Reluctance would have to be my emotion on picking up this new CD from ABC Classics. However, from the first track with its very beautiful unison singing of By the Waters of Babylon, I was captivated. Not a great one for the reality television formula, Jailbirds is the end product of an ABC TV series centring on the creation of a choir of female inmates from Tarrengower Women’s Prison in Victoria, under the direction of Jonathon Welch.
Welch has taken to being a champion of the underdog and musically unites the many disparate souls under his wing. Along the way, he invigorates those with whom he works with the inclusion of a big name celebrity. In this case, it was the country rock singer Kasey Chambers who appears on the title track – a laid-back song written by the inmates themselves.
Whilst this recording has undergone all the production necessities to ensure commercial success (pleasing blend and balance), there is still a rawness and authentic voice evident in such songs as Time After Time, Breakaway, and I’m Coming Out.
And there are some surprising original sparks in such personal songs such as Gates of Tarrengower, Rock Those Blues Away and I Wanna See Rainbows, which all sing of hope.
Through this series and CD, Welch has proven that music can change lives in extraordinary ways. For these women, music built their self-esteem and improved their rehabilitative prospects.