28 Sep 2021

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Album Review: The New Blue - Pixie Williams Reimagined

06 Apr 2021 // A review by Kev Rowland

Before starting on the music on this tribute album, we first need to understand who Pixie Williams was and the impact she had on NZ music. Pixie was the first wahine Maori vocalist to reach number one on the New Zealand singles chart, with the song Blue Smoke in 1949. Written by Ruru Karaitiana, this was the first hit record wholly produced in New Zealand from composition to pressing and provided the debut for the TANZA record label (and was later covered by Dean Martin and many others). It topped the New Zealand radio hit parades for six weeks, selling more than 50,000 copies in a country which at the time had less than 1.9 million inhabitants. Over the next few years, she sang on more songs such as Let's Talk it Over and Windy City, before leaving the music industry to raise a family in Dunedin. In 2011, her daughter Amelia Costello was behind the release of an album which preserved her collection of Williams’ shellac recordings, and in 2019 Williams, composer Ruru Karaitiana and guitarist Jim Carter were inducted into the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame in recognition of the importance of Blue Smoke, and to tie in with the 70th anniversary.

Costello’s original aim was to preserve the recordings, but after that had been achieved, she wondered if it would be possible to have the songs reimagined with contemporary artists, and discussed this with sound engineer Mike Gibson, who had restored and remastered the recordings on For the Record - The Pixie Williams Collection. He in turn brought in Riki Gooch (Eru Dangerspiel, Trinity Roots) and singer Lisa Tomlins (Fat Freddy’s Drop, L.A.B, Hollie Smith), and together they started looking for artists who would be able to do the songs justice, while at the same time ensuring they never moved far from their roots.

The result is an album which is a time machine: there is no way this could have been recorded in 2020, as the sound is from a time at the very beginning of modern popular music, before Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats released Rocket 88 in Memphis in 1951. This is music which makes me think of the old black and white musicals I used to watch with my grandad when I was just a kid myself, with the likes of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, when music had a soul and there was never any need to rush, as it would take whatever time it needed. Thanks to modern technology, Pixie starts her most famous song herself before Lisa Tomlins and Kirsten Te Rito come in to take it on – they are also the only singers to have more than one song, yet everyone involved has done an incredible job. The arrangements are sedate, slow, full of passion, with room for everyone to shine. I must confess to having not heard of Pixie prior to this album but having been listening to this a great deal in recent times, I know I am going to have to search out the release from 10 years ago. This is a true tribute, with musicians and singers combining together to produce a remarkable piece of work, packed full of emotion and feelings, showing off their own skills but also ensuring we never forget the person who came before, a trailblazer in NZ music, Pixie Williams.

Rating: ( 5 / 5 )

Other Reviews By Kev Rowland

Plum Green - Album Review: Somnambulist
25 Sep 2021 // by Kev Rowland
Born in a squat in England, raised in New Zealand, and presently residing in Melbourne, here we have the latest release from dream folk artist Plum Green. I have not previously come across any of her other albums, but somehow, I can see I need to undertake some investigations as this is a very special album indeed.
Diehards of Deep Dish - Album Review: Traditional Speciality Guaranteed
25 Sep 2021 // by Kev Rowland
There is a long history of band members using pseudonyms, with Ramones probably being the most famous, and here we have a band who use pseudonyms for their pseudonyms, so we have Cheese (Joey Provolone), Tomato (Ryley Base), Wheat (Beef Richards), Mushrooms (Mattzarella Gibson) and Herbs (Herbie Handcooked). I thought Cafe Fistfight had probably taken the foodie elements to the extreme with songs such as King Hit Quiche, but here we have six songs all aimed at the pizza lovers among us.
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23 Sep 2021 // by Kev Rowland
Power The Light is Max Roskilly, an 18-year-old musician who is based in Auckland , and has been self-releasing music for the last four years already, including the album Blueprints a while back. This is his second single in recent months, following on from Skys where he showed an interest more in krautrock than in is normal indie-jazz style.
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Glass Throne are an Auckland-based power trio comprising Justin Robinson (lead vocals, bass, guitar), Owen McKibbin (guitar, organ, backing vocals) and Daniel Cutfield (drums, percussion, backing vocals). I have managed to catch them play live a few times over the last year, and what always strikes me is just how different they are to the rest of the local scene, coming through as a mix of classic Seventies hard rock, progressive and modern alt rock.
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On Tick is the brainchild of brothers Brendan (vocals and drums) and Aidan O'Loughlin (vocals, guitar), and was formed from the ashes of their previous musical outfit, Evil Tomato, who began as a band in 2012. They came across 5-string bassist Matt Hammond when they heard the demoes for Black Sands, which he not only produced but played on, and he joined forces to work with them on the album and to allow them to play in the Ding Dong Battle of the Bands.
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Ravenhall were formed by guitarist Joe Ravenhall and singer Chris Brebner in 2015. They were both already veterans of the Auckland scene, and wanted to perform music which concentrated on the power of acoustic guitar, wonderful vocals, plus some gentle electronic backing, and that is certainly what we have here.
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The very first time I looked at the cover of this album I was reminded of Deep Purple’s In Rock, as even though that was a stylised version of Mount Rushmore, there we had dudes with long hair playing Seventies hard rock and that is the same here. I mean, we even have aviator sunglasses!
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