While growing up in East Gippsland, Michael Waugh listened to a lot of American country music. Although it loosely spoke to him about his own life, the locations and themes always seemed to him exotic and super-sized. Clearly still heavily influenced by those songs, this debut album is his attempt to localise similar stories by relating them to his own small-town experiences. It's a motivation perfectly laid out in the rolling opener's refrain, dedicated to his mother: "They don't write pretty love songs for girls born in Hayfield." By keeping his songs intensely personal they are loaded with references and reminiscences about growing up in rural Australia, moving to the city and fatherhood. The music is solid and full of the obligatory jollity of the genre, with some toe-tapping moments amongst the reflective. His vocal is warm and exudes a Billy Bragg-like passion. It is the poetic lyrics, though, that makes this release such a delight, from the uniquely Australian reference to Blundstone boots to the sweat and pain shared in Dairy Farmer's Son. Aided by Shane Nicholson on production duties, with this one record Waugh has done enough to add himself to the list of archetypical Aussie singer-songwriters.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD, March 24, 2016
Michael Waugh might well take a cue from the cadence of classic American country and western music, but his songs reverberate with reminiscences from rural Victoria sung in an accent as broad as the Murray-Darling Basin. In What We Might Be, pearls of wisdom from the pen of the dairy farmer’s son from East Gippsland get big city polish from producer Shane Nicholson. Nicholson’s impeccable sound engineering and exquisite touches on electric, acoustic and bass guitars — not to mention drums, piano, accordion, organ, harmonium and banjo — put the emphasis on Waugh’s descriptive storytelling, compelling the listener to focus on every word.
The songwriter’s love of family radiates through songs such as My Dad’s Shoes(Blundstone boots, actually) and Brother, but not in a maudlin manner. A reference to his mother’s upbringing in the opening Heyfield Girl is singularly direct: “They don’t write pretty love songs for girls born in Heyfield.” The pressures that come with living on the land are not sidestepped in Dairy Farmer’s Son.
The realities of modern country life are graphically illustrated in Heart of the Valley: “There’s a hole in the heart of a valley / where they dug out all the coal from the seam / And the freeway cuts around / what used to be the town”. In Terrorists and Planes, he expresses concerns for kids brought up in today’s society: “No one seems to worry about the violence of their games.” Paul addresses the problem of bullying via a poignant childhood memory.
THE WEEKEND AUSTRALIAN, January 30, 2016
Country Music Capital News
For a start, I have to admit that I love this album. What We Might Be is the kind of album that makes you want to call your friends and rave about it... or is that just what I do? It is a flawless collection of beautifully crafted songs, uncompromisingly real, with a strong Australian accent. Among the pick of the 11 terrific tracks are the opener Heyfield Girl, a funny, sad, moving tribute to Michael's parents, and the confronting but totally gripping Dairy Farmer's Son, and Brother a beautifully drawn picture of he and his brother's relationship. Michael rarely strays from what he knows and cares about... He doesn't need to. When he sings Heart of the Valley or Maffra Under 10s he takes you into his world where anger is balanced by humour, sadness by happiness, in a way that would ring true with everyone that hears it. Whether is the attack on bullying in Paul or the tenderness of This Too Will Pass, Michael Waugh's got your attention and doesn't let go. Although What We Might Be is a deeply personal record, Michael makes it, at the same time, really involving. Shane Nicholson's production is both immaculate and and sympathetic to the songs... the playing, mostly by Shane, is the perfect balance for each track. What We Might Be is a wonderful album from an exciting and special new voice in Australian country music.
COUNTRY MUSIC CAPITAL NEWS, February 2016, Volume 41
Country music singer, songwriter and guitarist Michael Waugh is a dairy farmer’s son from Gippsland, Victoria. On What Might We Be, Waugh dispenses with many of the lyrical concerns that are often trundled out by practitioners of the country music regardless of their actual country of origin. Rather than singing reverently about a mythical America, Waugh conjures images and experiences that are refreshingly and distinctly Australian, and does so with an honesty and depth of insight that ensures this debut album is an engrossing listening experience.
Waugh’s love and respect for his family shines through in Brother, which manages to tug at the heartstrings whilst remaining both playful and down-to-earth. Waugh avoids mawkishness and instead captures the complex nature of the familial bond: “I don’t often tell you – except for when we’re drunk / Just how much it means that you’ve been there when things were tough / I disagree with everything you say / But you’re my brother and I love you anyway.” Waugh’s capacity for incisive social commentary comes to the fore on the moving Terrorists and Planes, which inspires the listener to soberly reflect on a society in which the spectre of violence haunts even the most seemingly innocuous pursuits such as childish “games”.
If you love music that will get your toes tapping while engaging your brain cells, What We Might Be will prove to be indispensable listening.
BEAT, February, 2016
There's no mystery as to why ARIA Award winning musician / songwriter / producer Shane Nicholson wanted to work with Michael Waugh: both are sensitive, insightful songwriters and storytellers, and together they've created this outstanding debut release.
Waugh's songs are about real people and his experiences growing up in East Gippsland in Victoria. Heyfield Girl is a dedication to his mum. My Dad's Shoes, Dairy Farmer's Son, Brother and Maffra Under 10s speak for themselves. Paul is a tragic tale of bullying, and This Time Will Pass is a love song to his son. Michael just performed at Tamworth last month.
STACK, February 3, 2016