Greg Fleming: Taken (LucaDiscs/Rhythmethod)

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Greg Fleming: Taken
Greg Fleming: Taken (LucaDiscs/Rhythmethod)

The excellent liner notes by New Zealand's Greg Fleming (with lyrics and reflections on the genesis of these songs) tell their own story about why Taken never appeared in '95 after the excellent Ghosts Are White album (remastered and added here as a bonus disc).

But we should be very glad it has come out because after the alt.rock blast of California Fishing the moods slip and slide through terrific singer-songwriter material with one foot in alt.country and the other in alt.folk. Yes, Fleming was never quite in the mainstream, always a little alt.something.

Amidst the generous liner notes are some that I wrote at Greg's invitation and briefly I will reiterate them here: that Fleming just seemed to gradually appear in the Nineties bringing with him literary, sophisticated but hard-edge lyrics and a winning way with melody. He was singing from deep within himself sometimes (or maybe just empathetic) and when he hooked up with The Trains they fired off incendiary rock.

Nick Bollinger gets to note that bands like Uncle Tupelo, and singer-songwriters from Texas such as Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt and Steve Young all passed through New Zealand in the Nineties, and that Fleming seemed to have more in common with them than anyone in the local scene.

Fleming didn't get out of Auckland much but his music traveled straight to people's hearts: included among the contributors on Taken are singers Callie Blood, Ted Brown, Boh Runga and Kate Stalker, guitarist Andrew Thorne, keyboard player Dominic Blaazer, drummer Wayne Bell . . . The best lined up to be with Fleming, and one track was recorded at Greg Johnson's home studio.

And Taken shows why: the title track is a dramatic and disturbing piano-led ballad; Hamish is an emotional farewell to yet another friend lost to drugs (which Fleming says "could just as well have been titled 'Note to Self' "); his classic single Codeine Road with John Segovia on pedal steel . . .

Added to the '94-'95 sessions for Taken are some more recent tracks: Never Wanted to See You Cry which is open-heart surgery on the emotions (recorded in '99); the beautifully observed detail in Lovers of Listening For the Weather (just Fleming and piano in '03, the first song he wrote after a three year sabbatical from music); and Early Spring which ends an often dark album on a (slightly) hopeful note.

Then there is the remastered Ghost Are White from '93 (the sound is excellent) on the extra disc with 10 other bonus tracks (previously unreleased and B-sides). The album includes Wish I'd Hesitated which he played to Townes Van Zandt (his advice: slow it down. "I did").

This is a lot of archival material -- but Fleming's music and emotional concerns were timeless, so this never feels like rattling around in the vaults. It is thoroughly contemporary -- although those who were in Auckland during those bleak Nineties will doubtless bring that colouring of the imagination to some of the more stark material. 

Fleming has been playing a few gigs lately and his new songs are just as powerful and sound equally hard-won.

There is, I believe, a new album in the works, but in the meantime you can hardly go wrong with this attractive and informatively packaged double disc.

Welcome back, Greg. Been too long. 

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