St Elsewhere Graham Reid.
The title tells its own story, it has been well over a decade since Jan Hellriegel made an album and that might explain the huge interest in this one: lotsa interviews, articles and media attention, my guess from people who remember Hellriegel fondly for her swagger and sensitivity in bands and on her solo albums.
The swagger is still here on this widescreen and often dramatic production by Wayne Bell (horns and strings on many songs), but it is mostly in the guitars of Hellriegel and Brett Adams of the Bads – because out front Hellriegel sings of those things (not always wisdom) that getting older brings: the wistful Filled Me Up punched home by the astringent music, the stabbing Misadventure among others.
She delivers a mature line in lust and aching need (the orchestrated Middle of the Morning), there is deft pop-rock everywhere (notably the immediate pleasing Very Mostly Good and Orange Liqueur), the ballad Heaven is Heredoesn’t quite work (it never quite decides what it wants to be) but the gorgeous Small Blue Flame redeems that.
Hellriegel was always known as “a westie gal” and she doesn’t ignore her audience on that count: V8 Car is a brooding and slightly melancholy piece, and the gentle Under the Stars (lyrics by Geoff Matthews) which follows is like a redemption which opens spare and folksy but becomes increasingly cinematic as strings and guitars swell and soar.
The album closes with her most ambitious song yet: the multi-faceted, seven minute Goodbye Adieu (co-written with guitarist Wayne Bell) which rides guitar jangle and a relentless rhythm section in some sections but also comes with a “choral” part. It is big, in every sense.
You have to be all grown up to attempt something like that, and even more so to realise it as well as they do.
This is an album of great sonic breadth, boasts an exceptional production to bring out the brittle country-rock edge of the band in places and gentle settings in others, has an impressive number of guests (Eddie Rayner, Dianne Swann, Paul McLaney among others) and Hellriegel — shifting from soul to blues-tinged rock and ballad voice — sounds more confident than she has ever been. She has every reason to be.
Note: There’s a very beautifully packaged collector’s edition of All Grown Up which comes with vinyl and CD versions of the album plus a 28 page booklet of lyrics and appropriate artwork which is worth seeking out.
Rating: 4/5 *
It’s a warm welcome back to one of the greatest hard-luck stories in Kiwi music. Hellriegel should have been a bigger star than she was in the early 90s, but a lack of radio play in those unenlightened days stymied her, despite Westy Girlsbecoming an anthem.
“Like a willow, you bend,” she observes in the swinging 10 Years and 47 Minutes, as she begins to demonstrate she’s sprung back with her talent intact.
Orange Liqueur actually has bourbon on its breath to go with its black jeans swagger, as does the celebratory V8 Car (Libby’s Song). These, and the Latin-inflected 2×2, show that Hellriegel hasn’t lost her gift for a good melody and a smart lyric, but gushing love songs like Filled Me Up, Small Blue Flame and Under the Stars risk sounding soppy.
Her more mature vocals are a touch sweeter but still powerful, and she pulls out her old sultry drawl for Misadventureand Very Mostly Good. The mini-epic Goodbye Adieu rounds things off – here’s hoping she doesn’t mean it.
Best tracks: 2×2, Orange Liquer
#1 Posted : Wednesday, December 16, 2009 8:35:55 PM
Rating: 5/5 *
2 years in the making? When it arrived, I wondered for a second what this carefully packaged LP sized box was. Last time I received one of these was before Global Warming, for goodness sake! Realised instantly it probably did contain an LP and indeed that is what was inside, with a beautiful cover image of Jan Hellriegel with full size book of photographs and lyrics very artistically laid out and smelling like fresh ink.
Are these the watery eyes of tragic beauty, of poetic sophistication, a unique rock and roll sensibility in an emotional struggle, or really just one of Kiwi rock’s more powerful voices having another strike at stardom? All Grown Up?
Looking through the pages of the presentation, one feel the hand and eye of an expert curator of memory and ideas. On paper any sense of loss is obscured by the beauty (and the printing ink). The sweet vinyl will remain unplayed until I get a turntable again. Reluctantly, therefore I introduced myself to this grand affect by struggling to get the CD out of its designer pocket compartment. On Facebook, Jan H reassured me it would be harder to put back in, she was so right.
But playing the seemingly redundant little disk had to be as good as the packaging promised. The smell of the printing ink really demanded a rather powerful recording.
It starts well – 10 years and 47 minutes ago, it seems to welcome you into a revolving carnival of temporal fixity you can not yet really be watching. It introduces the album, with its easy going melodic charm. It feels like it was added after the album was otherwise complete.
But it lets you into this world, before it grips upon you too hard – from half way though track two until the end, when it is time to say adieu.
Misadventure – you appreciate how good a composer Hellriegel is, and just how good her band is. The song is in the class of her early hits like It’s My Sin. Along the way you appreciate the clean clarity of a highly disciplined voice and how much fun the band is having playing for it. I can hear Chrissie Hinds in her voice through The Middle of the Morning.
2 X 2 – it seems the logical hit in my estimation. Snappy spoken lyrics that growl with threat then rise in angelic overdub – beautiful pop – with sharp playing. Very Jan H. Great song.
Jan Hellriegel is known for her great voice, thankfully she has looked after it. Including the whiskey. She sure has grown up and the emotional connective tissue of Filled Me Up exercising both her voice and the sense of theatrics that is then accentuated by Very Mostly Good which lives up to it’s eponymous promise. He’s Gone laments the inevitable distance that follows false promise. Inevitable consequences of station. Orange Liquor – southern rock – Westie comfort rum – starts with a dripping taste of real blood true under the timbre of a heavy piano melodrama exiting on a surge of prog rock delight.
V8 Car (Libby’s Song) is exactly what we expect of Jan H. Westie laments about men who reek of a diminished sense of inner feeling. Brilliant. Strong. True-blue Westie-female magic. Under The Stars – another early release on her website, this little song is pure pop. It wraps it’s little snake around you and before very long you will be singing it too.
Goodbye Adieu – if you have not noticed the multitalented composer, this opus is almost sufficiently showing it off that you will. It is as musically complex and appealing as Radiohead, lurid with the evidence of a different emotional plane.
Overall, this was a heavily anticipated album of one of the better artists of the last twenty five years. She has preserved her value as a musical artist in this production. The flaws serve to highlight the exceptional cut of this gem. As an album it feels like a personal statement, some of the soapy lyrics of Small Blue Flame or Heaven Is Here are hung over the song’s musical complexity. Overall it is the affect of this album, Jan Hellriegel is as powerful as ever and adept at maintaining the strong sense of a yearning femininity. If ever there was a comeback the world needed, this is it. It has tons of merit and I believe it is Hellriegel’s finest.
An Auckland Music review
MORE: You can get the album, get a few collectors editions