Various Artists: Mansfield (CYP/digital outlets)

 |   |  1 min read

Various Artists: Mansfield (CYP/digital outlets)

Anyone who endured Katherine Mansfield short stories in high school or is cynical about the growth industry of books, theses, research projects and such around this famous New Zealand author might like to set aside prejudice for this collection.

Another project by Wellington singer-songwriter Charlotte Yates – following similar collections of words by Witi Ihimaera, Hone Tuwhare and James K Baxter set to music -- Mansfield came with a particular set of problems.

Mansfield is best and perhaps only known (outside of academia) as a short story writer, but despite over 200 poems to her name those works were unfamiliar to the musicians Yates approached.

So she chose poems for them, and she has proven to be very astute.

The poems span most of Mansfield's career through to her final poem The Wounded Bird (here performed beautifully by French For Rabbits).

Many artists perform and set the poems to type: Lawrence Arabia sounding exactly like himself on Malade, which is a compliment in that he makes it his “own” in that sense.

And only Delaney Davidson could find the shadows and darkness in Mansfield's words in Pic-Nic which comes at us in his archetypal distortion.

The singer-songwriters – Mel Parsons on the mysterious There Was a Child Once, Lorina Harding on the country-folk story-telling setting of The New Husband – sound entirely at home here because their music is always word focused.

The Bats sound like themselves on Sanary too but as Yates has noted in interviews they bring something beautiful to the arrangement and you can hear every word perfectly.

Elsewhere Yates' earlier version of The Awakening River from her Then The Stars Start Singing album gets a remix by Mark (Straw People) Tierney; Will Ricketts and Toby Laing bring in Louis Baker for Sunset, and Lontalius offers a sublime interpretation of Secret Flowers, possibly the best thing he's done so far.

Ana Coddington and Julia Deans are as exceptional as you might expect.

But most unexpected is the musically turbulent setting of Night-Scented Stock by Godfrey de Grut with performance poet Tusiata Avia. It is an emotional and musical whirlwind pushing home Mansfield's barbed piece about the Bloomsbury Group's pretensions.

It's the one which will doubtless challenge Mansfield scholars the most. And it's bloody terrific.

Perhaps because these words are mostly unfamiliar – the lyrics are printed in the booklet with the CD – Mansfield-as-music comes to us with fewer expectations than the words in the previous collections.

Poems don't easily lend themselves to lyrics but here they are shaped by intelligent voices and some impeccable musicianship.

If your sole experience of Mansfield is a teacher puling apart At The Bay for its symbolism, alliteration and so on, come at this album with an open mind.

You'll be impressed by the words and music. 

You can hear this album at Spotify here.


Share It

Your Comments

post a comment

More from this section   Cultural articles index

CONGRATULATION MR BEETHOVEN AND THE APO (2019): Sharing a birthday year

CONGRATULATION MR BEETHOVEN AND THE APO (2019): Sharing a birthday year

The Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra looks like having a big double-banger bash in 2020 when it celebrates its own 40thbirthday (life begins at 40, right?) and ol' Ludwig Van's 250th. Beethoven... > Read more

OLIVER JAMES INTERVIEWED (2004): If You're Happy and You Know It . . .

OLIVER JAMES INTERVIEWED (2004): If You're Happy and You Know It . . .

Five floors up in a swanky Auckland hotel room someone else is paying for, Oliver James should be happy enough, but he's concerned. He is grappling with the issue of happiness. Or more specifically... > Read more

Elsewhere at Elsewhere

THE BARGAIN BUY: Amy Winehouse: Back to Black (Universal)

THE BARGAIN BUY: Amy Winehouse: Back to Black (Universal)

If you were one of the few who didn't buy Amy Winehouse's second album Back to Black on release in 2006 you doubtless picked it up when it came out as an expanded edition a couple of years later.... > Read more

NATHAN FORD INTERVIEWED (2014): The highly proactive listener

NATHAN FORD INTERVIEWED (2014): The highly proactive listener

Nathan Ford laughs quietly when I ask him about the strange, whispery folk album by Kitchen Cynics (Scotland's Alan Davidson) he's posted at his music blog. It isn't exactly what I'd call... > Read more