The Evolution of Dan Patlansky Part II

 

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.

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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.

Dan True BluesLet’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.

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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…..

Move-My-Soul-CoverBack 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!

Dan-Patlansky-Album-Sleeve-20-Stones-ResizedI 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.

Wooden-Thoughts-CoverYou 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.

Dan-DST-Cover-1024x1024So 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!

 

 

 

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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