It was a poignant moment when Ladi6 went on stage to accept her Tui from Bic Runga at the NZ Music Awards. Ladi was genuinely thrilled. "This is amazing to receive an award from you. You've won one of these right?"
She has, in fact, won 11, plus a Silver Scroll, a NZ Order of Merit, and has a bunch of multi-platinum discs, which, despite her youthful visage, surely make her an iconic, legacy artist. Deserving of that kind of adulation.
Yet when it came to writing this, her fourth album, Runga got stuck. She'd had a baby boy, which certainly changed her priorities, but she was also struggling with the notion of repeating herself.
So she opted to freshen things up by collaborating with some other artists - James Milne (aka Lawrence Arabia), Dan Hume (of Evermore) and Kody and Ruban Nielson (of The Mint Chicks). Kody Nielson (who's her partner) also co-produced the album, and famed LA producer Jon Brion (who has worked with Aimee Mann, Fiona Apple, Rufus Wainwright and Kanye West, among others) added a few touches - Runga's new production approach not being dissimilar to Brion's confident and evocative use of colourful instruments, without going for "lush".
There's still a touch of melancholy on This Girl's Prepared For War, but a sense of triumph too. Cinematic in its expansive arc, Milne's influence is clear in its dreamy guitar riffs, delicate percussion and gentle mariachi trumpet decorations, but the vocal is pure Runga.
The Supremes-esque Nielson brothers co-write Tiny Little Piece Of My Heart is an irresistible piece of pop, deceptively effortless in its spacious groove and sweet keyboard riffs. They fit perfectly with lyrics like "Oh please, your sorry excuses are a dollar for 10. So go tell your friends you only took a tiny little piece of my heart."
Yes, there was a bit of bedroom dancing to that one. And a laconic sway is hard to resist on Devil On Tambourine, a brilliant co-write with Nielson, based around a rocking guitar riff and melody which Runga was hesitant to put words to: "I was worried I would ruin it with ordinary lyrics, so I gave it to Kody". Good move it seems, because he came up with some charmingly surreal lyrics about temptation and enemies, apple trees, serpents and holidays.
Nielson's influence is also evident on the intricate baroque organ patterns of Darkness All Around Us, and the refined, wondrous, medieval lullaby Everything Is Beautiful And New.
The space in the drumming throughout the album, full of linear beats, is also a Nielson touch, and when he blends his vocals with Runga's they have something special.
There's a refreshing sense of lightness and humour in the delivery, and a sense of daring and excitement on this album, which is infectious - Runga's certainly "got her groove back".
Verdict: After the winter of Birds, Runga emerges into spring with Belle
-TimeOutBy Lydia Jenkin Email Lydia