Ammp / From the back of the Sun

ammp

ammp

As a regular music critic it’s within my dna to detest and loathe any product that leans towards solid commercialism. Yet, I recognize quality when I see it. And these boys are the deal! Former St Pats Townies Andy Masseurs and Mathew along with fellow Wellingtonians Andrew Richardson and Jason Murphy have consistently built their sound up to stadium overlord status. Their bio is a veritable role call of NZ On Air awards and grants and while you just wanna scream ‘sell outs!’ for the tallest building there’s no denying the soaring guitars, gargantuan bass and steely, pounding drums (Ironman, The Hunted). Ammp perform all the theatrics of a band that knows how to use a studio and a producer, in this case Simon Holloway (Dane Rumble). From Muse to U2 they’ve crafted their presence well. This is a band that is in control from the get go and Andrew Massuers’s voice has the perfect 80’s pop power to rule the stage (Let the sunlight in, and the sweeter Say I will). It’s a note perfect performance. Perhaps a little too clean. Like I said from the outset this is too close to head office for me but that should stop this band from clocking some well earned recognition and a major signing. And I’ll be spitting at their limo when it does!

NZ Musician July 2011

Grant Haua – Knucklehead

Grant Haua

Grant Haua

If you’ve kicked around the BOP in the last few you would have seen bluesman Grant Haua on a pub or festival stage at some point.  His sweet, gravelly voice and trademark rapier sharp guitar playing is instantly recognisable and definitively his own product.  Like Paul Ubana Jones he can turn a simple 6 string into a blitz of sonic emotion. Knucklehead is one slick, bitter sweet package.  Knockouts like Shame on You and Bad Man show case this phenomenal talent.  The influences are far reaching.  I can hear a little Stevie Ray Vaughn, a little Muddy Waters and Eric Bibb, especially on the title track.  At other times Robert Cray, Buddy Guy, and even Hooker shadow these songs.  The clearest example is the mud-dirty slide and rough as guts coda on Hard on me.  But what’s really great is these tunes are distinctively Haua’s own.  In the liners, Haua proudly writes that these are first takes with no over dubs, resulting in crisp clean and highly intimate performances.  There’s clearly the feel that it’s just you and him in the room.  So clear everyone out, get comfortable and let the blues wash over you.  This stunner demands your time, your heart and your ears.

Published in NZ Musician July 2011

The Tenderizers/Love Me Tender

tenderizers

tenderizers

Don’t judge this album by its naff cover alone. On first look, glance you’d be forgiven thinking this was some weird pycho-billy rocker outfit. Yet listening to John Newton’s Tenderizers, you’re more likely to think it’s a Roger Whittaker impersonator at a Jim Croce’ tribute concert. Recent press has built up Newson as some kind of Kiwi version of Paul Kelly. I wouldn’t go that far. However, tracks like Weedkiller Waltz and Crosscut Saw are gorgeously layered back-country narratives with compelling lyrics and harmonies that creep slowly into the subconscious. Clearly this is an album from the Mainland with bitter sweet pastoral vignettes like Heartache and Sorrow Girl’s town. The latter, by the way features some pretty mean harps and nice grungy, bluesy guitars. In Mr Fatboy Newson conjures up a lurid, small town melodrama with sleazy cat praying on all the unsuspecting at a local square dance. Whittaker’s discovered Nick Cave, it seems. But joking aside this, is a great collection, despite being sold woefully short by its packaging. Well worth multiple listens.

The Kumpanee / The Kumpanee Ball

This is the bomb! I laughed right out loud! It took me right back to the early concept hip hop of De La Soul and Cypress Hill. Loosely based some surreal dream, the ‘Ball’ is madcap compilation of well crafted rhymes peppered with some delicious Bro-fonk harmonies, jazzy rhythms and phatter- than- full- cream beats. There’s some stunners like “That Girl”, which blatantly steals lines from Steve Miller’s “Fly like and Eagle” and and bounces higher than a red rubber ball on asphalt. Weaving between songs the short dialogue sequences could’ve be lifted from Waiti’s “Boy”. But these three lads are no ‘eggs’. The band’s name is a reference to the Maori Battalion ( ‘C’ Company) – A fitting tribute to that legacy of waiata and camaraderie. And it’s clear these guys are having fun. Title track “Kumpanee Ball” is upbeat and funny, whilst “Liar” is a blatant dig at Eminem and a doff caps to Kingston Dancehall, simultaneously. “Cookie Jar” reworks the line “who stole the Cookie from …” and will get under your skin in the first minute in. Then there’s “No one Special” which reworks Randy Newman’s best Disney tunes. Who’d a figured that’d work? Every time I listen I hear something new – a sure sign that this is more than another tedious hip hop album. Keeping the content fresh, they reference all their heroes but never stoop to repetitive whines, jingles or annoying polygamist gansta rap. Chur Bros!

Published in NZ Musician March 2011

The Close Readers / Group Hug

Close_Readers

Close_Readers

Next to Avalanche City, this must be this year’s best little indi release. A mix of familiar, yet angular tunes, hints of a country twang and a heavy peppering of strummy, jangly Nun styled ‘80s guitar. This album feels closer to an obsession than a night project for main man Damian Wilkins. Wilkins is pretty elusive online about his reasons for this material but it still touches nerves raw and sweet. He writes with mixed emotions on “Iris Dement”, which I’m guessing is about his lil’ girl moving into her own bed (although it reads like a secret evil that we do not speak of). The crimes of a former psychiatric hospital (Lake Alice) provide a surprisingly upbeat critique, confirming what we all suspected: that Janet Frame was tortured on site and there really is no lake at this location. The ghosts of Neil Young and Sneaky feelings compete for aural real estate in many of these tunes. And more so in Elton John, a good slap in the face of cover bands with little creativity choice in their repertoire. With issues as varied as sneaking girlfriends into bedrooms to bipolarism and stage diving Wilkins knows how to make you sit up and take notice, and listen again, and again, and again.

Published in NZ Musician – July 2011

The Chaps / Don’t worry ‘bout your age

If you’re familiar with Wellington band Hot Club Sandwich, then you’ll know all about the lightly jazz tinged, humorous banter songs that make up their popular repertoire. The Chaps are like their deep southern incarnation. Or possibly given their age and experience they may have begot the former! Either way they’ve have been crafting an alternative to the usual jangly Dunedin sound for over 2o years. Influenced by bluegrass, swing, calypso and folk John Dodd, Hyram Ballard, Marcus Turner and Mike Moroney have pooled talents to produce a deliciously vivid collection of café tunes. Title Don’t worry ‘bout your age is an instantly likeable, cute lil’ ditty with some smooth fiddle, courtesy of Jane Clarke, and cheeky lyrics setting the tone for the rest of the album. But what surely stands out is the crispy clean guitar picking, tremolos and arpeggios especially on tunes like the bluesy Mess Around and Hey Baba Rhubarb and the superb, hook laden Aint that the truth. Down at Otago Uni Albany St. studios producer John Egenes took care to put out a superior product, close as one can imagine to their intimate live sound over the coffee cups. You bet order a large cappuccino and that good looking morsel from the display cabinet, you’ve going to be here a while.
Published in the NZ Musician – July 2011

Check their Website too: