By BRUCE DENNILL
Chris Chameleon & Daniella Deysel: Posduif 5.5
Gorgon City: Sirens 5
Led Zeppelin: Physical Graffiti – 40th Anniversary Edition 8
Casting Crowns: A Live Worship Experience 8
As ever where Chris Chameleon is concerned, a collection of songs is not just a collection of songs. Often the factor that differentiates him is his versatility: he may follow a punk track with a gospel tune, veering off into opera along the way. And he may be wearing anything from a tuxedo to a dress while he does so. Here, though, there’s something else: Chameleon has teamed up with another artist, a poet named Daniella Deysel, who he has essentially taught how to sing from scratch for the project. Chameleon loves to work with poetry as base material – he has recorded two albums built around the work of Ingrid Jonker – so perhaps this was simply the next step, to weave a poet into his music rather than just their work. Whatever the thinking, it works, but without creating any game-changing moments. The lyrics for everything bar the song Dit Is Al are Deysel’s, while Chameleon provides the instrumental arrangements. The melodies are not his strongest, but it must be remembered that writing for his own huge range and taking into account the limitations of an inexperienced colleague are two contrasting challenges. The best offerings are the relatively upbeat Knop Knop and the lovely, folksy Stukke Van Jou Oe, which is perhaps the tune most likely to break through commercially. Versuim Versag mixes in some English lyrics, the title track is clean, simple pop and Simmerson, another track with a picked guitar lead, shows that these songs will bed in with further listening, as it is more effective in situ than when played on its own. Dit Is Al, for which Chameleon wrote the words, is arguably stronger in poetry terms than Deysel’s work (which is no slight on the younger artist; he’s hugely talented and far more experienced), so the purpose behind the collection’s concept remains mysterious as the album ends. Deysel has been introduced to a wider audience, and she certainly has something to offer, but coming out of the blue as she will for many established Chameleon fans, there may be some feeling that her work is a curious choice as a centrepiece for this project.
English producers Kye “Foamo” Gibbon and Matt “RackNRuin” Robson-Scott make up Gorgon City, with their nicknames pointing newcomers in the direction of the space in which the duo’s music fits most comfortably – club dancefloors or similar. Opening track Coming Home suggests some low-key backing for a new Cee-Lo track, but it’s not representative, with the rest of the album comprising dance tunes of varying intensity, each featuring a guest vocalist. The Gorgons’ little black book is impressive, extending to Jennifer Hudson, who lends her distinctive pipes to Go All Night, along with a list of less well-known but very capable performers including Katy B and the splendidly-named Maverick Sabre. Given that the music is produced with mixing songs together to maintain appropriate beats per minute and so on, it’s not surprising that the bulk of the collection sounds very much of a type, with only closer Hard On Me offering a notably different rhythm. As such, outside of a club, this is fine as background material, but not really interesting enough, in terms of its individual components, to focus on.
Four decades after its release, Led Zeppelin‘s double-disc Physical Grafitti still sounds like it will be an important reference point for rock musicians in decades to come. What it continues to proudly proclaim is that writing what you like and believe in as a musician is more important that trying to create what you believe others will like, according to whatever phony formula is doing the rounds at the time. It’s an incredibly inventive collection, with the variety in the tracklisting having at least something to do with the fact that there are songs from three sets of sessions here – eight recorded specifically for Physical Graffiti; three outtakes from Houses Of The Holy (not making the title track a priority inclusion on that album proves that the band members were high for the whole of the Seventies); one Led Zeppelin III outtake and a further three leftovers from Led Zepellin IV. Jimmy Page’s peerless riffs remain instant air guitar inspiration, with Custard Pie and Houses Of The Holy rocking from the first bar and Trampled Under Foot sounding like Stevie Wonder fitted with tight leather pants and filtered through a massive Marshall stack. Kashmir still sounds like nothing before or since, majestic, thrilling and slightly sinister (the more so for slowing everything down relative to the almost equally hard-hitting Immigrant Song off III). This whole album is about the quartet showing that they had extraordinary chops, but it is in Kashmir that their success in that endeavour is most obviously evident. The second disc can’t hope to match the first, and it doesn’t, but In The Light’s woozy pacing, the phasey acoustic instrumental Bon-Yr-Aur (because why not?), the punchy strut of The Wanton Song and the authentic rootsiness of Black Country Woman all stand out for their own reasons. They don’t make ‘em like this anymore – mostly because if they did, listeners with short attention spans would ignore 90% of the effort and go and buy the single on iTunes. *Sob*
Listening to new original worship music performed live is exciting (in industry terms, quite apart from the spiritual side), because it means that new material is flowing into a part of the market that needs freshening up more often than most due to the music being constantly played live by thousands of church band members, and because the fact that a crowd is singing along to every word suggests that the songs have been road-tested and have what it takes to endure. Casting Crowns are, technically, a superb outfit. If there is a critical comment it’s that chief songwriter Mark Hall is occasionally given to over-using similar chord structures andthus giving some new songs a confusingly familiar feel. The potential for that happening is mitigated here by the inclusion of songs from a range of other writers, including All Sons & Daughters (the magnificent Great Are You Lord), Here’s My Heart by Jason Ingram, Chris Tomlin and Louie Giglio and No Not One by Brandon Heath and Christy Nockels. What the band has also done is performed and recorded the songs in styles other than the traditional church song sound. So opener At Calvary is a fantastic country tune that happens to focus on the impact of the Crucifixion and likewise, Good Good Father could almost be a tender tribute to someone’s dad – and again, if it charted on mainstream charts, it would make sense there. There’s no denying the intent to worship, though, with Hall regularly praying between songs and encouraging his audience to focus on the theme of the lyrics. Strangely, on a first listen, the album underperforms somewhat, perhaps because there’s a disconnect between the listener’s experience as a concert attendee themselves and interpreting the live show feel via someone else’s encounter. Give it time, though, and the quality of the set – the writing and the performance – become increasingly evident. Ultimately, this collection can be used as a rich resource for worship bands and as a high-quality concert recording for those who simply want good tunes.