While jazz/folk veteran Nikki Madden’s songs deal with some pretty heavy topics – war, the marginalisation of queer relationships, the modern male identity crisis – she delivers them in trademark wryly humourous style, all couched in sensual, languorous arrangements. It’s a ‘spoonful of sugar’ approach that Madden said extended to other facets of her life.

“I suspect it might be a cover-up for deep despair,” she chuckled. “You can either laugh or cry, and I come down on the side of taking the piss.”

Speaking to the Star Observer from the Blue Mountains home she shares with her partner of 31 years, Hope, Madden told us her roots as an activist folk singer went all the way back to the 1960s.

“I remember as a teenager going up to the Wayside Chapel to listen to the poets and folk singers. I was impressed by the notion that you could change the world with songs. I’ve concentrated on writing about issues in my career – environmentalism, social justice, human rights – and I find that if I write my songs in a lightweight way, being a bit flip rather than whingey, it’s easier for them to be accessible.”

A particular highlight of her brief, beautiful new four-song EP, the self deprecatingly titled Old Chook Music, is Next of Skin. The ode to her partner is so loved-up you’d be forgiven for thinking the pair were a couple of star-crossed teenagers.

“We are a smoochy, cuddly kind of couple, and I wanted to write a love song for her but I didn’t want to alienate [heterosexual] people.

“I looked at the common ground, at what’s nice about having someone close. It’s not until I sing in the second verse ‘husband and wife doesn’t quite get it right’ that anyone would suspect it’s not about a ‘conventional’ relationship.”

‘Next of skin, my next of skin, lick your lips and wipe your chin,’ Madden sings, in what’s a recurring lyrical motif throughout the EP – a focus on the pleasure-filled senses of taste and touch.

“I guess it’s part of my strategy. I use lots of sensual language about touch and taste because I find any human being who’s vaguely conscious can identify with and can engage with on a personal, emotional level,” she said.

Madden and her partner each brought two, now-adult, children to their relationship, raising a busy household of one daughter and three sons. It was this testosterone-fuelled home life that inspired another of the EP’s other highlights, Beautiful Man.

“I remember one night when they were teenagers we were all slumped on the couch watching the news, and the newsreader said ‘Fortunately no women or children were harmed,’” she recalled.

“It gave me a flicker of understanding that these boys of mine were not women and they’re not children. I take offence if people think that my boys aren’t important or fragile. It made me think about how men are beautiful creatures of life and vitality.”

INFO: Old Chook Music out now. www.nikkimadden.com.au

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