Roan’s travels are about to start

I don’t see myself as a music critic – just a music junkie writing about why I’m drawn to music and why it speaks to me. I’ll take an educated guess at the future of new artists now and then and venture a prophecy or two. But mostly I love to release my thoughts about music into the Universe. Yes it’s subjective. So what? What you do with it is your business. If music doesn’t speak to me – why would I write about it?

FB_IMG_1424721966995I saw Roan van As (or Roan) play live once or twice last year at the Cockpit Brewhouse but honestly thought  he was playing for fun and just happened to be really good at it. A few weeks ago he opened for Dan Patlansky and I “heard” the lyrics, the realness of his acoustic music and his soulful voice for the first time. Maybe becoming a vinyl junkie just over a year ago enhanced my thirst for authenticity, simplicity and just being more grateful for solid songwriting. I made the mistake of putting Roan in the ‘local pub acoustic folk blues’ box. Don’t get me wrong – it’s one of my favourite boxes. But it is what it is. It’s been done before by so many people that to stand out from the rest you must have something special. Especially if you want to make a living out of it.

I watched a very impressive promotional clip for Roan’s debut album The Traveller on Facebook (featuring Naas Veld playing geeetar on the title track of the album) and had no choice but to mention my revelation briefly in the Dan Patlansky feature. Roan invited me to the album launch on Friday night and there was no way I was going to miss it. My curiosity was in overdrive the whole of last week. I thought he’d be visibly nervous before the show. But he wasn’t at all. The audience consisted mostly of family and friends who supported him over the years. I had reservations as to whether his music would have enough substance to reach more ears than just your run of the mill local pub or “rent an audience” theater. But that was before I saw the show on Friday night. I listened to the album the very next day and everyday since then.

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Discovering the twenty-six year old artist’s music was like peeling the layers of an onion. And yes at times it made my eyes “water”. What I thought would be one dimensional – albeit enjoyable music – was much, much more. What makes me say this? Well let me try to take a stab at both the performance on Friday night and the album to help you tune into my frequency.

The opening song immediately gave me goose pimples and a lump in my throat. I have no rational restraint against these kind of songs. It moves the soul. Unfortunately, the song Like a Soldier is not on the debut album because it was written very recently. By the time the audience cheered and whistled I understood Roan’s ability as a songwriter and performer. The impact was amplified because of the sound and acoustics in the theater and the musos playing with him.

I looked at my notes afterwards and next to every original song I scribbled something illegible about the songwriting. It’s really solid and his voice translates the authenticity and soulfulness of the music. Roan has been playing geeetar and writing songs from age thirteen. He’s also been playing gigs from the age of seventeen. Songs like Falling feels like flyingLie to me and Fourth of July, for example, are “stories” borne from personal experience and it comes from the heart. If I have to pigeonhole the music its something like folk-bluesy-rock with a few songs crossing the commercially palatable line. No wonder he’s main influences are Bruce Springsteen, Eddie Vedder, John Mayer, Bob Dylan, and James Morrison.

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Roan and Dawie de Jager worked together on the pre-production and the first five acoustic songs were live takes. None of the digital tricks (like auto-tuning) were employed on these songs – the tricks vinyl junkies like me rebel against. What about an analogue recording next time guys?? Press a couple of ‘black heroin circles’ for the vinyl junkies!!!JP De Stefani are you listening man? The remaining five songs were recorded in the ordinary way albums are recorded these days. But it really is a lesson for young artists on how to produce a debut album in South Africa. It’s got the old school feel to it – raw and honest – catching the attention of Gen X (and older) but it’s also got a few prospective “movie soundtrack tunes” included – which a much broader audience (young and old) will enjoy. I’m not even listening to any sell out arguments. If Afrikaans mainstream artists can make money, then why can’t the Folkin’ Blues crowd? I have been pondering this debate and will write more about it in my ‘Evolution of Dan Patlansky Part Two‘ blog post.

But I digress. You can probably tell that I’m partial to the non-commercial songs. But here’s the thing – even the ones I think are destined for local radio airplay like Babylon, Elliot and Everything are really solid meaningful songs. Groot FM has already gotten hip to it and will play the song Babylon. The rest will wake up soon enough. Everything is one of those rare songs. The tone is melancholy but the message is positive. So depending on how you feel – it can be either positive or sad. Brilliant.

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The title track is an interesting one. It may not get commercial radio play but it’s an amazing folk rock song. I had even more goose pimples when I connected the dots as to when and where the song was written. I had no idea that it was a tribute to the gypsy life and times of the South African music legend Valiant Swart. I was in the audience the very same night it was written. After one of the most intimate live gigs I had ever seen (also at the Cockpit) Roan was so inspired that he wrote the song. It was indeed a magical night so no wonder…..

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The musos who shared the stage with Roan are all talented young artists. They all deserve a mention. Warren Garvie opened for Roan with some great original acoustic tunes. Fish Archer on bass, Pieter Fourie on drums, Meyrand Roux playing harmonica,Jimmy Ross on the violin,Lara Snyman on Tjello, Dawie de Jager on geeetar/backing vocals, Anna-Mart Van Vreden on the keys/backing vocals and Emma playing the sax. Naas Veld played geetar on The Traveller and a cool bluesy cover of Sam Smith’s Stay with me.

It’s a pleasure watching a plethora of artists doing their thing on stage – enhancing this kind of material. On the downside if musicians don’t play together all the time the tightness of a permanent band is missing. But I’m not into petty criticism. Roan will continue with Fish Archer and Pieter Fourie as his core band and the hard work of promoting the album lies ahead!

Great album and launch. Roan’s story so far gets a big thumbs up from Rolling Rock!

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If you love South African music – buy it,promote it and don’t steal it!

The Evolution of Dan Patlansky

It ‘s a beautiful Sunday afternoon in the small town of Cullinan in Gauteng, South Africa and we’re getting ready for Dan Patlansky to take the stage at The Cockpit Brewhouse – a popular local craft brewery and eatery – where you can experience the joy of live South African music. Great beer, great food, great people and most importantly great music. Is there anything better in life?

Dan 1Dan Patlansky is one of my favourite South African artists and for the past six years I’ve followed his career with much amazement, a good dose of involuntary goose pimples, pure listening pleasure and well…. the hope that he gets the international recognition which he so rightly deserves. There is also a fair amount of modern blues lore that surrounds the man. I’m a sucker for that kind of thing. In 2005 and 2006 he got an opportunity of a life time when Selwyn Miller – manager of Bread, Randy Crawford and Petula Clark (amongst others) – showcased his talent in New Orleans. However,fate had other plans and Hurricane Katrina cut his trip short. He had to be evacuated and he returned to South Africa.He also had to leave his 1962 Fender Stratocaster behind. It was only returned to him a year later by his New Orleans based band members. Most of you know this story I’m sure…..

And this is the great thing about South Africa – while we’re having cold ones, a very talented musician starts to warm up the crowd with a few of his original tunes plus a cover or two. Ruan van As was the manager at Cockpit until fairly recently – so not the first time I’ve heard him play – but today I can hear something’s different. A confidence I hadn’t noticed before. I heard through the grapevine he’s busy recording an album. Maybe something to look into later……but I digress. Made me wonder when I first saw Dan Patlansky live?

It was more or less six years ago at the Centurion Theater. I love the local theaters. No drunken Silence Thieves. A friend of mine made a big whoo haa about this unknown artist – went to check him out – not really expecting anything out of the ordinary. In fact I remember being facetious because he was comparing “this guy” to the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. I’ve loved the blues since my teens so it was absolute blasphemy in my eyes. At best he would be slightly better than average I thought. But I was wrong. Dan Patlansky blew my mind. Of course one should never fall into the trap of comparing an artist with the legends who influenced him. You have to understand an artist’s place in the rock and roll space-time continuum. The younger generation perfects the older generation’s music and then innovates and changes it. Sometimes for the worst and sometimes for the better. So for me, the best way to describe Dan Patlansky’s talent is nothing more than this: every time he plays, in my mind’s eye it’s no stretch of the imagination to visualize him on stage with the best of the best in the blues world – humbly holding his own and maybe outshining the old geezers with his unique style and licks here and there. I ate some humble pie six years ago and learned that one can never argue with a combination of talent, passion, humility and hard work. Even in a small country where the market for blues and bluegrass is very small. You’ll be amazed what you can achieve. And trust me there are many other great blues artists paying their dues in South Africa right now. I will definitely write more about this rare breed in future.

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Dan Patlansky’s live shows have always been extremely energetic, reminiscent of the sixties and seventies rock god exhibitionism – without the extended showcasing of gimmicks. It can easily be translated into a religious experience or having galactic spiritual intercourse with one’s guitar.Dan Patlansky has that rare ability to put a spell on you…..its powerful stuff. Of course it’s more intimate and overpowering in a small venue but I’ve witnessed him hypnotize thousands of people with his Jimi Hendrix Voodoo Chile tribute right before Bruce Springsteen hit the stage at FNB Stadium outside of Soweto. He nailed it perfectly. I mean who has the balls to pull that kind of thing off when you’re opening for the Boss?

Dan is introduced to the crowd as  an internationally acclaimed blues artist and it hits me: he’s getting closer to his dreams – it won’t be long before you see him play at festivals with John Mayer and Joe Bonamassa. He kicks off his first acoustic show of the year and unleashes his familiar energy through the song ’20  Stones’. I’m in acoustic heaven. I  decide not to do a review but a substantial article. Just write. I’ve been thinking about it anyway. Just needed some inspiration.

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One thing about my love for the blues is I’m a sucker for the slower electric blues numbers. Very few bluesmen have the ability to get the touch and tone just right. The ability to slow down space and time – leaving the crowd in suspended animation for a few seconds – is very rare. It gets the crowd high on the blues and if you’re a blues fan you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s one of the first things that immediately impressed me about Dan Patlansky. When I saw him live for the first time he had already conquered this skill masterfully. A friend of mine said it best: “He certainly put in his 10 000 hours”. But I love acoustic music just as much. The MTV Unplugged shows – I love all of them. Stripped down naked music. Strangely enough by his own admission acoustic guitar is not Dan’s most comfortable style. He only started doing full acoustic shows in 2013 and released his first full acoustic album Wooden Thoughts in the same year. It may not be his most favourite musical genre and there is less exhibitionism during his acoustic shows but damn his guitar playing is still unbelievable.

A couple of songs further on into the set Dan starts to explain why he loves Son House – Jack White’s major musical influence – and then robustly whirls himself into the song ‘Preachin’ Blues’ – one of my favourite tracks on ‘Wooden Thoughts’. While he loses himself in the song – eyes closed and really feeling the music – I wonder where he gets his soul from. It reminded me of the old blues debate. Are only certain people qualified to play the blues? Is Dan Patlansly qualified to play the blues? 

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It’s practically a topic on its own. And contentious. But here goes. First of all, I think the idea that the only people who were qualified to play the blues were sharecroppers in the South of the good ole US of A is an outdated idea. We do have to be thankful to the musical pioneers of the blues because without them there would be no rock and roll,no rock music, no heavy metal and certainly no modern blues. But the question remains: must the blues always be about poverty,heartbreak,bad women, alcoholism, political opression, hard times,racism,religion or death for it to be authentic? And do you have to be internationally famous to be qualified? The first time I heard of the idea was in 1992 when Eric Clapton lost his son Connor and the subsequent release of the song Tears in Heaven on his Unplugged album. There was a lot of talk in the media about him being qualified to play the blues and anyone who knows the story would agree. Valiant Swart will tell you it’s much more simpler, according to him “the blues ain’t nothing but a good man feelin’ bad”. I’m sure he picked this up during his travels in the Delta. There’s a lot of wisdom in those words. Watch or listen to any interview with one of the old blues pioneers or any blues musician worth his or her salt. There are two golden threads that bind the art of playing the blues. Firstly how you mastered your art and secondly the ability to translate how you feel – through the music – in a way that other people feel it in the exact same way. Or at least as close as you can. The ironic thing about traditional blues is it may sound kind of sad but the outcome is to feel better about your life. Maybe because the music has the ability to make you understand that we’re all human and all of us have pain and suffering at times. So if you ask me if Dan Patlansky is qualified. My answer is this: white boy’s got the chops man, he’s got the soul and he can make you feel it. I remember at one of his shows in 2009 this lady – totally blown away with emotion and shaking her head at the intensity of the guitar playing – shouted “Dan, play something you know!”. That about sums it up for me.

I just got out of the zone, really feeling the music, after Dan covered two classics – Bill Wither’s ‘Grandma’s hands’ and Stevie Wonder’s ‘Superstition’ – when a more difficult question came to mind. Can the blues still be authentic if the music is more commercial? The classics are superb but how will the blues survive?

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Ok I’m probably way over the standard length for a music blog post and I still have to deal with this last question and all of his albums. He released quite a few you know. So what I’ll do is work on a separate blog just dealing with that.

TO BE CONTINUED……….

Rolling Rock (in the middle of a heatwave) over!

 

 

In the meantime go check out his website so long. http://www.danpatlansky.co.za/

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