Rob Ruha and the Witch Dr: Survivance (Border)

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Black Letters
Rob Ruha and the Witch Dr: Survivance (Border)

One of Elsewhere favourite artists is one we've never actually written about, the great Garland Jeffreys who is one those interesting mixed-race New Yorkers (African American/Puerto Rican) who effortlessly synthesised folk, reggae, soul, r'n'b and rock (and more) into something unique . . . and he had something to say.

We lost touch with him until this year's 14 Steps to Harlem (his late Seventies albums are your starting point) but he came to mind with the opening track Black Letters on this fine outing by Rob Ruha on which he delivers a meltdown of classic black American street soul with Hispanic resonances and a terrific hook. It could have graced any of the best Jeffreys' albums or one by Phil Spector in the early Sixties.

And it should be on any sensible radio station's playlist.

And then Ruha continues to go his own way bringing together what he calls “haka-soul”, summery funk (the first single Kalega which bridges the Caribbean and Pacific), slo-funkpop with wah-wah guitar (with Ria Hall on the excellent Ka ihi te moana), the soaring and commanding ballad Cry to the Mountain . . .

With the excellent Witch Dr musicians on hand – Darren Mathiassen from Shapeshifter, James Illingworth (Bliss n Eso), Tyna Keelan (the Nok)and Johnny Lawrence (Electric Wire Hustle) – and guests (Kaaterama and the Ru Cru on the piano ballad I te po, the soulful Bella Kalolo on the gentle I Don't Mind which is an invitation to slow dance), Ruha brings Maoritanga into the mainstream with unflinching confidence.

And with great tunes.

The horns drive Swing Tag into belting soul territory before it all cuts back to a menacing low groove; chipping reggae – again with horns and organ – appears on Witi me te waina, and Uia at the end (before a quasi-choral, seven minute remix of I te po and an extended and jazzy I Don't Mind) starts at an intimate and quiet place before heading for the stars.

In recent years Rob Ruha has been an awards magnet for his ability to sing to – and from – the soul, and this confirms the diversity of his gifts.

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