Mu­sic

Fes­ti­val marks a com­ing of age for Amer­i­cana-in­spired Kiwi mu­si­cians.

New Zealand Listener - - CONTENTS - by James Belfield

About the South­ern Fork Amer­i­cana Fes­ti­val in Auckland and a new al­bum from Great North

One of the great lessons from this year’s South­ern Fork Amer­i­cana Fes­ti­val in Auckland is that New Zealand’s Amer­i­can-in­flu­enced mu­si­cians have cre­ated a strong, col­le­gial com­mu­nity.

Kiwi acts such as Eb & Spar­row, the Mil­tones, the East­ern, Reb Foun­tain, the Bads and Tom Cun­liffe more than held their own among the out­stand­ing over­seas acts, which in­cluded the Hank Wil­liams-es­que tra­di­tion­al­ism of Rob­bie Fulks, the wrong­side-of-the-tracks rock of the Sadies and Justin Townes Earle and the alt-coun­try cool of Son Volt.

On at least two oc­ca­sions – the ­East­ern’s mad­cap Tom Petty-in­fused fi­nale and the Satur­day night all-in, tag-team ­hoo­te­nanny – Auckland’s nar­row Tun­ing Fork stage groaned un­der the weight of press-stud shirts, slide gui­tars, stand-up basses, fid­dles and brass of more than a dozen out­stand­ing Ki­wis, who looked and sounded like the Band’s sec­ond com­ing.

What was re­ally telling was how many fa­mil­iar faces kept ap­pear­ing in each other’s bands – and how many of those same faces were just as likely to be in the au­di­ence, rev­el­ling in the mix of US cov­ers and our own take on Amer­i­cana.

And when you con­sider that many of our most pop­u­lar and recog­nised ex­po­nents of US-flavoured mu­sic – think Mar­lon Wil­liams, Tami Neil­son and Na­dia Reid – weren’t in­cluded in this fourth an­nual fes­ti­val (al­though Reid was spot­ted in the au­di­ence), it shows the strength of Nashville’s in­flu­ence down un­der, de­spite our dis­tance from the Mu­sic City.

Great North are an­other Kiwi act strongly in­flu­enced by the US. After their two ac­claimed ­alt-folk al­bums – Up in Smoke and Halves both won New Zealand folk al­bum of the year – they moved to a UK base and re­leased the far rock­ier, Spring­steen-tinged The Golden Age.

From Hay­den Don­nell’s open­ing har­mon­ica wail and his wife Rachel’s har­mony on Things We Never Did to the over­driven gui­tar rum­ble that backs Gaso­line and the acous­tic stomp of closer Wait­ing for the Pen­te­cost, it’s clear this is a se­ri­ous step up.

Al­though the band are now based over­seas, they’ve made the most of the tight-knit Kiwi Amer­i­cana com­mu­nity to help cre­ate a far rang­ier, more ma­ture sound, thanks to the pedal steel of Matthew Hutching, the brass of the Beths’ El­iz­a­beth Stokes and the record­ing nous, keys and gui­tar of Jonathan Pearce.

The al­bum is ded­i­cated to for­mer ­band­mate and Bond Street Bridge ­mu­si­cian Sam Preb­ble, who died in 2014, aged

32, and a choir of his friends, in­clud­ing Bren­dan and Ali­son Turner, Reb Foun­tain and Dy­lan Storey, fea­ture through­out.

The mem­ory of Preb­ble in­flu­ences The Golden Age’s tone – the in­sis­tent nos­tal­gia of the ti­tle track and Wasted So Much Time and the toast-to-ab­sent-friends im­pres­sion left by such up­beat songs as Bet­ter Days and Hal­lelu­jah for the Losers.

But, in many ways, it’s the wry Kiwi-ness of a song such as The Late Bus Home, with its mil­lion-miles-from-Mem­phis set­ting of a windy Welling­ton night, that shows how this coun­try has adopted the emo­tion and deep cul­tural roots of ­Amer­i­cana, then adapted them to our needs.

Preb­ble ap­pears as a char­ac­ter in it, ­tip­ping his hat to his fel­low pas­sen­gers “after they cleared the bars” and ­damn­ing Kiwi ra­dio for not play­ing his sin­gles, but the ­mas­ter­ful fi­nal cou­plet of “Didn’t know we had to hold on/Till you let us go” turns him into a hero who wouldn’t be out of place on Born to Run or The River.

GREAT NORTH, The Golden Age (Border)

Great North have made the most of the tightknit Kiwi Amer­i­cana com­mu­nity to help cre­ate a far rang­ier, more ma­ture sound.

Rachel and Hay­den Don­nell of Great North: their new al­bum is a se­ri­ous step up.

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