Welcome to the second part of my feature on South Africa’s most successful blues artist. No further introduction needed I’m sure. I received some great feedback from fellow music junkies. Thanks to everyone who reads this blog. What am I trying to achieve with it? Well maybe to remind people how rewarding it is to seek out great music (overseas, local, old and new). Also, that it’s great to discuss aspects of music with friends, to really think about it again – no matter how old you are. Agree. Disagree. It doesn’t matter. It’s easy to just download a shit load music for free on the internet and play it on your iPod on shuffle. Something that listening to music on vinyl taught me is that we take music for granted these days. If you’re not into vinyl go and buy a CD or DVD. Own music again. Touch it. Feel it. Admire it. Enjoy the whole experience. If you can’t afford to buy music that’s a different story. But if you refuse to do so because ” like, no one does that anymore preaching dinosaur dude” – that’s cool too. If you can live with your karma at least don’t skip through your MP3’s Lemmings! Try to LISTEN to an album from beginning to end now and then. Here endeth today’s sermon congregation……
So where were we….I raised the question whether the blues can be combined with more “commercially palatable” music and whether it will still be the blues if you do? Think about it while I give you a tour of Mr Dan Patlansky’s discography. I’ll choose two songs from each album that really blew my mind. It will be difficult to limit them but here goes.
I bought Real the very first night I saw Dan Patlansky live in 2009. The album was released in 2007 on an independent label (all of Dan’s albums except True Blues were released on indie labels). Seems like a good place to start. Real was a blues breakthrough album and I remember reading great reviews from international (albeit smaller niche blues) journalists. It’s a fantastic pure blues album. It was undeniable, after Real’s release, that Dan Patlansky is a master at taking the classic blues styles and forcing his own twist on it. His guitar playing on this album ranges from slow blues tunes to extremely energetic ones – extremely fast licks with the touch and tone still astonishingly clear. Throw in some Sonny Landreth, Stevie Ray Vaughn at the core, a dash of Clapton and Hendrix, Robert Johnson for ultimate good measure and Dan Patlansky re-interpreting them all and…..doing it justice. Pretty bold statements, you say? Got a Bad, Bad Feeling alone proves it. Remember the slowing down space and time analogy I used in Part I? Soulful song man. Qualified? What more do you need? Blues for New Orleans is an unrehearsed piece of ensemble genius. It was recorded live on WWOZ radio station in New Orleans,during rush hour traffic, with members of the Batiste Family. It gives you a glimpse of the barriers he can push if slightly nudged by the best in the blues world.
Let’s take a step back. True Blues, his second album (produced and released by EMI in 2004 under the famous Blue Note label), was the next album I bought. I love this album because its versatile. You can find some great acoustic songs on this one, it’s got trumpets,trombones,tenor sax and mouth organ vibes. What a range of different blues styles man. He must have been only twenty-two years old and already had most of the attributes of a seasoned blues artist. His guitar playing was unbelievably solid already….but the album lacks a bit of soul. Some will argue he may have been a bit too young to be 100% “qualified”. It could also be because most of the musos were session musicians. Not that session musos aren’t brilliant but its not the same as a tight band. However, if you listen to his version of Robert Johnson’s Traveling Riverside Blues and his own brilliant slow blues tune Heart of Stone (one of my favourites) the soul is almost there. I don’t think he found his authentic Dan Patlansky stamp on this one…. yet.
Further back in history – his debut album Standing at the Station was released in 2001. I struggled to get this in 2009 because it was out of print. I spoke to Dan about it after a show and I got the impression that he didn’t really think the album would sell. I bugged his management and they let me know other fans asked for it as well. So they were thinking of making the MP3’s available on his website for downloading – and so they did. Luckily it was also released in the form of a double CD together with Real in 2010. Now the thing about the debut album is if you could undo his future albums – as though they were never recorded – you would be less critical. It’s a great run of the mill blues album. It reminds me a bit of Snowy White and even though the future Patlansky energy is missing, I must admit I listen to it quite often. And then you remember he was just nineteen years old…..
Back to the future McFly! Move my Soul was released in 2009 and its probably the album I listened to the most – I still do. I saw a lot of his live shows during that year and he included some new material before its release at his live gigs. I pre-ordered at Top CD – like in the old days – and I remember on my way back I had to pull over to listen to the entire album. Once again he pushed the boundaries, improved his own blues style and if you still doubted his soul qualifications you must have felt like a right git after this one. In my mind there was no ways he was going to top it. Or so I thought. Extremely difficult to isolate two songs. But the title track – with Wendy Oldfield on backing vocals – does exactly that: Move my Soul. The energy of Namaste Love City is very close to what you would experience during one of his live shows. Electrifying!
I will have to break my two song rule with this one. 20 Stones is a “fork in the road” album. It’s divided between a couple of great blues songs for example Lost your good thing, one brilliant acoustic title track and then a few songs that’s more hard rock – albeit still grounded in the blues. The song Bring the World to its Knees (instantly) made me visualize him playing big arenas. Prophetic? Nope just common sense. I think he also settled down with excellent musicians that bought into his vision. With Andy Maritz on drums and Clint Falconer (from Pretoria!!) the Dan Patlansky brand was going places. I had a late night discussion with a member of Dan’s management after the album launch in 2012 and there was no debate and no question. It wasn’t rocket science. We all understood that Dan had to get more overseas exposure and reach a larger international audience even if it meant doing more “commercial” material. Would this amount to selling out? Before you answer – hang on. I know KISS would laugh at you if you think so.
You might get tired of hearing this but I love unplugged music. Wooden Thoughts released in 2013 is in a class of its own. It’s not easy to play acoustic music for starters – even with Dan’s fast paced talents. You can’t hide behind distortion – not to mention the potential damage to your fingers. I’ve given you a taste of this album in Part I already so I’ll keep it short. I’d like to mention the covers for a change. The first is the spirit of Son House – preaching through Dan – on the song Preaching Blues. And the sermon surely raises the spirit. Hallelujah! No I meant the Leonard Cohen cover. Very ethereal blues. And then of course Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir. Those who know me can testify that I would not have forgiven him if he fucked this one up. You don’t just cover Led Zeppelin and leave your own footprints on Kashmir without someone cringing. I didn’t cringe at all.
So have you thought about whether the blues can be commercial? As I was reading the international blues reviews following the Blues Rock Review in the USA voting for Dear Silence Thieves as the number one blues rock album for 2014 – I felt proud and sad at the same time. Proud because South Africans kicked some ass instead of “the commercial blues artists” for example John Mayer and Jo Bonamassa. But I was also thinking “what the fuck man, you only getting it now?”. Most of these journos were surprised that it’s his seventh album. It’s plain and simple: South Africa is still so isolated from the rest of the blues/ rock world that Dan Patlansky only got proper international recognition in 2014???? But I also thought this isolation may have just pushed Dan and our very own Theo Crous (who produced the album) to create one of the most unique blues rock albums out there. They focused much more on the songwriting and then let the creative genius and mind blowing licks flow from there. If I had to choose proof I’d say: Backbite, Feel like Home and Windmills and the Sea. Dear Silence Thieves is a piece of work I tell you. After I bought it at the album launch last year I couldn’t analyse or classify it. It’s many different things. It’s a fantastic record with blues, rock and folk elements and yeah it’s more “commercially palatable” in some respects. But if Dan Patlansky set out to make a commercial record then he failed. It may not be pure blues but its still not mainstream. It’s the kind of music that keeps the blues alive for the younger generations. So my answer to the question whether blues can be commercial is: maybe, maybe not.But who gives a shit if the music is superb?
So he’s touring in Europe now and then – my family in Hilversum, the Netherlands represented the nation at one of his gigs in a nearby town – and yet we still get to see him back home. How great is that? I have two wishes though. One for Dan Patlansky and his band mates and one for me. The first is that they get an opportunity to thoroughly tour the States and the second one is that they record a live album. Old school analogue baby. So I can buy a Dan Patlansky record….
Oh yeah and to all the Silence Thieves….you’ve been irritating me for years. Go watch One Direction!