12 May 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

Gig Review: Beastwars with Earth Tongue and Demons of Noon @ Powerstation, Auckland - 08/05/2021
09 May 2021 // by Kev Rowland
I was a little concerned when I made my way to the Powerstation just 15 minutes before the doors were due to open, as there was no-one else there! A quick check of the billboard confirmed I was in the right place on the right date, but possibly this was somewhat indicative of the poor weather combined with so many great gigs on tonight.
Emily Rice - EP Review: Auhua
06 May 2021 // by Kev Rowland
Over the last few months Emily Rice has been building up to the release of this EP, and of the six songs included on Auaha (which means to shape, create, form, fashion), four have already been released as singles, and I have reviewed three of them myself, so the EP feels already very much like an old friend, but for anyone yet to come across Emily and her work then this is a wonderful place to start. I first came across Emily and her husband in the wonderful folk duo Aro, but here her music is far more dance oriented as she brings in lots of different styles such as soft jazz, RnB, dub, and even a little touch of folk, but always with her wonderful vocals front and centre.
Living State - Single Review: One Sided
04 May 2021 // by Kev Rowland
Whenever I hear anyone bemoaning the state of music on the radio, I tell them to get out to places like Ding Dong and actually live and breathe what is really going on in the scene, not what some people just want to tell you. Last Saturday I was there at yet another gig, and while I was having a chat with one of the musicians a guy came up and joined in.
Stealphish - Single Review: Auri
04 May 2021 // by Kev Rowland
Here we have the latest single from Cafe Fistfight guitarist Josh Barker in his alter ego as Stealphish. The only other person involved on this recording is his wife Nicole who provides piano for the first 35 seconds of the nearly 7-minute-long song.
Dan Sharp - EP Review: Water Went Away
03 May 2021 // by Kev Rowland
Proud Coromandel boy Dan Sharp is back with his latest EP, Water Went Away, and I can only concur with Corinne’s review of his last EP, Slack Tide, in that we really need an album! This collection of five songs loosely follows through the various stages of a breakup and the significant life changes that happen as part of that such as moving to a new house, moving town, being unable to access certain things, wondering what was going to happen next etc.
Gig Review: Pencarrow @ Dead Witch, Auckland - 01/05/2021
02 May 2021 // by Kev Rowland
I have lost count of how many times I have been to Ding Dong in the last year, I think it is somewhere between “lots” and “loads”, so consequently it is starting to feel very much like a place where every barman knows my name (and what I drink). I have been looking forward to catching Pencarrow since I came across their debut album Growth In The Absence of Light which was released last year.
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01 May 2021 // by Kev Rowland
Back off to the Anthology Lounge for a 4-band bill, which I was really looking forward to. It was going to be the first time I had seen Cafe Fistfight in a while, I had heard good things about The Minnehahas (and I know drummer Neo from White Noise Mafia), I had reviewed the album by The RVMES while this was the last night of the tour for BOTB winners Big Tasty so it was all set for a great session.
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Josh Dann is a Hamilton-based multi-instrumentalist whose musical journey started at the age of eleven when he was inspired to pick up an instrument when he heard someone playing a clarinet. Since then, he has also taken up other instruments such as saxophone, piano and bass, and his latest single finds him playing all instruments apart from drums, which are provided by Luke Rodgers.
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