By BRUCE DENNILL
Allan: Face To Face
Desmond & The Tutus: Tuckshop
Various Artists: Just Inspired 3
Martin Smith: Love Song For A City
Group 1 Crew: Fearless
Never achieving sales or fame on the scale of a number of bands in similarly heavy-but-melodic vein, Deftones, with Gore, again tread the line between mainstream appeal and cult status. Prayers/Triangles has a couple of hooks to go with its developing riffs – think, perhaps, Linkin Park – before Acid Hologram ups the instrumental muscle. It must be said that, if a first run-through of this material suggests more density than dexterity, the songs become relatively easier to appreciate for their detail with each following listen. Doomed User’s unusual time signatures complement the aggression of its guitar lines; Hearts/Wires takes its time in building from a quite intro to a thundering climax; Xenon’s driving chorus invites engagement and the title track is a gut-punching sonic attack. All of this range is within a fairly narrow scope, however, and it’s possible to get to the end of the album with a sense of an overall sound and a couple of memorable spikes than a bringing together of a selection of fresh ideas. There’s a commanding aura here, but it could be suggested that the tone drowns out the tunes in some instances.
Singer-songwriter and worship leader Allan Van Niekerk has released his debut solo collection from what seems an idea place for a musician in his position: having the congregation he is a part of singing his songs as expressions of praise to God. As such, he starts from a place of authenticity and builds well from there. The title track kicks off the collection impressively, with rich production supporting an atmospheric arrangement and Van Niekerk’s immediately striking voice – equal parts Lighthouse Family’s Tunde Baiyewu and Jesus Culture’s Chris McClarney. Lyrically, Van Niekerk’s original compositions (co-writes with Neil Engel; useful surnames both for Christian artists) are simple and direct, with the arrangements containing the major elements that lift the songs dynamically, often making them stirring and anthemic. That quality, it seems, also influences Van Nieker’s choice of songs to interpret here. Waymaker, originally by Nigerian gospel artist Sinach, is an unavoidably get-involved sort of tune, as is Matt Redman’s Gracefully Broken, which includes literal lyrical cues as to how to respond, even as the evocative choral backing unconsciously encourages the same thing. I Belong To You is perhaps Van Niekerk’s strongest original contribution, and is certainly deserving of travelling as far in the opposite direction as the songs here from the US, UK and Australia are. The album ends with a trio of medleys – both effective ways of presenting worship music in a church context and exciting listening if songs are combined well. All of these three are excellent – Let The Heavens Open/Spirit Break Out a strong, mid-tempo option; Miracles/Healer an inspired mash-up and What A Beautiful Name/Here I Am To Worship a powerfully reflective way to end a superb set. In marketing terms, this album may suffer – among listeners not familiar with Van Niekerk – from his decision to use only his first name and a relatively generic picture, but on the other hand, brand recognition has to start somewhere, and the man’s music is certainly reason enough to seek him out for what will almost certainly become a growing fanbase.
Desmond & The Tutus’ debut collection was re-released last year to mark its ten-year anniversary, and from the opening strains of first track Peter, it remains clear what all the fuss was about. Singer Shane Durrant’s wailed, sung-spoken delivery was not nearly as common in the South African scene then as it is now, a mark of the Tutus influence on a number of bands that followed in their wake. Paying attention to this formula would have been a smart thing to do, as the basic elements were and are impressive. The instrumental contributions from Craig Durrant (drums), Nic Dinnie (bass) and Douglas Bower (guitar) combine in arrangements the equal of or better than their equivalents in most markets, and the lyrics are always intelligent and often bizarre, hilarious and surreal. The combination means the Tutus are – as well as superb songwriters and players – a reliable party band, as they manage to connect with listeners’ rhythm triggers as well as, for those listening closely, their brains. There is much of enduring value here: Peter, Old Girls, Kiss You On The Cheek, German Modern, High Fives and Too Late have undimmed charms and previously unreleased song Dancing With The DJ’s Girlfriend is quirkily effective. Add this album to your collection if you missed out the first time.
Disclaimer: I have a track of my own, Something To Do, included on Just Inspired 3. I can’t review my own work, but would appreciate your feedback once you’ve listened to the track. This is third in a series of a compilations highlighting new indie, rock and pop artists associated in some way with South African record label Just Music. As samplers of what is available and what might be the next big success in those circles, having previously included work from the likes of Nakhane Toure. Here, there are a number of offerings driven by electronica, noticeably different in sound, though not necessarily appeal, to the work with guitar or otherwise analogue approaches. Myageisdigital’s The Wanderer is a standout in the synthesised set, with a great melody and vocals, and The Kongos’ Keep Your Head raises the overall energy levels five tracks in. Lance James’ Rollin’ And Tumblin’ marks his latest album Swan Song as something as important in the local context as Johnny Cash’s American Recordings were in the US. Can You Hear Us At The Back by pop-punks The Shabs is an affectionate ode to playing live and its challenges, while Richard Brokensha (featuring Carla Louw) filters some Hendrix inspiration through a silky R&B mesh. Talented folk duo Zacas give Chris Isaac’s already moody Wicked Game a sultry makeover, before The Muffinz’ You’re The One and Beverly Jayne’s Breathe build beautifully on that acoustic feel. The collection closes with The Quiet, by The Liberation Project – a slow-building piece (two-and-a-half minutes before Neill Solomon’s vocals begin) that recalls the musicality and progressive ideas of Peter Gabriel. A varied, intriguing release.
Martin Smith, solo and with his old band Delirious?, is a veteran of the live concert album and the complexities involved. But this new project steps up the work involved on the administrative side, being a collection of 13 tracks recorded in 12 different cities in 11 countries around the world. Interestingly, the discrepancies in those numbers have to do with South Africa having three entries in the tracklisting (the only country to have more than one), with two of the songs recorded at gigs in Cape Town and one in Johannesburg. Leap Of Faith, one of the newer songs, combines an active rhythm section with an evocative “Catch me when I fall” refrain in the chorus, while God’s Great Dance Floor is as reliable as ever in raising the energy level in a room. The first of the Cape Town entries is a massive medley of Waiting Here For You and Majesty, two songs that are staples of congregational worship in this neck of the woods and so guaranteed to get a good response. This version of Song Of Solomon, recorded in Sao Paulo, is one of the best of a great composition. Such highs are not evenly spread throughout the collection, and Love Song For A City is certainly not Smith’s strongest release, but as a testament to a ministry that continues to be relevant around the world, it tells a compelling story.
Striking duo Blanca Callahan and Manwell Reyes – both possessed of gloriously luxuriant heads of curly hair – stand out less for their musical sound than they do their physical presence. The production on this Group 1 Crew collection is polished and precise, but often it has the effect of taking a song that begins with a fair bit of heart – such as He Said, which begins with an Owl City-ish pop mellowness – and layers some standard radio-friendly layers on it to make it rather more generic than it otherwise might have been. Dangerous includes obvious, intentional auto-tune, a gimmick that almost makes songs sound contrived rather than authentic (it’s repeated on Darkest Valley, though it sits slightly more easily with the rap flavour of that tune). It’s one of the paradoxes of commercial music – there is a generic aspect to it, but that can sometimes make it a more comfortable option for a wider range of listeners. The title track has a strong hook, and is a solid anchor for the album, coming in about halfway through. Later, Freq Dat – as its title suggests – recalls the simple rap/R&B crossovers of the Nineties. Ubiquitous CCM co-writer Jason Ingram’s influence on Steppin’ Out gives the piece an anthemic (though still MOR) touch. The title track is the closest to killer this album has, and all the filler means that it’s unlikely to be a collection at the forefront of listeners’ minds when they’re scanning their music libraries.