Album Review: Pixie Williams, For The Record

By Scott Kara

1 comment
Pixie Williams' songs were remastered from old 78 records.
Pixie Williams' songs were remastered from old 78 records.

As a teenager, Amelia Costello could never understand why her mum, singer Pixie Williams, was only known for her 1949 hit Blue Smoke. That classic song - written by musician Ruru Karaitiana while he was serving in the 28th Maori Battalion during World War II and recorded by Williams when she was 17 - remains her most famous and enduring tune, but Costello knew she had other songs in her repertoire. Some of which "I thought were, dare I say it, better than Blue Smoke", she says in the 28-page book that accompanies this excellent album.

And if the exotic and tension-filled beauty of Senorita and the magical Maori Land are anything to go by, she's right.

Like many historical compilations that unearth musical gems, there is a lovely story of devotion and passion about how it came to be. Costello first had the idea for the project when she was in her teens, but it was 20 years or so later, in 2006 after the death of her father, that she started compiling the album properly.

And then came the technological feat of restoring the songs - undertaken by Wellington engineer Mike Gibson. With no original master recordings, Gibson had to create new masters from much-loved and well-worn 78 records.

While the 2011 versions of the songs sound pristine, they still retain a warmth and vintage quality that takes you back 60 years. There's Maori Rhythm, about a "fascinating Maori girl" twirling her poi as her "tantalising sway" steals the heart of a helplessly in-love bloke, and the sweet and woozy swoon as she sings "I'm sailing along on a moonbeam" is a romantic and hallucinatory experience all-in-one.

It's on a song like It's Just Because where the true essence of her Maori Nina Simone-meets-opera singer voice is revealed as it soars high but with a stunning fragility to it.

Williams' singing career was brief, ending when she married in the early 50s.

Although, apparently the 83-year-old still loves to sing, whistle and hum her way through the day.

And though these songs may be old-fashioned, they're timeless.

"Or, in the words of the lady herself, "I always feel when you have music in your heart, it stays with you. Music will always live on."

Stars: 4.5/5
Verdict: Reissue of singer's smokin' tunes 60 years on

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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