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Revisit Julia Jacklin’s magnificent cover of the Nick Cave song ‘Skeleton Tree’


Australia is ruling the waves of alternative music at the moment it would seem. From Courtney Barnett to Julia Jacklin and a slew of Tame Impala’s in between, it would seem that music has never been healthier down under. However, that hasn’t always been the case. 

When Nick Cave and his Birthday Party cohort were pursuing an artistic career ‘Straya’ he came to the sorry conclusion that he’d have to head to the airport because his homeland had “no culture at all”. “Everyone wants to leave Australia,” Cave once said, “We’re raised to think that culturally everything happens elsewhere. Australia has no inherent culture amongst its white inhabitants… So, anyone having any interest in art or music or whatever left Australia.”

Fortunately, that isn’t the case these days. Cultural celebrations like the APRA Music Awards and the talent on display are testimony to this boom. And you would find many brighter talents in modern music than Julia Jacklin. Her silken tones and atmospheric performances have established her as a boon who can rattle the rafters with as little as a slow downward strum and a softly stirring croon. 

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Back in 2017, the emerging star took on the recently released Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds song ‘Skeleton Tree’. The heartbreaking song from the album of the same name was the first that Cave had written since the death of his 15-year-old son Arthur. As his friend and collaborator Warren Ellis told Uncut: “It was the first time he tried to sing, and he’d written chords and a melody.”

Renowned for her stripped-back ways, the song is one that matches her restrained and sparse style. This comes from the fact that Cave returned to the barebones demo version of the song while in the studio. As Ellis explains: “We then tried the song in different ways, but we couldn’t make it work as a band – there was something about the broken and uncertain nature of the demo.”

For the cover, Jacklin leaves the simplicity unadorned and the inherent emotion soars from there with track-stopping aplomb. As delicate as a breeze, Jacklin’s ability to harness emotion from a humble soundscape is palpable and the effort remains one of the finest covers of an artist whose shoes are notoriously hard to fill. If you can bring individualism to something like this without sullying the effort then you know you’ve got a performer capable of unerring magnitude.

See the performance, below.