Aloe Blacc, Wolfmother, Cat Power and Willy Mason play Oppikoppi Odyssey and Cape Town in August. Here’s your bluffer’s guide to being a music know-it-all about these international names.
Dust. Boiling days and freezing nights. Rocks and tussocks below a far-too-thin camping mattress inside a far-too-small tent while you try to sleep as some idiot ten tents down plays The Doors – really, The Doors?! – from a distorted soundsystem, punctuating your fitful nightmares about a morning trip to the porta-loo…
[This article by Evan Milton was originally written for “Obrigado” magazine, July 2014]
Soon, colleagues and friends and teenage sons and daughters will start talking about the musical wonders of the Oppikoppi festival’s 20th anniversary and its attendant national tours. Apparently unattainable international stars will grace our shores – the mighty rock pedigree of Wolfmother, the post-indie hipness of The Editors. This alongside ever-slippery fashion-busting vocal icon Cat Power, post-soul crooner Aloe Blacc (now famous to a new generation after chart-friendly EDM DJ Avicii used his voice – sans credit, by the way – for a dancefloor hit called ‘Wake Me Up’), and up-and-coming stars that will be brand new to all but the most avid of LastFM or Simfy trolls. The likes of post-folk vocalist Sarah Blasko (winner of a handful of ARIA Awards, the Australian equivalent of our SAMAs), country troubadour Willy Mason (USA) and harder-edged festival crowd-pleasers like The Last Supper (Canada), Inspector Cluzo (France) and Rival Sons (America). Here, then, is your watercooler primer: a quartet of crib-notes so you can stand your own better than just mumbling, “Well, um… I liked their earlier albums”.
Aloe Blacc – “Lift Your Spirit”
You know him for the recession-busting ‘I Need A Dollar’ (2010), a hit he wrote mainly as what he calls “a genre exercise”, or from Avicii‘s 22-country No.1 hit, ‘Wake Me Up‘ (2013). But Aloe Blacc is far more than either one-hit wonder or just a “voice”: he’s a witty, engaged and chic contemporary take on neo-soul with a folk edge. Stylistically, he’s mentioned with a nod to Stevie Wonder and Bill Withers – but it’s an appreciative nod that saw the lead single ‘The Man‘ hit UK No.1. Plus, he supports anti-malaria campaigns and justice for immigrants, and named his firstborn Mandela. What’s not to love?
Wolfmother – “Wolfmother”
Fact: there are jokes like “The best Wolfmother album is Led Zeppelin‘s ‘IV‘”. Fact: the Australian band founded and helmed by vocalist/guitarist Andrew Stockdale has its feet firmly planted with Led Zep, as well as Steppenwolf, MC5 and, inevitably, AC/DC. But the music is a direct descendant, rather than adopted wannabe pastiche. That said, it’s their debut, “Wolfmother” (2004) you want, with its double A-side first salvo ‘Woman’ / ‘Mind’s Eye’, and the way it oozes raw, unadulterated rock that’s drenched with gut-grinding intensity, wailing vocals and crunchy riffs – all without taking itself too seriously. An Oppikoppi press release quipped that audiences should bring a gum-guard: it’s not a bad idea.
Cat Power – “You Are Free”
Charlyn Marshall has an award-winning album called “The Greatest” (2006); and you haven’t lived rock ’n roll until you’ve heard her revisioning of classics like The Rolling Stones‘ ‘Satisfaction‘ and Velvet Underground‘s ‘I Found A Reason‘ (off “The Covers Record”, 2000); and her latest album, “Sun” (2013) is a gem of post-electronica songwriting emotions. But 2003’s “You Are Free” is the critical Cat Power primer. It’s a masterpiece of what happens after the soul-searching is done, replete with poised, yet vulnerable, lyrical observations that place her amongst greats like Liz Phair, PJ Harvey and, yes, Chrissie Hynde and Patti Smith.
Willy Mason – “Carry On”
29 year-old American country, folk and blues songwriter Willy Mason is a blood descendant of novelist Henry James, but his best songs suggest he’s a kindred spirit to Johnny Cash and Hank Williams, and his darker songs could stand beside Sandy Dillon – which is arguably the highest swamp-music praise possible. Mason’s debut, “Where The Humans Eat” (2004) includes his brother playing drums, and advice from his folk-singer parents. But “Carry On” (2012) is the must have, not least because it features the brilliant ‘Restless Fugitive‘ a roots-rooted piece that embraces contemporary resulting in six minutes of songwriting bliss. Further satiate yourself with “Willy Mason & Brendan Benson – Upstairs at United” (2013).
This article by Evan Milton was originally written for “Obrigado” magazine, July 2014.