SHORT CUTS: A round-up of recent New Zealand releases

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Mary Mary by Illegal Green (from Hamiltune)
SHORT CUTS: A round-up of recent New Zealand releases

Facing down an avalanche of releases, requests for coverage, the occasional demand that we be interested in their new album (sometimes with that absurd comment "but don't write about it if you don't like it") and so on, Elsewhere will every now and again do a quick sweep like this, in the same way it does IN BRIEF about international releases.

Comments will be brief.

Greg Fleming and the Working Poor; Stranger in My Own Hometown (Forget the Past Records): They used to say when the times get tough, the songs get soft. But currently there's a deep mood of political resentment seeping into popular culture through songwriters like Wellington's Darren Watson and Auckland's Greg Fleming. Political music is treacherous terrain because painting with a broad brush means characters or situations easily become caricatures and cliches, as Trinity Roots found to their cost recently on their pretty awful Citizen. Fleming takes a more astute approach by writing from inside a broken character (the moody title track, Heart's A Wreck) and channeling his rage (the blistering rocker Look Where We Ended Up co-written with guitarist Andrew Thorne). The folksy Corporate Hill about a dying captain of industry sidesteps the bad-rich guy cliché because it's in a tradition going back through Springsteen and early Dylan to Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie. Elsewhere the stabbing Night Country Blues and Autumn Auckland (a subdued piano ballad) address his ambivalent feelings toward his hometown, the slice of life Down on the Corner is a brittle rocker and the understated closer This Love is Gonna Survive speaks from a sympathetic soul behind the otherwise hard exterior. Over 42 minutes this touches head and heart. (For more on Greg Fleming at Elsewhere go here, to order this album go here).

Various Artists: Hamiltune (doublebass): The exhumation of New Zealand music from the grave of forgotten, neglected or marginal areas continues apace with this 20 song compilation of bands from in and around Hamilton in the Eighties, brought together by enthusiast Phil Walsh (who has contributed to Elsewhere) and producer Zed Brookes who has done well with sometimes sonically ropey source material. Other than Knightshade (here with their big sounding Out for the Count), few of these bands made any national impact although Step Chant Unit (with synth-pop Painting Pictures), Joe 90 (more synth-rock on Walls Surrounding Me) and Hoola Troupe (the gritty Smouldering) may be familiar. Musically this has everything from reggae-rock (Echoes' Everything You Do) to jazzy manoeuvres (Neil Nooyen's sax'n'piano-coloured No 17) and a lot of big-chested pop-rock ballads (The Politicians' enjoyable Energy, Paul Martin's Nightfall full of piercing guitar). Home Run do a neat line in taut guitar pop menace ("don't leave me behind you, I'm standing in line with a shotgun"!!) and 3 Men Missing come off not dissimilar to Siouxsie and the Banshees with Days on the Island. Although it might be hard to find the great lost classic here, this is a rock solid collection and these bands deserve their day in the sun again. In a nice touch, all proceeds go to help rebuild The Vilagrad Winery (destroyed by fire in June) where many musicians used to play. To order this go to www.doublebass.co.nz

Ron Samsom and the Neutrino Funk Experience; Ace Tone (Rattle Jazz): Drummer Samsom, longtime pal Roger Manins (tenor), bassist Cameron McArthur and keyboard player Grant Winterburn here strap in for bubbling and funky workouts on pieces with witty titles like Ben Harper, Flat Cat, Dog Pizzle, Scrub the Pans, Mr Fluffy Bunny and such. There's certainly an enjoyable wit and humor on these 13 mostly energetic tracks but among the best are the stop-start rhythms of Don't Me (over which Winterburn delivers a terrific, endlessly unwinding solo before Manins gets it down'n'romantically edgy), the brooding downbeat post-bop thunk of Other Brother and woozy Flat Cat nailed down by Samsom's slashing beat. Lots of other good things and grooves (the Latin inflections on Ginger Beaver) going on here too. Recommended. Available from Rattle Jazz here.

Holly Arrowsmith; For the Weary Traveller (TomTom): Born in Santa Fe, brought up in New Zealand's South Island and recording this in what her bandcamp page describes as a studio in "the mountain valley settlement" of Queenstown, Arrowsmith works the classic singer-songwriter tradition (Joni Mitchell forward) on this her debut album where poetics and atmosphere are high, although sometimes a song which really sticks isn't. When she nails one (the jaunty but insightful Voices of Youth, the miniature of the title track) she is finely focused but in other places you sense she's trying to say too much (Desert Owl) at the expense of the song. But a very promising debut, especially in the more reflective songs (Canyons, the chilly and changing narrative of Mountain Prayer). Available from her bandcamp page here

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