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Album Review: Little Bushman, Te Oranga

By Graham Reid

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Little Bushman are reflective and quasi-cosmic on third album Te Oranga. Photo / Supplied
Little Bushman are reflective and quasi-cosmic on third album Te Oranga. Photo / Supplied

Continuing their exploration of folk-influenced rock and the ethos, if not the actual sound, of 60s psychedelic rock, the quartet (and friends) come over reflective and quasi-cosmic on this third studio album as they attempt to find middle ground between roots music/Maoritanga, social comment and the hi-tech world of the 21st century.

That many of these are in opposition plays out in lyrics and music which also sound conflicted at times and searching for a centre.

Lyrically, some material aims high ("Their atomic chord had opened a gate into another time ... and in the maelstrom middle was made a Man" on Dream of the Astronaut Girl). But it can equally come off as clumsy and space-filling ("Sinner man, sinner man, cinnamon, cinema" on One Hand).

The juggle between traditional values/folk simplicity and the modern world often jars as the album aims for meaning. Gone ("I look around and what do I see, see a gigabyte of 10 delights dancing after me") goes the whole prog-rock route shifting from simple acoustic guitar over a heartbeat drum to crashing chords in the manner of King Crimson.

But that it and Dream of the Astronaut Girl - another Crimson-like piece with space-rock/Hawkwind lyrics - come in two parts suggests they were conceived as separate sections rather than a cohesive whole. And they sound that way, although interestingly the slow and somewhat ponderous instrumental Astronaut Girl Part II links to the similarly epic sweep on the highly disturbing, eight-minute Big Man ("a big big man put a gun to Grandma's head") with their everything-and-kitchen-sink closing third (think Kashmir on downers for Big Man). The most fully realised pieces come late: Backbone with its low, haunting bluesy quality from Joe Callwood's guitar and a vocal delivery by singer Warren Maxwell which recalls his other band, TrinityRoots, and his star turn on the recent Ihimaera album; and - despite its lyrical pretensions and confusions - the haunting sound and genuinely psychedelic astral flight of the eight minute-plus closer One Hand.

You sense Little Bushman are taking themselves very seriously - the great failing of most later 60s psychedelic bands - and this is at its best when it tries less hard to say something significant.

Rating: 3/5
Verdict: Folk and prog, Maoritanga and 21st century concerns on difficult third album

- TimeOut / elsewhere.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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