It seems quite the thing to do these days for many of our local music stalwarts - form a supergroup, release an album. Jon Toogood teamed up with Shayne Carter and Julia Deans to form the Adults in 2010, and the Finns have been reconfiguring themselves in multiple formations for years, for example, the Pajama Club. Last year three of our talented Auckland-based songbirds (yep, Anika Moa, Boh Runga, and Hollie Smith, like it says on the cover) had a couple of wines one evening, and mused over the idea of collaboration - and instead of just talking about it, next thing they were booked to do the national Acoustic Church Tour, had studio time locked in, and got a band organised. They just needed to write the songs.
And with the serious songwriting experience accumulated between them, from the outside that didn't look like a big stumbling block. I initially wondered how their voices would work together, given that they've all got lovely, yet distinctive vocal qualities - Smith's huge, soulful, powerful pipes, Moa's warm and winning pop star tone, and Runga's sweet yet rocking delivery.
But when their first single Be Mine came out I was reassured they'd managed to find a pleasing balance. Even though Runga took the lead on this song the other two provided multi-dimensional backing colour, and it seemed logical that the others would get their chance out the front too. There were no egos in the way in that catchy folk-inflected pop song that balanced the sweet and subtle with the comparative passion and power of three simultaneously warbling females. But curiously enough that song hasn't made the album cut. And neither did another one which they performed so strongly during their church tour - Slipping Away, which remains in my memory despite being unreleased anywhere.
Those that did make the cut are perfectly lovely easy listening pop songs, with inflections of Fleetwood Mac, soul, 60s doo-wop, and sunny ska. You can't fault the performances of the girls or their band (made up of luminaries Jol Mulholland, Godfrey De Grut, Chip Matthews and Tom Broome), but perhaps that absence of any egos actually left them with songs that don't quite reach the conviction and class of their solo material. There are some definite growers of course: Walk Away has a great summery groove with its organ lines and striding guitars, Lost adds some appealing 80s-ish electro production to the yearning ballad, Don't Really Care has a wry smile in its cute riff, and the title track has a beautiful anthemic feel and could be quite the crowd sing-along a la TrinityRoots' Home, Land and Sea.
Having been impressed with their live performances twice (they were charismatic, engaging and cheeky), the album can feel a bit soft-focused and smoothed-out in comparison. But it's still a great souvenir of the shows, and the three live bonus tracks are worth a listen - particularly Smith's incomparable performance of Bathe in the River.
Verdict: Not quite the sum of it's impressive parts
Buy Peace of Mind by Anika, Boh and Hollie here.
- TimeOutBy Lydia Jenkin Email Lydia