Monday, July 21, 2014


This band sounds uncannily like the White Stripes to the extent that one really has to check the CD to make sure you did not mix up the discs. To be precise, the heavier, less quirky, side of the White Stripes or perhaps Jack White singing for the Black Keys in their earliest heavy blues style.

There has been a real revival in blues and blues rock in South Africa of late and the number of bands ploughing this furrow seems to have increased exponentially over the last few years. Most seem to align themselves to the ponderous heavy blues rock of the late Sixties and early Seventies with few actually playing anything like straightforward blues.

I've been going to Mabu Vinyl (currently in Rheede Street, Cape Town) for a number of years now, not to buy second hand records (nowadays commonly referred to as vinyls) but to search for cheap CD albums by South African rock acts. On one such visit early in 2014, when I was looking for Crimson House Blues' debut album (having just bought their second release) and met Brian Currin, who told me he has a blues radio show, but could not assist me with the Crimson House Blues album at the time. I ended up buying albums by a couple of other blues related acts, like Mean Black Mamba.

On another such visit Brian showed me the debut albums by Ann Jangle and The Parlor Vinyls, describing the latter as acoustically based old timey blues. Perhaps Brian had never listened to the album. It is most definitely not acoustic based traditional blues at all. In fact, if I were to give a pithy sound bite description of the record I would say the tracks sound like a White Stripes cover band playing their own material. Singer Niel Smit, who plays all the instruments except drums, must want to sound like Jack White and the fact that Parlor Vinyls is a duo brings the comparison closer to home.

The band is from Stellenbosch. I'd never heard of Niel Smit. Riaan Nieuwenhuis, the drummer, is probably best known as the former drummer of Delta Blue.

On reflection Brian Currin might have been guided by the album cover in his assessment of the music. The cover photograph is styled n sepia to look like something from day of old, featuring an acoustic guitar and a general vintage feel, with Nieuwenhuis dressed as a caricature of a small time Brooklyn mobster and Smit looking like a guy who has fixated on the Indiana Jones look.

I was quite excited to hear that these guys were delving into really old school blues, as it is not really a thing on the local blues scene, and I was relatively disappointed to find a wholly electric album and a rather heavy one at that. Not to mention a pseudonymous Jack White album.

One must recognise and salute the ambition and enthusiasm of the two guys or perhaps really just Niel Smit, as the songwriter and prime mover behind the project. He knows his way around a riff, and really and truly gives it a go. According to the sleeve notes the tracks were recorded over three days in late June 2013 but there must have been some extensive rehearsals to evolve and perfect the intricate riffing.

Although each song is individually crafted they tend to start sounding the same once you get past the first three tracks. There is no single stand out cut. The songs sound pretty much alike in style and tune. The intensity of the attack is also the same from song to song and eventually one longs for something simpler and softer, like the acoustic blues Brian Currin promised me, or that Jack White can write. Okay, right at the end of the album there is the staccato piano on "Inner City Blues" (not the Marvin Gaye song nor even the Rodriguez song), and there is the acoustic guitar of the clumsily titled "Ringing of a Clock Bell." I guess the consistently applied concept of the album makes sense though greater variety would have made the record more compelling. I cannot quiet see myself listening to this album a lot.

The production values are high and the technical abilities and skill of the musicians cannot be doubted but production values and technical skill do not make a record. One needs actual song writing, with tunes and hooks and one needs some quirkiness, some unique selling proposition that will make the listener return again and again. The Parlor Vinyls do not have that quality or advantage. It is a project and, like most projects, will quickly disappear into history once it becomes apparent that the project was fatally flawed.






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