complex depictions of female experience" recently.

Happy to see "more complex depictions of female experience": Rachel Griffiths (left) with Leah Purcell at the launch of #SheDirects.

Photo: Louie Douvis

While she acknowledged there were male directors who created fresh and compelling women characters, Griffiths said the "male gaze" often reduced them to colouring the characters of their male counterparts.

"[They are created to] make him hot, make him authentic, make him empathetic, make him fatherly, make him conflicted, make him grieve," she said. "In the male gaze, we are so often not the gatekeepers; we're not the ferryman. Sometimes the mentor but usually only ironically, like Judi Dench's M…

"Under-written and under-observed, brought into our sexual awareness precociously and prepubescent in order to accommodate the male libido.


"Often in television we're used by lazy writers and producers who can think of nothing more interesting this week than 'let's have her have sex with X' or 'discover she's a lesbian – for an episode'."

Griffiths, who is about to begin editing the Melbourne Cup drama Ride Like A Girl after finishing the shoot, endorsed Hollywood star Sandra Bullock's recent comment that it was time for women to "stop being polite" about gender equality. (more…)

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Rachel Maddow breaks down on air over Trump immigration policy

US television host Rachel Maddow has broken down on live air as she delivered the latest development..

US television host Rachel Maddow has broken down on live air as she delivered the latest developments in the Trump administration's controversial "zero tolerance" immigration policy.

Maddow, who hosts her own show on MSNBC, was reading from a breaking news release from the Associated Press that revealed government officials have been sending babies and toddlers to what are being called "tender age" shelters in the US.

The youngsters are some of the 2,300 children who have been forcibly separated from their parents at the US-Mexico border since the White House announced a zero-tolerance policy on migrant families in May.

"The AP has just broken some new news," Maddow started.

"Um, this has just come out from the Associated Press, this is incredible. Trump administration have been sending babies and other young children – oh, hold on," she said, her voice breaking.


Maddow attempted to get through the breaking news piece one more time before moving the show over to a guest. "To at least three – three tender age shelters in South Texas. Lawyers and medical providers… I think I'm going to have to hand this off. Sorry."

Maddow took to Twitter shortly after the segment aired to say sorry to her viewers. "Again, I apologise for losing it there for a moment," she wrote. "Not the way I intended that to go, not by a mile."

She also tweeted out what she had been trying to say in her live read, writing out what was presented in the AP story. "Lawyers and medical providers who have visited the "tender age" shelters described play rooms of crying preschool-age children in crisis…" she wrote.

"Decades after the nations child welfare system ended the use of orphanages over concerns about the lasting trauma to children, the administration is standing up new institutions to hold Central American toddlers that the government separated from their parents." (more…)

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