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The Usual - Born In A Storm
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I always liked the casual, unassuming nature of this band's name. It somehow exuded an air of quiet confidence and a complete lack of pretension or hype. The members of the band James Stewart (vocals), Paul Tizzard (drums), Johan "Yo-Yo" Buys (bass and, er, yo-yos) and Tom Fox (guitars) always seemed to have a focused vision and unity of purpose. They started cautiously with their first two excellent EPs ('Six Songs From The Inside' and ' Like A Vision') before heading off to Reggie Bowman's Melbourne studios to record the 15 songs that appear on this, their debut full-length album. Originally the plan was to simply rework all the songs on those two EPs and release them as a full album, but, thankfully, the plan was extended and although many of those early tracks appear (in remixed versions) on this album, there is enough new material to make 'Born In A Storm' the wonderful piece of work many had hoped for.

It was Bright Blue who initially pioneered this Cape kwela-pop sound, but it's The Usual who has carried the torch since Bright Blue mostly disappeared. Now it is Tom Fox's understated and seminal guitar sound that provides the link between these two bands, not to mention the fact that Peter Fox (ex-Bright Blue drummer) is the manager of The Usual. Fox's mbaqanga guitar licks and James Stewart's vocals have always formed the core of The Usual's sound, with Tizzard and Buys's rhythm section consistently providing the dynamic underbed to these songs. It's a simple formula, but one that has consistently produced some of the best SA pop of the decade. You want proof? Just listen to the opening six tracks, as strong a set of pop nuggets as ever kicked off an album. There's the hopeful and sparkling 'When I Look Into Your Eyes' and 'We'll Be Together As One', followed by the slow-burning title track and the slightly tweaked and gentler version of their first single, 'The Shape That I'm In'. 'Crocodile Eyes' and 'It's A Cold World Without You' follow, with the latter being the stand-out choice as the next single after 'Born In A Storm'. The balance of the album is as consistent as this opening salvo, with fresh versions of 'Like A Vision' and 'In My Head' also making their welcome re-appearances later on.

So 'Born In A Storm' has exceeded all expectations, including those of Street Level Studios, the band's faithful and supportive record company who always believed that this jangly SA folk-pop was well worth its tireless efforts. The Usual shared that belief and vision and stayed on its chosen path to the SA musical high ground. The quality, sound and shape of 'Born In A Storm' finds them further down that path than they could ever have imagined.

Stephen "Sugar" Segerman 9/10

others in the REVIEWS

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Lots of SA CDs to buy online at One World.

There's also the Two Oceans Trading online shopping mall where you can purchase Springbok rugby merchandising, SA books, jewellery and CD-ROMs, amongst many other items.

Any thoughts, requests, problems, complaints, praise or interesting and relevant SA music news, please email it immediately to: sugar@cd.co.za

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editor: Stephen "Sugar" Segerman, webmaster: Alan Levin, maintainer: Brian Currin

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