On a good Friday in late July 2011 I bought 7 second hand South African rock CDs at the Claremont branch of Cash Crusaders.
Two of them were the debut albums of respectively Louise Day (Swallowed By The City) and Jessika (Shout) (actually Jessica-Kate Kinnear). I had not previously heard of either of them.
Louise Day's album interested me because I wondered whether she was the daughter of local rock chick (or rock matron) Jo Day and because Theo Crous produced the record.
Jessika interested me purely because of the cover photograph on the CD inlay card. She is a pretty brunette who is photographed giving the viewer a sidelong, sexy glance from underneath eye level bangs and she wears a top that leaves her right shoulder and top of the right breast bare enough to suggest that she has ample bosoms. I think the image is meant to convey a shy yet confident sexuality, or maybe it is just a blatant come on to enchant heterosexual old guys like me. Anyhow, the trick worked. I bought the CD simply and purely because I wanted to hear what this sex kitten sounded like. The fact that it was priced at R19,95 was another inducement.
Oh, and another persuading factor for buying Jessika's album is that it is on Musketeer Records, one of the better local labels. Along about 2002 I bought the debut and so far only album by The Fortune Cookies, top class guitar pop, that I did not like at first and which then grew on me to the extent that is one of my top ten local records of all time. Therefore, I was prepared to take a chance on Jessika in case she presented the same unexpected bounty as The Fortune Cookies. I must that my expectation was that the album would be wall to wall disco pop fluff.
Shout was released in 2008 when Jessika was 19. According to the press release on the Musketeer Records website Jessika came from the same music training school as Candice (Hillebrand), another local pop thrush who started out as a tasty television pin up morsel and then turned out to have a voice and some good tunes.
Jessika's album is a mixture of dance rock and pop rock, of which the title track (it is not the Isley Brothers song) and "Addicted" are infectious examples. "I Never Meant to Make You Cry" and "Stay", the final track, am two particular highlights; they show off the putative soul chops of Jessika's voice. She writes some of the lyrics herself, though not all of them, and has a couple of collaborators who contribute music. The inlay card, which has plenty more tasty photos of Jessika, does not tell us much about who recorded the backing tracks. I guess some of the names mentioned in the page of thank you's could be the musicians involved in the project. Melanie Louw, a top ten finalist in the first South African Idols competition also receives thanks as inspiration.
Jessika has a really good, strong soulful voice, though she is also a bit of a belter on some of the tracks, and I would like to hear her doing something more in that vein. She could be a local Joss Stone, Amy Winehouse or Duffy given the right material. When she gives it all she has, there is also a strong reminder of Christina Aguilera's voice.
As far as I know Jessika never became a household name and perhaps she now makes a living doing corporate events where she sings cover versions.
Swallowed By The City is of a more recent vintage than Shout. It was released in 2010 and is in the Sheer Sound stable, also a well-respected local label that has an eclectic roster that encompasses various genres.
Louise Day makes melodic, anthemic AOR rock. She has a regular band that sounds extremely professional and somewhat uninspired. Theo Crous gets a good solid rocking sound and puts a smooth sheen on the product. One can imagine that Louise Day has area rock ambitions and in a way this record is a female version of the stuff Watershed or Prime Circle puts out. The disappointing realisation is that there is not much of distinction on the album; no single tune that stands out; nothing to hit you in the gut and say, damn! Louise Day's voice is passable, though a tad expressionless, and the band rocks quite nicely when required but the rock and roll tropes are so generic that the whole album passes by in the background without much fuss.
The album opens with a portentous intro called "intro" that makes one anticipate something prog rock. Fortunately the classical gas segues into the glare of "Sunlight" and the band is away and cantering with Louise Day wafting about on top. The musicians are capable, the arrangements are well-crafted and the tunes tend towards the Big Statement though the hooks are kind of absent. Everything about the production is top notch and Theo Crous deserves kudos for his work on this album. The simple truth, though, is that this is no more and no less than proficient, high end journeyman rock of the sort that is perennially the support act and not the headliner, unless Louise Day tours by herself and has no competition.
Point to note: Jessika has a song called "Addicted" and Louise Day has a song called "Addict". In both cases the addiction is to a loved one and not to a drug. "Addict" is the last track on Louise Day's album and actually probably the best song on the album because it is mostly just a jazzy pop song with piano and a bit of rock decoration.
Having listened to these alums back to back I would be much more inclined to sync Shout to my iPod than Swallowed by the City, purely and simply because I like Jessika's voice more than Louise Day's and because Jessika's songs afford a superior listening experience over the length of an album. When "Stay" fades out to its final piano chord, you want to start from the beginning again. Hmm, maybe this is The Fortune Cookies all over again.
I prefer my rock relatively primitive and hard and Louise Day is too polished and anonymous for my liking. When her record is done, there is no impulse to listen to it again other than to revisit something that did not quite make an impression the first time around. One could perhaps make the effort to pay more attention a second time around just to get a sense of it, not because it was a compelling thrill you simply have to repeat. I guess the Louise Day Band live experience could be a good clubbing night out. In the cold, harsh reality of my lounge in the middle of the day, it is not so compelling or different. It makes no difference. Jessika made a difference because I had no expectations and was exceedingly pleasantly surprised. That is a good thing.