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?
I 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.
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 flying, Lie 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.
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.
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…..
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!
If you love South African music – buy it,promote it and don’t steal it!