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Robin Auld - Iron In The Sky
12 December 2000 'Iron in the Sky' is yet another typically cool, calm and well-collected musical effort from one of the Peninsula's favourite musical sons. Robin Auld has been plying his surfer/folkie-pop around the Cape Town area since first arriving here in 1970. He's been especially industrious during 2000, taking time out to promote his recently published surfing/fishing/skiet-en-donder SA novel 'Tight Lines', before heading back into the Beach Road Studios in Cape Town to record this new album. He wrote and produced it himself and enlisted Peter Cohen (drums), Nelson Barbosa (bass) and Louis Mhlanga (guitars) to supply the backing. And the resulting 10-track album is as lekker, laid-back, sun-bleached, and relaxed as anything he's ever produced, which is great news for all his long-satisfied fans
The cover, which has Robin posing pensively in front of a windmill (the "iron in the sky" of the title), is a plain, unassuming grey, echoing the feel of the TV commercial for the album which features Auld and guitar riding on the back of a bakkie. A wondering (sic) minstrel folkie, heading off down the road to live the life that all good Dylan acolytes still aspire to and long for, regardless of their age or domestic situation. He is looking a little "aulder" these days, a bit more weather-beaten, world-weary and content, but he still folk-rocks like the best and still manages to write charming and hooky tunes about less ambitious and more down-to-earth subjects.
Like the edgy, exultant and expectant 'Driving to Johannesburg', the classic Big Star pure pop of 'Drunken Girl', and the gently emotional 'Met Someone'. 'Charley Go Crazy' is some jaunty, Capie folk-dance, and 'Which Way To Go' is a poignant version of the track Auld wrote with the late James Philips, and a highlight of a very classy album. This emotional track was recorded in Grahamstown and features guitarist Louis Mahlanga. The first single is 'Rikki Tikki Tavi', which is a speedy cover of an old Donovan track about a mongoose and the United Nations nog. These are all book-ended by the languid opener 'Ophelia', and the very strong closing trio of the lithe but cautionary 'Queen Of Pain', the knees-up title track, and 'Day I Said Goodbye', which features Dave Williams' mandolin and closes off the album with the sound of our balladeer strolling off down the road. All in all a confident and commendable return to form for the Kommetjie Kid!
So, should "Auld" (musical) acquaintances be forgot, 'Iron In The Sky' will bring your memory back like a shot! (8) (SS)
Springbok Nude Girls - Relaxzor
27 November 2000 Let's recap. This Springbok tight five led the successful Stellenbosch rock invasion, emerging halfway through the '90's with their winning blend of sonic metal, strong and melodic songs, rousing and deafening concerts and iconic frontman and musicians. They released three classic SA rock albums ('Neanderthal 1', 'Afterlifesatisfaction', and 'Surpass The Powers') and a half-dozen collectable EPs, and bestrode the SA rock scene like talented and fully-confident rude boys, planning each step of their rock careers, yet striving to avoid the 'Blue Eyes' path to (sell out) pop glory that kept opening up before them. They remained focused and a law unto themselves, both live and in the studio, believing in their collective ability to make their own decisions regarding styles, sounds, and set lists.
'Powers' producer Kevin Shirley only handled the mixing duties, this time, at the Hit Factory in New York. The band produced this 15-track collection themselves, hence the mixed reviews that greeted this new album 'Relaxzor'. It is a similar criticism to that which has been leveled at Just Jinger, namely wouldn't these bands benefit from a judicious objective opinion regarding material and editing. Anathema to groups like the Nude Girls, which is why everyone is looking so carefully and critically at this new album. But 'Relaxzor' is anything but. For starters it has a deceptive image with the ready-to-attack/defend androgynous, plastic Karate person on the cover. The feeling among certain SA rock critics is that the band has been over-feted and under-criticized, leaving them stuck in a creative and directionless rut of their own making.
Rut or not, they are still the most popular and adventurous rock band in South Africa. While there is still that classic grungy mix of hard rock songs and bloody hard rock songs with the occasional slowie, 'Relaxzor' takes a while to yield its many delights while still faithfully and enthusiastically tipping its hard hat to the Korn, Limp Bizkit and RATM school of punk thrash. 'Relaxzor' is not for the faint-eared and definitely not for those hopeful and dedicated pop fans. Jimmy 12" are just around the corner, so the Nude Girls are in aggressive mood, opening the album with the bicep-flexing roar of 'Stronger' just in case anyone's in doubt. This track alone will scare off all those "headphones at the counters" potential buyers, but will bring a warm glow to the hardy faithful.
But relax sir, these boys didn't earn their Springbok colours for nothing. Up step some archetypal Nude Girl gems to restore all that lost faith. Arno's dervish wail riding the 'Smiley Skull Of Faith' (John Bonham on dustbins) stomp. First single 'Unworldly Beauty' is a slower ballad which welcomes back Adriaan Brand's trippy trumpet, that Love-era sound that first helped to separate the Nude Girls from the boys. The sound on 'Relaxzor' very often resembles 'Rise'-era PIL, clattering drums and wobbling bass (Oh Jah!), white-hot guitar, and that primal John Lydon wail over the top (so to speak). It's a big, crisp and clean rock sound and although the album is too long and could have definitely benefited from some objective song-editing, there's still enough classic Nude Girls material ('Fist Or The Fun', 'Hard Dust' 'Schmetal', and 'Overdrive') to please their many followers nationwide and keep the critics off their backs for a while longer. But there is still the lingering thought that the band is capable of a SA rock masterpiece. Till that arrives, 'Relaxzor' will keep the fires burning. (SS]
Jenny Delenta - Delenta
13 November 2000 Another TV personality moves into the pop arena, except in Jenny Delenta's case the word "personality" is appropriate as she exhibited total cool during her stint as the roving TV reporter on 'Options', and a solid set of tonsils as a member of the Not The Midnight Mass a capella outfit. This is her debut album and it was co-written with Craigie Dodds (Egyptian Nursery) who also produced, engineered and arranged these 11 ambient pop gems.
'Delenta' is a trip-pop album that sparkles with fresh electronica touches, an abundance of memorable melodies and sultry, versatile vocals. Initially it sounded a bit twee and a little too similar to Qkumba Zoo's chirpy dance-pop, but repeated spins revealed 'Delenta's' intelligent and evocative core and wealth of potential singles. First single, 'Fall', is already all over the radio and the anthemic 'Higher Ground' is waiting in the wings to take over. 'Sudan' is a reference to Jenny Delenta's land of birth and is performed as a touching dedication to her mother and father.
Other highlights include 'In Rhythm With You', the strange vocal dynamics of 'Streets', 'Drown In You' and the dancey bonus track 'Coming Together'. Jenny Delenta has always exhibited a humour-tinged confidence, a hidden vulnerability and a clear-eyed intelligence. So it's no surprise that 'Delenta' is such an assured and strong debut. Nothing less then we'd expect from someone who would never sing a lyric like "I need your passion like it's going out of fashion". Delentable! (7.5) (SS)
Just Jinger - Strange World
6 November 2000 Ironic title hey Art! You take your band (Mark 2) off to London, find a big house in Hounslow just around the corner from the studios, play some regular gigs and headline the Amabala Festival to much acclaim. You record your 10-track new album, send it out into the world, and then find it released back home in the same week as the new offerings from Springbok Nude Girls, Boo! and Henry Ate (not to mention U2). More like 'Tough World'!
There was some initial talk of a Blur/Oasis-type "struggle" for album supremacy between The Jingers' 'Strange World' and The Nude Girls' 'Relaxzor', surely the two co-leaders in the late-2000 SA rock league, but comparing these two bands or these two new albums is pointless (except in terms of sales), like arguing over who between Andre Vos and Shaun Pollock is the best SA sporting captain. So we'll keep an eye on the charts and sales, both online and offline in SA and overseas, and may the best band make more money.
But from a review perspective, 'Strange World' must be judged in terms of it being possibly the fourth in a very successful sequence of big-selling albums by Just Jinger - following 'All Comes Round', 'Something For Now' and 'Here's To You'. Albums that drew frowns from many for their unpinpointable attractions. Ballads that were generally slow and anguished alternating with fast, loud bits. Practically all of them written by Art Matthews for himself to confidently wrap his gruff 'n honeyed vocals around. Too samey, too slow. Yet those three albums outsold any other SA rock albums for ages and aroused new hopes of a buoyant SA rock industry. So someone out there likes their music.... a lot!
Well, for those dedicated fans out there, I have some great news. 'Strange World' is going to make you very happy, warm and fuzzy. You can take it home, clear away all those Fetish CDs and take ages to get into 'Strange World' s emotional longings, lyrical paths and musical depths. The opening track and impressive first single 'Your Song' does set a deceptively uptempo pace, as nothing else that comes after it, apart from the jaunty 'Out The Way' and the throwaway but sweet hidden track 'Overjoyed', match it for spark, speed or invention.
The album is a good, old-fashioned 44 minutes and 35 seconds, which fits nicely onto one side of a C90 (all you cassette-Napsters) and which these days also indicates some judicious editing from the obligatory "we have 70 minutes, let's use them all" way of thinking. But it still tends to sag in the center from too many uninspiring slowies. 'For All We Know', 'It Never Did', 'The Moment' and 'Go On' seem self-indulgent and are truly for the faithful only.
But if you balance those against the worthy and sincere second single 'I Wish I Could Have Told You', the surprisingly cringe-free, gospel-rocky 'Remember Me', the sweet 'Sleep', and the really lovely title track which closes the album, you once again have another annoyingly enigmatic album from Art Matthews and his merry band - Brent Harris (drums), Denholm Harding (bass), Danie van Rensberg (electric guitar) and Anthony "Anth" Galatis (keyboards).
What can I tell you? 'Strange World' will sell in SA like Pokémon cards (they wish!), 'Your Song' will deservedly rule the SA charts for a while, one of the other tracks may also, and someone important in London may think this is great and pay their rent for a while longer. But for me 'Strange World' doesn't follow up on the promise and new direction of that opening (your) song and some variation from the formula is definitely needed, so it's not so much "Fine Art" as still "Just Plain Jinger"! (6.5) (SS)
Sharkbrother - Taj Mahala
23 October 2000 Pop music is very dire at the moment in a general way of speaking - and sometimes in a specific way of speaking.
In a sense the element of surprise and risk is masked out by producers, engineers, backers, friends and sometimes even the band themselves. The result of this is processed pap (or "pap", in South African-lingo). It's presented very slickly, very well played, and often even the voices are programmed to fix glitches. Now, to try to describe what Sharkbrother are up to is a little easier. Introspective, spacey and melodic (hooray!) they are obviously writing where the muse takes them, and not what they are told to do by some well meaning hack.
The hippy dream of 'Nature's Child' 'Gonna smile at the Sun, Gonna talk to the Moon' kicks off the album and sets the tone. With sparse guitars (not too many overdubs) and looping bass and violin, it's folksy and pleasant. There's an air of introspection, almost melancholia which stays with much of the album, but translates into an ephemeral beauty rather than a downer.
Soon things start to change and the album morphs into the mesmeric 'The Sea' which has a haunting almost Joy Division-like dream quality, but as quiet as Brian Eno's ambient stuff. '3rd Set' takes you by surprise again and we're out of the Seventies and into the new millenium. Or are we? Isn't this what Hawkwind and Tangerine Dream were doing? It's melodic and beautiful and the next few minutes take you away on layers of sound far removed from the folk-song beginnings of the album. But it all fits together so well... The '2000 leagues remix' could be a chilled out Morcheeba. Sharkbrother manage to do two things at once on the album and make it work.
There are stuctured songs spun around experimental space rock tracks and they don't clash but flow into each other. The weird electronica of 'Americans' with its slow steam train pace leaves one checking on the CD player reading to see if it's really finished - haven't we only just started getting into this?
Even Flow - Almost Human
16 October 2000 In his article on Bob Dylan in last week's Mail and Guardian, Adam Sweeting quoted D.A Pennebaker, the director of Dylan's 1965 documentary 'Don't Look Back', who said: "In the '60s kids in high school wanted to be in rock 'n' roll bands, but now they want to go into Internet start-ups. They want to get hold of some aspect of power that's suddenly available to everybody, when for a long time only artists seemed to have a grab at it".
A true and sobering thought. 19-year old Shawn Fanning, founder of Napster, need never write or perform a single piece of music and will still be regarded as having genuine Rock cred, not to mention mega fame and fortune. A role model for the new generation. But not for all, and definitely not for Even Flow, a young new band from the suburbs of Gauteng. These five young musicians seem determined to try the rock 'n' roll route, the old fashioned way. Form a band, write some songs, record a demo, send it out, play live as often as possible. Same old tried and trusted method.
Which is how I came to be in possession of Even Flow's demo CDR, with the band's name written in smudged pen on the one side and that ominous dark blue-green colour on the flip that makes the music jump and squeak in regular CD players, and only plays properly in those portable Discmans. The band's name and the album title is drawn on the cover in black pen and pencil gothic letters and the song titles handwritten underneath neatly in red. A kind of cheap Blair Witch generation type of style. OK, So far so good...
Seven songs and 33 minutes later, and I'm getting very hooked on this!
Hard to explain why, but with rock that's the way it always is and always should be. Thankfully! The band's overall sound will inevitably be lumped in under the post-Fetish category, which is accurate only in that it is slowish rock with dominant female vocals. But that's where the comparison ends. Even Flow have Melody Kaye on vocals and that's a name to scribble down because Melody is still 16 but sounds like she's been doing this for decades. Shades of Siouxie, Skin and Sandie Shaw. Alongside her, on glittering guitar and backing vocals is Mark Dumbleton, with Ruby Wolff on rhythm guitar, Wayne Nel on bass and Shawn Reyneke on drums. No one over 18 years old, just a good old-fashioned rock 'n' roll band, just like they used to make them!
Opening track 'Unanswered' initially sounded a little all over the place and ponderous, but the second track, 'Endless', was the first indication that there was something very special happening here. A slow, simple and emotional ballad that I couldn't tear my ears away from, no matter how many times I heard it. And it wasn't anything too different or unusual, it was just the band's core sound that attracted and intrigued. The rest of the songs - 'Almost Human', 'Burn', 'Little Mercury', 'Time I'll Give' and Sorrow Mind' - all have their growing respective charms and demo-quality rough-edgedness. But each constantly revealed some small treasures and one can only imagine how they would sound with a strong production hand and budget.
The band was formed in March 2000 with Melody and Ruby writing the bulk of the lyrics and Mark and Ruby writing the music. Their auspicious debut gig was opening for Jo'burg heavyweights, Saron Gas, at The Nile Crocodile in Pretoria in April. They've subsequently played their way around various Gauteng venues - Morgans Cat in Randburg, Global Action Cafe, Hunters, Rhythm & Brew, Tudor and The Big Easy. Their demo CD was recorded at Arck Studios in August and 'Burn' was soon play-listed on Barney Simon's Modern Rock Show. 'Burn' was the obvious first single with Melody's vocals riding the band's thunderous Bush-like storm.
'Almost Human' may just be a demo CD, and it may have a handwritten cover and an unpolished recording, but these are five young musicians who still believe that "career opportunity" number one is playing in a rock 'n' roll band and doing it the hard way, the way it's been done since the 60s and before. Because they'd still rather be rock gods then rock geeks, and therefore they have a very fair chance of pulling it off. Even money on Even Flow! (SS)
Jesse Jordan - Lately When She Cries
9 October 2000 Jesse Jordan is the confident teenage Cape rocker who walked the pop/rock section of the Shell Road to Fame competition in 1999. The stirring rock ballad that won it for him, 'Eastern Bridge', kicks off 'Lately When She Cries', his impressive debut album which has just been released in South Africa. Jesse has clearly grown up on a steady rock diet (although he may have binged a bit on the Bruce Springsteen, Bryan Adams and Bon Jovi food groups) and is a competent and solid rocker with a tough, gravely-edged vocal style that indicates a maturity beyond his years.
Along with Alex Power, his co-writer and producer, they have crafted an album's worth of emotional ballads built on the style and success of 'Eastern Bridge'. There are some very strong moments among the other 11 songs on 'Lately When She Cries', but none immediately emulates the simplicity, sincerity and sheer salted peanuts hookery of 'Eastern Bridge', but then again, not many songs will!
But after a while certain songs begin to emerge from the chasing pack. In the epic 'Tears In Her Eyes', Jesse's vocals merge with the surging guitar, and second single status beckons. The title track also reveals itself as a slow-burning and tuneful ballad and 'Reason With The Wind', 'Wendy', 'Didn't Understand', and 'Feeling Wanted' indicate a rich and varied songwriting seam. The closing track, 'Mary-Anne', allows its verse to borrow a little too heavily from Tom Petty's 'Free Falling', and 'Who Killed Biggie' could be about the late, notorious rapper (with its coy use of a few swear words), but its confusing lyrics give no further clues ("And I don't know, how you grow, Simple funny colours in the Rainbow"... huh?) and its jaunty, naff rockiness is out of place here.
There is also far too high a quotient of lyrics (and song titles) about sad women and "crying", "tears", and "leaving" for a debut album by such a young gunslinger. Woman are crying, woman are leaving, and sometimes they do so in the same sentence - "She didn't wanna leave them, 'cos they might all cry" ('Didn't Understand It'); "And she cries when she's leaving" ('She's Leaving'); "And I don't wanna leave this town, She cries for me sometimes" ('Lately When She Cries') - which gives the album a slightly melancholy feel all the way through and which tends to dilute the album's tough and confident rock vocals, guitars and attitude.
But it's still important that this album got made at all, despite its minor flaws, as the recording deal part of the Road To Fame prize never materialized and the album was self-financed and independently produced. In light of that it's a commendable effort, and it does have 'Eastern Bridge' whose soaring sing-a-long quality spells assured chart success. 'Lately When She Cries' definitely signals the timely arrival of Jesse Jordan, an exciting new star in the SA rock firmament. (7.5)(SS)
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