Verdict: 2 / 5
Garnering information about local artists can be a futile task. There is a dirge of local music press to cover our artists, making it difficult to decode an artist’s mind or thoughts on their album. Thus, it stands with Dear Reader or rather Cherilyn MacNeil’s latest work, ‘Rivonia’. The album touches on South Africa and its past, mainly its political history. This exploration is not exhaustive or in-depth but rather it uses certain political and social upheavals like mining and apartheid as subtle thematic impressions to play with.
McNeil recorded the entire album in her apartment in Berlin, adding to the sparse personal feel of the record. Being so far away from home must have influenced her decision to use these issues as a theme. To sing of apartheid and social ills borne by its victims means that the music should have a certain character, a grittiness or folksiness that captures the indigenous feelings around the issue. While valiant, the music as found on songs like, ‘Down Under Mining’ do not exhibit the flavor required to handle these heavy themes. This song is a tad clumsy and ill-conceived, most notable in the use of choir like harmonies. Many songs are piano based and singer songwriter like. Others like ‘Took Them Away’ have more rhythmic elements but the breathy, Bjork styled vocals do not do justice to what should be a passionate, full-voiced affair.
‘Good Hope’ has a sweet piano progression in the intro and the vocal melody is fairly consistent. Alas, the silly choir vocal harmonies kill the song, as they do on a few others on the album as well. The song, ‘26.04.1994’ also features a good piano bit but falters with a similar problem like the other tunes. Ultimately what you hear are a few good moments spoilt by bad musical ideas. The album could have used more variation or subtle change in style to mix it up too; things start to sound the same after a few songs.
Maybe if MacNeil worked with a solid producer her ideas could have been more refined but unfortunately this did not occur. ‘Rivonia’ has pleasant, lilting moments but it lacks precision and well-rounded execution.