Friday, October 31, 2014

Jack Bruce: In memoriam

Jack Bruce founder bassist, blues harp player, vocalist and song writer for Cream, perhaps the most seminal of the mid- to late Sixties blues rock power trios, but who also had a diverse career in a number of genres, died on 25 October 2014 at the age of 71.

Cream no longer existed when I bought Cream’s Cream, a double album combo of the previously released Live Cream and Live Cream Vol II, in 1974 by which time the three members of the band (Bruce, Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker) had been following their own musical careers for about 5 years but only Eric Clapton had a pop presence on South African radio. Ginger Baker had been in Africa and had then played with various hard rock combos in what one might call an eclectic, erratic and somewhat less than successful career.

Jack Bruce had been following as diverse a path within the jazz and rock worlds He was a very respected musician without earning the kind of monetary rewards that accrued to Clapton in his solo career. Presumably one can say of Jack Bruce that he followed the path he wanted to and that this path was not necessarily the one with the pressure of commercial stardom. Having said that, he did team up with a couple of other star guitarist like Leslie West, Robin Trower, Gary Moore, Mick Taylor and Clem Clempson over the years often in order to replicate an approximation of the power and glory of Cream.

Cream played blurs after a fashion, both reinterpreting blues standards and giving us their own take on the genre, and more commercial psychedelic pop and rock. Jack Bruce could write and perform a gutbucket Sonny Boy Williamson harp tribute like “Traintime” or a jokey piece of hokum like “Take It Back” and then write the ethereal “We’re Going Wrong” or co-write the big rock tickets like “N.S.U.”, “Sunshine of Your Love” or “SWLABR.”

Although all three of the musicians in Cream wrote or co-wrote songs it seemed to me that Jack Bruce was the dominant songwriter (aided by lyricist Peter Brown) and conceptualist behind the various directions the band took over the course of its very short and meteorically successful career. Ginger Baker has some severely acerbic and disgruntled comments about the dominance of the Bruce/Brown writing partnership on Cream’s albums, not so much that the songs were useless but that the other two were squeezed out or that their practical musicianly contributions were not acknowledged in writer credits

Cream’s second album, Disraeli Gears (1967), is just such a truly excellent and diverse psychedelic rock album and the stamp of Jack Bruce is all over it. The album mixes up its various influences and comes up with an amalgam that combines good songs and virtuoso musicianship, at once of its time and futuristic and of today. It is one of those albums I never tire of listening to.

I have a DVD documentary of Cream, made around the time of the 2005 Royal Albert Hall concerts, with interviews with the band members and various others and Ginger Baker is very outspoken about the wrongful assignment of writing credits on certain Cream songs where he alleges that he and Clapton suggested various bits of musical business that improved the specific songs and helped them to be hits they are, without receiving any writing credits and royalties. Baker claims, Bruce made more money from Cream than he or Clapton ever did, for this reason. Pete Brown, Bruce’s lyricist partner in many songs, punts out that Baker never raised these concerns at the time and is doing so retrospectively in a fit of score settling. Baker obviously also does not like Bruce all that much, going back almost 50 years.

Bruce is more diplomatic about these matters and comes across as more benign and reasonable but, then, perhaps he can afford to if he is earning the lion’s share of the royalties.  Eric Clapton does not discuss songwriting credits and is also quite affable, generous and amenable about it all. He should have little complaint. He has some good writing credits from Cream and his solo career afterwards was quite successful and the most high profile of the three of them.
I have never had enough curiosity in the career of Jack Bruce after Cream to make an effort at least to listen to what he did after, whether in jazz or hard rock.  That is possibly my loss. However, just for his contribution to Cream he will be (or should be) in the Rock Hall of Fame’s inner chambers or upper tiers forever. Over and above his song writing of singing, he was important to me because he was the first rock bassist I listened to as a vital contributor the instrumental pats of a tune, rather than just concentrating on and being I impressed by the lead guitar.

Cream ceased to exist as going concern in late 1968 after the famous farewell concert at the Royal Albert Hall, which was filmed for television and which is available on DVD.

Roughly 39 years later Cream reunited for a number of shows in the UK and the USA in 2005. A double disc DVD of the 3 Royal Albert Hall concerts was released to commemorate the event. It was perhaps to the credit of the guys that they had not done this before to cash in on the major “classic rock” circuit where the band would have been as successful as it had been in the ‘60’s. It is perhaps also to their credit and part of the tragedy that they could not sustain the reunion for more than a handful of concerts before the old animosity that tore them apart in the first place, reared its ugly head again.

The first of the two Royal Albert Hall videos, the farewell concert shows from November 1968, illustrates the band at the height of its power as young men who were stepping away from their project while the going was still extremely good and while much more money could have been made if they had decided to stick it out despite the friction. The second series of Royal Albert Hall concerts illustrate the band as a group of older musicians, as proficient yet older and wiser and with far less of the energy and brio of the early days, to the extent where the performances of the classic songs sounded like a pub cover band to me. The event was that thing for the faithful who’d waited 36 years to see the band again. The music was not compelling at all. The three guys seemed to be in good humour and they may have felt a bit of that magic they’d felt in 1966 when they jammed for the first time. For my money Bruce was the star of the 2005 shows because his bass playing style was pretty much intact where Clapton no longer sounded anything like he did in the Cream days and Baker, although still capable, was audibly less volatile a drummer than he used to be. Obviously Clapton plays with authority and solos as fluently as ever but the style is less youthfully urgent and lacks the brio of the young man with the supercharged  Les Paul or psychedelically painted Gibson SG, and the dominant impression is that the solos do tend to go on a bit and  beyond the point where they are still interesting.

On the other hand, Jack Bruce’s bass playing, and his singing and harp playing, are pretty much intact from the   old days and one can hear why he was thought of as one of the best bassists ever. It is fluent, abrasive, charging, melodic, rhythmic, all of the above as the songs require and for the most part he is the glue that hold together the performances and make the band sound as much as possible like the Cream of legend, rather than Clapton or Baker.  This is how I will remember him: the guy who had been through the wars throughout his life and looked pretty used by 2005 but who still killed it on stage when playing with his cohorts from a band that as quite literally comprised of the cream of English musicians at the time of formation.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Led Zeppelin and Houses of the Holy


When I was a kid Led Zeppelin was probably the most popular heavy band in my peer group. Some boys were into Black Sabbath but on the whole Led Zep was the popular choice of the hip kids. These boys either had older siblings with good record collections all indulgent parents who were willing to buy him the must have heavy rock albums of the day, which very much included those of Led Zeppelin. Given that I was in high school from 1972 to 1976 the contemporary Led Zep albums were Houses of the Holy (1973), Physical Graffiti (1975.), and Presence (1976.)  And one should not forget the longevity of the impact of Led Zeppelin II and IV

At the time I was quite ignorant of most rock other than that played on Springbok radio and the English Service of the SABC.  The format ended towards pop music and the commercial Rock bands and the latter favoured progressive rock. Neither radio station played much Led Zeppelin, who in any event famously refused to release singles.  As a result I knew the name of the band yet had a little idea of what they sounded like, apart, perhaps for the infrequent exposure to “Whole Lotta Love.”

I went to university in 1977 and had a menial student job debt pay me enough to enable me to start a record collection is the only record store in Stellenbosch at the time was Sygma Reports and I used to hang out there a lot just flipping through the stacked, empty record needs. Led Zeppelin featured prominently.  I cannot remember exactly why I made the decision to start buying Led Zeppelin records. Perhaps curiosity finally simply got the better of me and, because I had the money, I could afford to splash out on Led Zep albums and I made a semi-serious project of it, deciding to buy Led Zeppelin  (1969) first, then Led Zeppelin II, then the movie soundtrack double album The Song Remains The Same and then Led Zeppelin iV some time later.  For some reason I bypassed Led Zeppelin III. I guess I was not interested in the third album because I’d read that it had a number of acoustic, folk type tracks and when I was in my late teens and early twenties I was not into acoustic folky type music at all.  

By the time I acquired Led Zeppelin I well into my appreciation of Cream and their style of heavy blues and psychedelia.  The debut Led Zep album had a number of blues derived tunes and was not too dissimilar to what Cream had been doing except that Led Zep was a lot heavier and les subtle and seemed to have no psychedelia in their make-up. It was folk or hard rock blues and that was it.  The Jeff Beck Group was also in eh same ballpark, which was not so strange given that Jeff Beck, like Jimmy Page, was an alumnus of the Yardbirds, once even in the band at the same time, who were one of the first blues bands to explore the heavier trend following in the wake of cream and Hendrix.

Having known only “Whole Lotta Love” and “Trampled Underfoot” the overt blues influences and softer side of the debut album came as a surprise because early Led Zep did not sound like heavy metal to me, which is what they became known and emulated for. Of course Jimmy Page always claimed that he wanted a band with light and shade and not a simple slogging heavyweight with no finesse.  Led Zeppelin were certainly not Black Sabbath who did seem like a staggering mastodon by comparison. Nor were they as pompous as Deep Purple or Uriah Heep were prone to get.

The Yardbirds was a quite purist blues band and Eric Clapton left because he became uncomfortable with the pop music direction the bed was pursuing in order to sustain commercial success.   With Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page the Yardbirds went far beyond simple blues and became a psychedelic hard rock band with a blues foundation. Jimmy Page paid his dues as a session guitarist and as not particularly a blues guitarist, not like Clapton or Beck, at least, and combined with Beck’s progressive, experimental tendencies the Yardbirds produced a sound and, in the final stages of the band, also   a repertoire that required only a small amount of shaping to become the blues based heavy rock template of the first 4 Led Zeppelin albums.

Over the period of 1969 to 1971 the Led Zeppelin formula was to rock up the blues and throw in some fey folky stuff to lighten the mood. In the process Led Zep became the biggest rock band in the world. By the time I bought Led Zeppelin the band was becoming obsolete and worn, obscured, like so many of their contemporaries, by the rising sun of punk rock and although the musical vision continued to develop to the end, and the final proper studio album In Through The Out Door (1979), the glory days were gone. Led Zeppelin became very popular again as influence on new bands in the late Eighties and early Nineties and I would imagine that this nostalgic popularity persists to this day. Say what you will about Led Zep, their music was never one-dimensional or boring even is often over the top in the ambition.

Led Zeppelin kind of blew me away when I first heard it, with the mixture of heavily amplified yet almost traditional sounding blues and the acoustic based tracks with heavy rhythm section, Page’s razor-sharp guitar leads and Robert Plant’s truly astonishing voice. Although Led Zeppelin II had “Whole Lotta Love” and “The Lemon Song,” amongst others, that debut album was the one I listened most often. 

For some reason I never bought Houses of the Holy.  When I started buying CDs I bought Led Zeppelin III for the first time and then Presence and received Physical Graffiti as a present.  The third album was in fact a lot more listenable than I had anticipated (but I was in my mid-thirties too), Presence was a really good record and I was relatively disappointed by Physical Graffiti, despite “Trampled Underfoot” and “Custard Pie” because it felt overlong and had too much filler.

Now I’ve re-acquired Led Zeppelin and also acquired Houses of the Holy from iTunes.

The introductory chords of “Good Times, Bad Times,” the first track of Led Zeppelin sent a real anticipatory thrill down the spine when I spinned the record for the first time.  It can be compared to the visceral effect of the opening riff to “I Can Tell” on Dr Feelgood’s Malpractice album.  You don’t quite know what’s coming but those chords promise a magic carpet ride.  Apart from the punch of “Good Times, Bad Times” I was surprised by how melodic the song was; it was pretty much a loud rock and roll pop tune.

Even more surprising was hat the mostly acoustic “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You” followed. This song sounded like an ancient folk tune enhanced by a powerful rhythm section and Plant’s primordial wail.  So far the album did not sound like the ultra-heavy band I’d known, an d expected, from exposure to “Whole Lotta Love” or “Trampled Underfoot.”  Led Zeppelin clearly were not Cream, my main reference point for heavy blues at the time, and yet also seemed to be an extension of what Cream had been doing, albeit even louder and with a much more assertive rhythm section, especially Bonham’s drumming which was agile enough but did not have the jazz swing of Ginger Baker. Robert Plant’s vocals also set Led Zep apart. The guys in Cream had serviceable voices; none of them had anything remotely like the kind of instrument Plant’s voice was, and is.

The heavy blues of “You Shook Me,” “I can’t Quit You, Baby” and  “How Many More Times” were more familiar but, once again, where at their best Cream sounded like, and were, an amplified blues band. Led Zeppelin never sounded like a blues band even when it used the 12 bar framework. Page realised that bearing down on a blues shuffle with all possible effort could make the band sound as heavy as if it had written a more intricate riff.

“Your Time Is Gonna Come” is a kind of companion piece, thematically and sound wise, to “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You” and also sounds like a grand mid-Sixties pop song with blues roots.

It now seems to me that “Communication Breakdown,” except of course for the barnstorming Plant vocal, could equally well have been something the MC5 could have written and performed. It is a fast paced garage rocker that was written during Plant’s tenure with the Yardbirds.  This, along with “Good Times, Bad Times” and “Dazed and Confused” were my three top favourite tracks on the album.

With hindsight it is probably easy to see how Led Zeppelin could have become as massively popular as they did become, filling in the gap left by the demise of Cream and with the type of songs and quality of performance on the debut album, but nothing is a given in pop music.  Led Zeppelin is a good album and one of the more consistently enjoyable of their records but not an astonishing debut. Having said that, the mix of power and melody on this record was taken forward and perfected. It is puzzling why Led Zeppelin could not be played on radio. I can understand, if no singles were released, that Top 40 hit radio would not be interested but all the albums have so many radio friendly tunes other than the heavy bombast one usually associates Led Zep with. Page, Plant and Jones clearly  had a gift for writing songs that were not merely the sum of an intricate arrangement and with Plant’s impassioned delivery the tuneful songs should have pleased any aural palate.

Only 4 years elapsed between Led Zeppelin and Houses of the Holy  yet it was several musical lifetimes longer. By 1973 Led Zeppelin sounded pretty much like a completely different band with loftier ambitions and more technical proficiency than at the time of the debut album.

My first impression of Houses of the Holy is that it is of a piece with Presence in the sense that it has intriguingly intricate arrangements that sounds less like heavy metal and more like loud prog rock.   This is particularly true of the three tracks I know well in their live incarnations from The Song Remains The Same, namely “The Song Remains The Same,” “The Rain Song” and “No Quarter.” In this trio the emphasis is on the arrangements and layering of instruments rather than bludgeoning hard rock and I can see a comparison here with the type of hard rock played by Blue Oyster Cult over this same period where melody and power combine in the arrangements to give an ever rewarding listening experience.

Amongst the prog experimentalism Led Zep recorded a James Brown parody funk rock thing called “The Crunge” and a reggae parody called “D’yer Mak’er” and one heavy riffing tune called “The Ocean.”

From here on Led Zeppelin became an imperious hard rock band, obviously soaring above the rest in terms of conceptualisation and execution of more and more complex music, a million miles away from the quick and dirty bashing out of the stage repertoire that Led Zeppelin represents. That album had keyboard parts that could perhaps not have been replicated on stage either but it was nothing like the symphonic compositions that Page and Jones put together for the later albums where there was a clear differentiation between the art of writing and recording and performing those intricate songs live.  I can appreciate the intelligence, ambition and achievement of the albums between Houses of the Holy and In Through The Out Door but for the life of me I cannot extract the visceral thrill I feel when I listen to the best of those first four albums when the music was a tad more direct and for that reason more effective, to my mind, than the later progression. I can listen to Houses of the Holy with a satisfactory sense of enjoyment, when I crank up the volume, but Led Zeppelin is just awesomely pure heavy rock and roll played with confidence and conviction.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Chicken Shack serves blues and yocks with OK Ken?

Chicken Shack was the other purist blues band on the Blue Horizon label, after Fleetwood Mac, and always remained the second band where the Mac became superstars, first as a blues band, led by Peter Green, and then as AOR band, with one time Chicken Shack member Christine Perfect who married John McVie, bassist for Fleetwood Mac, and, as Christine McVie, became one of the creative forces in the Fleetwood Mac of the Lindsey Buckingham / Stevie Nicks period.

Fleetwood Mac had the advantage of three top guitarists, all of whom also wrote songs and sang. Chicken Shack is more or less your classic blues set up of virtuoso lead guitarist, who sings and writes some of the original songs, supported by a accomplished blues pianist who also sings and writes, albeit at a lower level than the band leader, and a rhythm section who aspire just to get the job done.  It is not a bad formula and in the right hands, such as with Chicken Shack, the results are pleasing indeed if you love blues.

Chicken Shack remained a more or less purist blues band, albeit with “progressive” detours into psychedelia and mainstream rock, with multiple line ups in which only Stan Webb, lead guitarist and vocalist, was the constant. As far as I know Webb is still leading some incarnation of Chicken Shack and is still gigging and recording to this day.

When I started collecting records, as a first year student with little money, I used to trawl through the discount bins at the various records shops I visited to search out cheap blues records. This was a habit I never quite got over even when I had money and could buy contemporary releases and full price blues records. By the early Nineties I started buying CDs and no longer bought vinyl until I started idly browsing the record bins at Vibes Records, then in the Old Mutual Arcade in the Cape Town CBD where I found a number of albums I’d have killed for back in my early record collecting days. A number of them were by the J Geils Band and one of them was OK Ken? the second Chicken Shack album.

The astonishing thing for me, given how many discounted records I used to buy, was that the quality of the vast majority of the records was quite good and it was a rare occurrence to buy a record that was defective in some way, warped or scratched. It was a slightly different proposition with the records sold by Vibes Records because these were second hand albums and were not necessarily as well looked after as the way I looked after my own records. J Geils Band’s The Morning After and OK Ken? are examples of two albums that were damaged to the extent that the records could not really be played.

In the case of OK Ken?, if memory serves, most of it was almost playable except for the second side and specifically the last couple of tracks. The vinyl was warped and scratched and jumped horribly when played. I do not remember what I paid for the record but it was more or less wasted money. It was no big deal though; at that time I hardly listened to records any more.

OK Ken? was amongst the bunch of records I gave away in 2009. It was only recently and coincidentally that I even recollected that I had once owned this album. So, in 2014 I not only bought the sonically pristine iTunes version of The Morning After but have now also bought the digital version of OK Ken?   I only have praise for iTunes.

It is possible that Stan Webb thought of himself as a comedian or that dope smoking was rife in the studio where the tracks for this album were recorded, or maybe the lads just liked playing silly buggers. A brief skit introduces each track where someone, and my guess is that it is mostly Mr Webb himself, pretends to be a radio announcer and/or “Stan Webb,” and entertains us with a snippet of wacky interview in funny voices. Why this is necessary is unclear unless it was intended to lighten the mood of a blues album, which is, after all, a record of songs about unhappiness.  The skits are almost funny the first time around, in a schoolboy fashion, but soon pall with familiarity and it would be nice to be able to disable the skits.

The other fascinating, and I mean this, insight into the world of the blues, is that Christine Perfect writes and sings three songs in a very mild mannered, very English voice that is totally unsuited to the blues. She can sure pound her piano but that rather colourless voice is so genteel that it makes one think of the Twitter joke #VeryBritishProblems. Christine McVie was far better as an AOR songwriter and singer with Fleetwood Mac in the late Seventies than she is here.

It seems that most of the tunes are written by the band, with Freddy King’s instrumental  “Remington Ride” and BB King’s “Sweet Sixteen.” The band sounds as purist a blues band as the early Fleetwood Mac and the production values on the album are high, as one would expect from Ike Vernon, yet there is a certain clinical distance here as if the musicians, who are very capable, were more careful to get it right than to allow too much passion  and joy into their performances.

Although Stan Webb does not have the expressiveness as blues singer that, for example, Peter Green had with Fleetwood Mac, he is a serviceable singer. McVie is the worst sinner here because she sounds so emotionless even when singing about being cheated on by her lover, but it is general malaise of technical ability being values higher than just getting on with it, mistakes and all, with the kind of visceral attack that can make the blues really get you in your gut. Chicken Shack may have been rougher live but on this album the band is “playing blues” rather than owning it.

Having said that, Mr Webb has a very clean, powerful and incisive guitar style, similar to that of Peter Green but somewhat more forceful, and it is a pleasure toe listen to backed by a swinging rhythm section and Christine Perfect’s excellent blues piano. She should have stuck to pounding the keys.  Of the two instrumentals on the album, “Pony And Trap” and “Remington Ride,” the latter is the most enjoyable and memorable because of the incredible guitar hooks, that one would expect form Freddy King who had a number of hits with fiery blues instrumentals. Fleetwood Mac, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and Cream, amongst others, recorded various King numbers, probably because they showcased the virtuosity of the star guitarists in the bands.

OK Ken? was, and is not, a groundbreaking British blues record form the Sixties but it is a good example of the best of British blues from that era before the musicians starting chasing the commercial appeal of being progressive and going into all kinds of directions that may have seemed interesting at the time and nowadays just seem quaint and odd where the blues performances, as nervously earnest as they often were, hold up far better.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Lightning prevails for Arno Carstens

I must confess I bought Lightning Prevails (2014), Arno Carstens’ latest album, mostly because the back sleeve indicated that he was doing versions of “Highway to Hell” (AC/DC) and “Hold On. I’m Coming” (egregiously erroneously credited to Sam & Dave who sang the tune that was written by Isaac Hayes and Dave Porter), as well as acoustic versions of “Bubblegum On My Boots” and “Another Universe” and I was intrigued to hear these renditions.

The album cover painting is by Carstens who has a website dedicated to his fine art. Perhaps he is aiming to follow in the footsteps of Captain Beefheart one day when his  career in music has run its course.

This is only the third Carstens album I own, having bought the first tow and then skipping the rest. Carstens has one of the best voices in South African rock and his role in Springbok Nude Girls was to be that rock god front man who could really sing and this must have been a major factor in their success and pre-eminent status in their lifetime as the best SA rock band, possibly ever. They were strutting on the big stage when just about everyone else was still a tad provincial. Carstens’  debut solo album is allegedly the best selling local rock album ever and I can believe it. Back in October 2004 I was in Wellington ad some kind of cultural festival where a number of the then big Afrikaans rock acts were playing and Carstens and his New Porn collective were the headliners. They almost quite literally blew the opening acts away with an awesomely loud, monolithic  big rock sound that was hugely impressive and made the point that Carstens was big league indeed.

The next time I caught his act was when het played the last of the De Waal Park summer concert series in January 2013. Carstens attracted a very large audience, easily the larges of the series and was backed by a  crack band. He played acoustic guitar and did a number of songs as solo performer. The music was anthemic rock and not entirely my cup of tea but it went down a treat with the audience. The rock band show was a big and powerful but nothing like the roaring performance in 2004, partly because the sound could not quite carry as well in the park and partly because the sound was no longer designed like that.

Arno Carstens is a senior statesman of South African rock who has played all over the world, has had a media celebrity lifestyle and now seems to have settle down in his role as serious, sensitive rock guy. He still has one of the coolest voices in local music.
Lightning Prevails does sound like a serious piece of work by a mature artist whose audience probably grew up with him and, though they do not mind rocking, also understand a mellower, but nonetheless intense approach.  Supposedly the album celebrates the “unstoppable power of love and creation.”

The essence of the sound on the album is that of amplified acoustic music with big arrangements. The cover of “Highway to Hell” is kind of Carstens homage, I guess, to Johnny Cash doing an acoustic, solo  version of Soundgarden’s “Rusty Cage.”

This seems to be the approach to “Bubblegum on my Boots,”  the first Springbok Nude Girls hit, which sounds nothing like the sprightly, insouciant rock version of the song, now done as resigned, weary acoustic ballad with brooding strings. You would never say it’s the same song.

Ditto  for “Highway to Hell.”  I don’t know the AC/DC version well but I would bet it doesn’t have this kind of introspective air to it. It is doubly disturbing given the recent news of founder member Malcolm Young’s retirement form the band, at age 60, because of dementia. This deeply bathetic interpretation could be his epitaph.

Perhaps Carstens is trying to do a neo-soul take on “Hold On, (I’m Coming)” with trumpet and all but it does not work nearly as well as the other reinterpretations.  This just sounds like a failed experiment. 

The new songs do not suffer by comparison to previous versions and  are the more enjoyable for it. The arrangements and the tunes compliment each other perfectly and all the bits of business one puts into this kind of adult record add to a rewarding listening experience. It is not heavy rock, it is not dance pop, it is not EDM; it is a good record full of worthy good music that bears repeat listening. The musicians who play on the album are obviously among the best this country has to offer and with this kind of record the proficiency and technical chops are an enhancement because each note is as it should be and the high production values lift sometimes ordinary songs into a higher plane simply because they sound so good. The other important factor is that Arno Carstens can write a decent tune. Arrangements can disguise the lack of tune to a point, until you start listening carefully and realise that there is merely a showroom dummy underneath the finery and not a living, breathing voluptuous body.  On this album the arrangements complement and enhance the strong  hooks.  It is an extremely engaging,  pleasurable album to listen to.

There is quite a bit of solo trumpet by Marcus Wyatt, which is an echo of the SNG sound too.

The album closes with a remake of “Another Universe” a big solo hit for Carstens and it charms even in this version because it is such a damn fine tune.  Johnny Clegg plays mouth bow  to give it that African vibe;  it is not completely another universe. It  is our continent.

Arno Carstens continues to make albums that are very satisfactory indeed amidst the simplistic dross so many other local acts offer us. I hate to use the cliché “class act” but it is a very appropriate description. If Carstens is rock royalty, Lightning Prevails  is a commanding performance