Rating: 5/5 * * * * *
When Jan Hellriegel first emerged here back in the early 90s, being a female singer-songwriter with alternative rock sensibilities wasn’t exactly an easy option. Sure, she got a profile and two fine albums (It’s My Sin in 1992 and Tremble in 1995) out of a major label deal. But they generated little momentum and Hellriegel eventually flagged music for a steadier income and motherhood. But feeling she still had something to say and to prove, she’s written and recorded a third.
And though the assumption could be that a 14-year gap – and the album title – might have rendered her a kinder, gentler version of her stroppy, pouty younger self, that’s clearly not the case. Certainly, this comes with thoughtful ballads, one or two songs with rhythms that verge on “jazzy” and at least one slice of airy jangle-pop that could be employed for lullaby duties.
But the much bigger impression is just how much fire there is to most everything here – Hellriegel’s singing and her words; the playing; and an ambitious production which delivers a seamless transition between punchy guitar-scorched rock tracks and symphonic pop.
This is one big, bold record – and it is available on vinyl – rather than some semi-retirement afterthought. And its confident swagger is apparent right from the get-go, as the chiming waltz-time opener of 10 Years And 47 Minutes gives away to the churning guitars of Misadventure. From there it swings neatly from sweetness to scorch – often within the confines of one track. Filled Me Up goes from jangle ballad into major rifferama; Orange Liqueur does baroque piano things before getting its own guitar power surge.
Rating: 5/5 *****
It’s been over a decade since Jan Hellriegel made an album, hence the title to this return, this “comeback” if you like. And it’s certainly a welcome return. Hellriegel’s songs shine, in part because Wayne Bell’s production allows them to – throwing horns and strings and things around the tunes; allowing great players like Bret Adams (The Bads, guitar),Nick Gaffaney (Cairo Knife Fight, drums) and Eddie Rayner (Split Enz, keyboards) to play live, as part of a band sound. And in part – in major part – the return is welcome because these are very strong songs. And Hellriegel really puts herself out there delivering this material. Album centrepiece, for me, is He’s Gone; a song that summons almost all of her being, a dark, moody torch ballad with sometime sinister, always sympathetic piano trickling in behind a voice that knows it must own the moment. Elsewhere there are lighter songs, material that fans of Anika Moa or Heather Nova will enjoy – but, importantly, the songs on All Grown Up always echo the album’s title claim. And they’ve been allowed to grow organically, choosing their own live-in-the-studio end, rather than fading out or being faded up to begin. This is the sound of a well-honed band making sure it ups tools together only disbanding when the work is done. Here you will find 13 songs; six of them will please you instantly. Four more will become friends on a second, third or fourth listen. And none of them will ever completely disappoint you.
In the days where the thought behind making a record often feels like it stops when the clothes have been chosen for the cover photo shoot – and then the songs are written – it is a pleasure to be delivered an album such as All Grown Up. We know Jan has thought about these songs, has thought about this album, because in the past decade she has moved away from music to focus on other things, which in turn has informed her writing. Hearing this album was a joy on first listen; hearing news it was going to exist was in itself positive. But living with it for the past few weeks only hints at the continued joy to come – the return of an artist who took the time to be sure she had something to say. I think that’s pretty special.
Steve Scott. The Waikato Times
Rating: 5/5 ***** 14 Nov 2009
If one reflects back to 1992, some of the world’s leading artists released landmark recordings. kd Lang released Ingenue, P.J. Harvey recorded Dry and to keep the balance, former Jam/Style Council leader Paul Weller recorded his creative and commercial solo rebirth with a self-titled album.
Meanwhile in New Zealand an album was released by former Cassandra’s Ear member Jan Hellriegel. It was called It’s My Sin and what a landmark recording it was. With songs including the mighty, memorable The Way I Feel, It’s My Sin, I’m Alive and what was her signature tune Westy Gals, Hellriegel’s upfront presence, vocal power and sheer professionalism made it a huge album. And with top flight NZ musos including Wayne Bell and Mark Bell, Mark Peterson and Tony Lumsden – and signed to Warner Music (NZ) – she gained huge respect up and down the country. Her next album Tremble followed closely and then after winning Most Promising Female Vocalist at the New Zealand Music Awards in 1996 and later supporting the late Jeff Buckley in concert in Auckland, Hellriegel all but faded from view. Suddenly, quite out of the blue, Hellriegel is back with a new found desire, confidence, maturity and a most lyrical songwriting approach to record her new album All Grown Up. Incorporating ol’ cohort Wayne Bell in the production seat and a band of strong, imaginative musicians, All Grown Up reveals Hellriegel back, stronger and even more creative than before.
The 13 songs that make up All Grown Up provide their own lyrically illuminating qualities. Lead-off track 10 Years and 47 Minutes is the perfect beginning. As Hellriegel’s gorgeous vocal eases one into the reflective tale, gifted arrangements and a charming guitar-piano blend encourages Hellriegel all the way.
Certainly hints of Hellriegel’s authoritive vocal style of It’s My Sin days returns for the lyrically colourful Misadventure.Absorption of the sharp guitar tones from Brett Adams and Ben Fulton provides a great sense of dynamics that fuels the emotion of the song. And the songs just flow from Hellriegel. The tender Middle Of The Morning captures the moment; enhanced by a lilting string arrangement courtesy of Australian producer Daniel Denholm who producedTremble. And Filled Me Up aches with beauty.
2 x 2 contains a jazz tinge and sounds like it is live in your living room. The confidence and chemistry that fuels this recording runs red hot. If ever a solo piano ballad provided a tight connection to the heart He’s Gone would be it. The focussed performance reveals an aching loneliness and longing while in contrast the catchy Very Mostly Goodilluminates the essence of man. From the reflective and late night Small Blue Flame which k.d. Lang would have wished she had written to the grand finale Goodbye Adieu complete with its encompassing Beatelesque fade, All Grown Up is a wondrous return from Hellriegel. It is filled with melody, cadence and a powerful balance of textures that will continue to resonate endlessly.
Purchase All Grown Up from iTunes here.