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Album Review
Te Oranga

Te Oranga
by Little Bushman


Review Date
6th April 2011
Reviewed by
Ricardo Kerr

It has been four years waiting for the latest album by Little Bushman and what difference those four years can make. Whereas their last album, Pendulum, felt under the weight of the world, stifled by the ills of the world, Te Oranga is a much lighter and carefree affair. The title track starts proceedings with a gentle acoustic intro before being accompanied by the incomparable Warren Maxwell singing beautifully in Te Reo Maori. Even when the main beat kicks in it never dispels that peaceful, friendly air so masterfully established. The harsh, neurotic overtones of Hendrix worship have certainly softened with time into a pastoral vibe that would synch well with Led Zeppelin 3. Frowns have been turned upside down into careworn smiles and dark times have been swallowed studied relief. Perhaps it is the powerful electric guitars of previous albums taking a backseat role allowing the band to coalesce into a warmer, more organic sound. There are no lectures here or overt political sermons, no heavy subject material to drag one screaming into the “now”; just a loving embrace like meeting old friends at the pub.

One of the album’s greatest strengths is how it plays with space. At times the instruments (especially the vocals) are all around you, sometimes even inside you, and at other times it feels as though you are straining to hear music being played in another room. These dynamics work best when mixed and intermarried. The song ‘Gone’ has a powerful bass throb that could well be coming from a party down the road, while Maxwell’s intimate delivery is coming from someone sitting next to you, whispering in your ear. Even when the guitars burst into multi-coloured flourishes of Floyd (and burst they do) the intimacy is never lost. Speaking of Pink Floyd, methinks the boys have had Meddle within arm’s reach, using that legendary album’s understated grandeur as a touchstone. Keyboards play an even larger role here than they had previously adding great swathes of tone and texture, filling in silent spaces and uplifting climaxes into euphoria. Frontman Warren Maxwell is as magical here as on he has been on every great work he has touched. His rich voice speaks of earthy, homespun wisdoms and the tenderness of kinship. He has upheld his status as a national treasure and valued troubadour, not that it sounds like he has tried to do any of the above.

One of the albums many moving passages (that term feels more accurate than “songs”) ‘Big Man’ is constructed around a simple, lyrical bass line and deceptively deep drums, off which the other instruments are hung like objects on a child’s mobile. Te Oranga hinges around the two-part centrepiece ‘Dream of the Astronaut Girl’. It is a grand piece that starts earthbound but, filled with unrestrained ambition, floats skyward on the good vibes. The soul-inflected crescendos drip with sentiment and vulnerability. If all of that sounds like excessive navel-gazing, it isn’t. The music is never lost in empty-headedness; the musicians always anchor it around compelling melodies and sterling performances. You never dream of reaching for the skip button; never have to bemoan the meandering nature of the album nor wish it was more immediately “in your face”. In fact the end comes abruptly after the minimalist blues jam of ‘One Hand’, a track that would not have been out of place on one of Trinity Roots’ classic albums. What choice do you have but to hit play again? Methinks The Bushies are counting on it.


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