By BRUCE DENNILL
Die Lemme: Rigtingbef*k 6
The Brother Moves On: A New Myth 6
Frank Turner: Tape Deck Heart 6
Laurie Levine & Josie Field: Side By Side 6.5
This is a concept album with a twist: rather than being about a theme, it’s about a community. Gary Herselman – former Gereformeerde Blues Band and The Kerels member and Tick … Tick … Bang! label head – is the hub around which everything revolves, having written all of the 18 songs on which the 40-odd guests who make up the rest of informal Die Lemme collective.
Some of the guests are of Herselman’s vintage; many are younger, grateful to have been influenced by everything Herselman was a part of bringing to prominence, including the Voelvry movement. Some of those unofficial proteges have gone on to be influential themselves, meaning that something like Doesn’t Make A Sound, featuring Arno Carstens on vocals has as many sonic allusions to the Springbok Nude Girls as it does to anything by Herselman’s old collaborator, Johannes Kerkorrel.
The length of the album gives everyone involved a chance to express themselves in their unique ways from the mellifluous folk vocals of Nechama Brodie to the guitar playing of Albert Frost and Robin Auld and keyboard and synthesiser twiddling of Ampie Omo and Chris Letcher.
Life Is Beautiful, Just For The Occasion and the extra-terrestrial charms of ZX Dan are among the highlights, but every minute of the running time is a warm reminder of the depth of South Africa’s musical heritage.
A much-hyped recent addition to the South African Afro-jazz scene, The Brother Moves On are an intriguing proposition in that music is only a fraction of their output. They were founded as an arts movement of mostly fine and graphic artists that then began to accept musicians to add to their capacity in the live performance environment. For now, that aspect of the outfit’s creativity is dominating, at least in the public eye, with this full-length album showcasing a collective penchant for sinuous, looped melodies that often feature vocals as additional instruments rather than as a means to deliver lyrics. Because of this arrangement style, some of the compositions tend to blend into each other, but when individual works have a strong standout feature, they’re memorable. Too-brief a capella opener Everything Is Going To Be Ok is lovely and These Bones Will Rise and the curiously named Jocksauce add energy to good tunes. A New Myth offers a tilt at the mainstream while being avant garde enough to preserve The Brother Moves On’s original artistic values.
Frank Turner’s former incarnation as singer of punk band Million Dead remains a major influence five albums into his solo acoustic rocker career. Folky types tend to tell stories in a relatively simple, metre-friendly way. Punks are able to fit more words into each bar, often lubricated with a bit of humour, and Turner – a great lyricist – is able to do that with just about every track on this collection. Opener Recovery out Lily Allens Lily Allen, feeling less smarmy than that chart darling’s output and having a stomper of a chorus to boot. The mandolin riff in The Way I Tend To Be combines wth an immediately memorable melody to create a strong pop tune before Plain Sailing Weather (Biggy Clyro minus the muscle) and Good & Gone, both single material introduce a bit of a snarl, at least in the lyrical sense. Returning to the punk style instrumentally isn’t as good as an idea, as it turns out, with Four Simple Words not sitting comfortably in its more acoustic surrounds. City & Colour fans, if you’ve not yet expanded your collection to include Turner’s not dissimilar canon, do so now.
Two of South Africa’s best-known folk and folk-rock artists, each capable of attracting good audiences on their own, but working full-time offstage to ensure those numbers: what could be better? A combination, perhaps – half the responsibility for twice the value? Laurie Levine and Josie Field’s same-people-same-material-different-context side project has already built up considerable momentum, with the pair having enjoyed a number of successful tours already. This collection, comprising four originals from Levine; three from Field and a trio of covers – tunes by Dolly Parton (The Seeker), Kings Of Leon (Use Somebody) and Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes (Home) – further extends that reach. It also underlines the core appeal of the project as a whole: that strong songs don’t need much embellishment (vocal harmonies and a couple of strummed instruments will do). Vocally, the singers take the lead for the songs they wrote themselves, with the input from their musical partners elegantly modest. This means that Side By Side is not a dramatic diversion from the solo sounds of either Levine or Field, though these stripped-down versions of their songs make excellent additions to the catalogues of both artists. The covers – always a potentially dicey area – turn out to be great choices too. Home could easily have been written by euther Levine or Field, and fits seamlessly into the line-up. Use Somebody has its original macho angst replaced by a gentle yearning and taking the twang out of The Seeker harms it not a jot. A collaboration that slightly over-delivers on the quality delivered by the facets of which it’s composed.