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Reviews

t-Lounge by Dilmah | Regional News

t-Lounge by Dilmah

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

t-Lounge by Dilmah is the only one of its kind in Australasia. On a blustery day in the city, my dad and I ducked in to the Willeston Street café to enjoy a decadent high tea to die for.

I should start by saying Andrew is a very fussy eater. In fact, when he was a kid, he only ate food beginning with the letter c – cheese, chips, chocolate, cake, and carrots. It was a constant source of anguish for his mother, I’m told! The fact that he demolished every morsel (bar the fish, which he hasn’t eaten in over 30 years) is probably the highest praise I can give. Nevertheless, I’ll try to do the experience justice myself.

Front of house manager Senuka kicked off the afternoon by talking us through the tea menu. The premium high tea comes with bottomless hot options, served in sophisticated glass strainers with a timer to tell you how long to let your cup steep. Offerings range from rose with French vanilla to Italian almond, with green, black, and oolong tea available alongside infusions like pure chamomile flowers.

I tried the Mediterranean mandarin to start. This was a bit too strong for me, but I enjoyed the zing and zest of it. Dad only likes strong tea, so his earl grey was spot on. He then ordered the Ceylon cinnamon spice (a wickedly spicy brew that sung of winter nights by a roaring fire) while I sampled the cinnamon t-kitsch. A mix of condensed milk and tea served in an authentic Sri Lankan t-kitsch jug, this sweet, frothy drink would be an ideal after-dinner treat.

Then it was onto the high tea, which looked divine when it landed on the table. Not for long! Cleverly organised over three tiers of ascending sweetness, I started writing down highlights and realised I was noting every single item.

Starting at the bottom on the savoury plate, my favourites were the Malabar tamarind cured salmon crepe roulades, adorned with the special touch of fish roe, and the unique Ceylon spiced chicken and cheese vol au vents. The bruschetta topped with jackfruit amazingly tasted just like chicken, and the cheese and curry leaf scones definitely top the best-of list in Wellington. I felt the lentil bites were a little dry, but it was nothing a sip of tea couldn’t fix.

From the middle semi-sweet plate, we both adored the Dilmah Ceylon cinnamon t-kitsch tres leches (effectively cake dipped in the drink I was telling you about before, making it incredibly moist), and the sugar-crusted kimbula, a Sri Lankan-style Vienna roll. Special mention must go to the buffalo curd with treacle macadamia nougatine. This dish is traditional and readily available in Sri Lanka, but not in New Zealand. With the curd coming from operations manager Chamila’s brother and sister-in-law’s farm in Christchurch, head chef Srimal designed the most enticing, maple-like syrup to drizzle on top alongside a sprinkling of candied nuts. The sweet and sour flavours and crunchy and creamy textures worked in seamless harmony, creating an explosion of intrigue for the tastebuds.

Finally, the top plate. A dangerously rich raspberry and milk chocolate cake (can you say death by chocolate?) was the highlight here, while the passionfruit macaroon balanced out the sweetness with a fresh, fruity tang. After the last bite we realised we’d overindulged – the premium high tea is definitely enough for a big lunch for two!

We finished with an iced tea each – I had a sparkling Prince of Kandy lemonade, which genuinely tasted like lemonade – and an extra treat, nitro tea. The nitrogen gas infuses tea with tiny bubbles, creating a silky, velvety texture and changing the flavour profile entirely. We tried a regular iced and nitro peppermint tea and really enjoyed the latter, which was so refreshing. This was the perfect conclusion to a perfect afternoon of five-star food, service, and of course, tea.

The Big Gay Christmas Drag Show | Regional News

The Big Gay Christmas Drag Show

Presented by: Hugo Grrrl’s Gigs

Produced by: Willy SmacknTush

The Fringe Bar, 11th Dec 2020

Reviewed by: Petra Shotwell

Until tonight, it didn’t feel a lot like Christmas, but these performers truly have “made the Yuletide gay” with their festivities.

Tonight’s host is none other than Judy Virago, whose exceptional costumes are gifts in themselves. Judy keeps the audience entertained between acts with storytelling, flirting, and even a performance of her own; there’s not a moment in the night that we aren’t completely encapsulated in the show.

The first act of the evening is everyone’s favourite Aunty, Pamela Hancock, who brings such beautiful variety with her live singing and storytelling. Her character is so well established, I feel completely invested in Pam’s life. Next, The Everchanging Boy beautifully executes a simple concept through aesthetically satisfying costume and props, and elegant dance. Judy shares that they are the only person she refuses to stand next to on stage, because they’re too beautiful, and now I understand; I simply can’t take my eyes off them. Homer Neurotic is wearing a giant Christmas advent calendar, and immediately I’m taken back to the Christmases of my youth. This time, it’s absolutely adult content. What’s in Homer’s boxes? I can’t wait to find out. With his brilliant combination of funny and sexy, this king is a crowd favourite. Christmas isn’t complete without a Grinch, so Willy SmacknTush is here to deliver. When he performs, he commands the attention of the entire room. Donning a shiny suit and some very big, green hair, Willy retells a story we've all heard, but this time when The Grinch destroys Christmas, we absolutely love it. Once of the most polished drag performers I’ve had the pleasure of seeing, Hariel is the gift that keeps on giving. With her burlesque-style performance, Hariel is cheeky, flirtatious, and wonderfully lewd, while somehow... tasteful? Her lip-sync is flawlessly articulate, and completely mesmerising.

Finishing the show with a festive group act, these performers have me completely invested, and ready to sing Christmas carols. With tinsel, music, and a whole lot of glitter, it finally feels like Christmas.

Impossible: My Story | Regional News

Impossible: My Story

Written by: Stan Walker with Margie Thomson

HarperCollins

Reviewed by: Ayla Akin

When I first picked up this book, I had no prior knowledge of Stan Walker. Based on the cover (I know right, rookie mistake), Walker’s appeal alluded me. What could a 20-something popstar offer me with his “impossible” life story? Fast forward to the moment I peer up at my husband mid-read, crying, “oh my god Stan Walker achieved the impossible!” Walker pours his heart into this saddening and at times deeply disturbing autobiography. At its core is an uncomfortably relatable paradox – that where there is great love there is often deep pain.

Walker grew up in a large Māori family with poverty, addiction, and abuse a firm part of his daily reality. There are few social issues untouched. The troubling moment when Walker describes his great sadness and longing to take his own life provides an emotionally compelling and personal element missing behind the horrifying statistics of male suicide in New Zealand. The vivid accounts of physical and sexual abuse suffered by Walker at the hands of family members are naturally disturbing and yield a feeling of anxiety that persists sorely throughout the book.

A memory or experience, no matter how traumatic, is usually followed by mature and compassionate insight. These insights create profound moments as Walker finds peace for himself as the innocent abused child, his current recovering self, and even his abusers, for whom he has forgiveness. There is finally a beacon of light when Walker’s entire world, along with his family’s, changes through his willingness to accept his faith. Whilst I cannot relate to his religious awakening, I certainly can relate to pivotal moments that have changed the way I think and have helped positively shape my life.

Unlike most celebrity autobiographies, Walker does not strive for the hero narrative. The raw, spine-tingling honesty has purpose – to inspire change. Walker is proud of his heritage and uses his life story to powerfully express to other families that generational trauma can indeed end.

Honeybee | Regional News

Honeybee

Written by: Craig Silvey

Allen & Unwin

Reviewed by: Petra Shotwell

Heart-warming, jaw-dropping, and utterly breathtaking, Craig Silvey’s Honeybee is an emotional rollercoaster.

This coming-of-age, coming-of-gender story follows Sam on their journey to safety, security, and self-acceptance. The novel, without hesitation, commences with Sam clinging to the edge of an overpass preparing to end their life. When they’re saved by Vic, an elderly man in the same position on the railing, the two form an immediate connection. Throughout the novel, and with the help of drag queens, new friends, and chosen family, we learn alongside them what led Sam and Vic to the bridge that night.

From the subtle, yet chilling Harry Potter references (Sam’s aunt only spoke to them to be mean about their mum or to tell them they needed a haircut), to the extravagant, yet unrealistic drag show experience, Silvey creates a world in which readers are immediately encapsulated. Silvey’s rhetoric powerfully and uncomfortably conveys Sam’s depressive numbness while creating an incredibly cathartic reading experience. As the story moves between past and present, Sam suffers emotional loss, physical pain, and inexplicable joy, until finally the numbness subsides and they’re ready to face the things that hurt them.

I cannot help but love this book and its profound delicacy, but neither can I help feeling the doubt that follows. Honeybee tells a deeply intimate story about gender identity, which leads me to question the morality of this story being told by a cisgender author. In a society where the stories of transgender and gender-diverse individuals are still so scarce, I’m inclined to feel that those stories should be told by those who experience them first-hand. Furthermore, I can’t help but question Silvey’s motives in his decision not to explicitly establish new pronouns or use the term ‘transgender’ once. While Silvey writes beautifully and primarily handles the tender themes with care, I’m overwhelmed with the discomfort of questioning the righteousness of his perspective.

Overall, Honeybee is a compelling novel which consumes the reader from the very first page, and conveys powerful messages of self-discovery and self-acceptance.

Baghdad or Bust | Regional News

Baghdad or Bust

Written by: Kevin Clark

Waxeye Press

Reviewed by: Colin Morris

Disclaimer: I’ve known Kevin Clark for about 40 years. I’ve served him in my record stores, been to his concerts, reviewed his albums, and I thought I knew pretty much everything about him. But, this book about his travels to Baghdad floored me.

So, in the words of the rock band Steppenwolf, “Get your motor runnin’ / Head out on the highway”, except imagine it’s 1964 and Clark is on a 1958 British motorbike with a sidecar storage box and fellow traveller Jurgen Erni. The aim, to leave South Africa where Clark was born and take an informal OE soaking up the architectural sites, as both men had just obtained their architectural degrees.

There is a sense of naive chutzpah that I loved. The thought of “Oh, let’s get up and go” will appeal to many. This is a boy’s own adventure venture and I won’t tell you what happened to the bike.

Once one gets over the tedious border crossings with the fractious passport checks, it’s gratifying that Clark recognises the generosity of the people along the way, many of whom offer free meals, accommodation, and help with the numerous problems with the bike. Clark juxtaposes the memories of 1964 with what has gone on over the years, countries that are even more out of bounds today with war, religion (more than once Clark asks the question of religion and the tyrants who enforce the rules), animosity, distrust, and the wanton destruction of architectural sites. To the intrepid traveller’s dismay, many of the sites are now just rubble. Yet even abandoned cities have their charms.

Among a wealth of data are some beautiful descriptions of places such as a gate in a Byzantine wall in Istanbul, the magnificent Hagia Sophia, the Al-Hamidiyah Souq market in Damascus, and Beehive houses in Northern Syria, a simple structure making a comeback to house displaced persons. In between, it’s camel rides, a belly dancing joint, kebabs, and sleeping in ditches.

The book is the perfect size to thumb through with great visuals, maps, and running commentary for all armchair travellers. An early Christmas present, perhaps?

All Rise | Regional News

All Rise

Gregory Porter

Universal Music Group

Reviewed by: Colin Morris

Just recently I came across a cartoon in which two small children were seated at the feet of an older man (a pipe, smoking jacket, armchair, you get the picture) as they ask, “Tell us grandad about the time you used to have to buy an album just for one song”. Yes, I roared with laughter as I saw myself not only then, but now. This came to mind as I was listening to Gregory Porter’s new album that I’ve been looking forward to. And yes, it’s worth buying it for one track, If Love is Overrated, but to say that would be disingenuous – the album is simply one of the best of the year.

Porter has a strikingly original soulful voice, a voice that conjures up the church and soul of Al Green, the seductiveness of Marvin Gaye, and the intimate warm baritone of Billy Eckstine.

There is nary a song on this album that doesn’t drip with sincerity. Porter’s articulation is another outstanding element, but more than ever, he has created a body of compositions that others can cover for years to come.

There is a myriad of emotions deployed here. Mr Holland is one example, with a rollicking Hammond organ and swinging brass. At the end of this song, which is about a Black youngster wanting to play with Mr Holland’s white daughter, the youth discovers that Mr Holland doesn’t discriminate. Given the times we live in, it’s very timely. Towards the end of the song, Porter speeds up his delivery, I suspect without telling the band, which catches them unawares. It’s a glorious unscripted moment.

With the COVID-19 outbreak, Porter has cut back on touring and retreated, with his wife and six-year-old son, to his home in Bakersfield, California, a city best known for the country sound of Buck Owens, Dwight Yoakam, and Merle Haggard. In the song Thank You, he pays homage to his Pentecostal church upbringing in the city of his early youth. Another sublime slice of Gregory Porter.

100 Years of the Blues | Regional News

100 Years of the Blues

Elvin Bishop and Charlie Musselwhite

Southbound

Reviewed by: Colin Morris

How wonderful to see two stalwarts of the blues checking in their egos at the door and having a rambunctious time. Elvin Bishop started with The Paul Butterfield Blues Band and then went on to a solo career and had a hit with Fooled Around and Fell in Love (1976). Later he played with John Lee Hooker, Clifton Chenier, and Bo Diddley. So, no slouch then.

Likewise, Charlie Musselwhite, reportedly the inspiration for Elwood Blues (the character played by Dan Aykroyd in the 1980 film The Blues Brothers), has been on the blues scene for decades.

For two musicians from the South, both who made their careers in Chicago and have played together over the last 50 years, it’s remarkable they have never recorded together before.

Musselwhite brings his growly fat harp sound, just like he did on my blues album of the year Sanctuary (2004). It’s an album that included The Blind Boys of Alabama, Charlie Sexton, and Ben Harper. Bishop with his skewed, often funny take on life is still a delight. Okay, he is never going to trouble the charts again, apart from the blues best sellers, but chances are if you stepped into a juke joint on a Saturday night in the Deep South, they would probably have to roll you out sometime on a Sunday morning. But you would have a big smile on your face just from the experience.

Mixing up the playlist, which includes Roosevelt Sykes’ West Helena Blues, Leroy Carr’s Midnight Hour Blues, and a go-to favourite Help Me, penned by Sonny Boy Williamson, Willie Dixon, and Ralph Bass, there are also nine originals.

Years ago, I read that The Animals played a gig in Newcastle then took the train to London, recorded their first album in just a few hours, caught the train back to Newcastle, and played a gig the same night. Bishop and Musselwhite took two days. I love albums that have that spontaneity.

I won’t pretend this is a great album, it is what it is – two old friends just having a good time with good music.

This Dream of You | Regional News

This Dream of You

Diana Krall

Universal Music Group

Reviewed by: Colin Morris

If there is one thing that I have noticed in this COVID-19 pandemic, it is the number of artists not being able to tour, or in some cases even record. To remedy that, the creatives within the industry have taken to reissuing many older albums with bonus tracks and remastering. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and Fleetwood Mac are just some artists benefiting by having a higher profile during this quiet period. In the jazz field, it seems barely a couple of weeks go by without some lost recording being discovered in the vaults. Recently we had Miles Davis with Rubberband, John Coltrane’s Blue World, Stan Getz’s Live at the Village Gate, and Ella Fitzgerald’s Ella: The Lost Berlin Tapes. All make for great listening.

But then there are the artists who record plenty of material and discard it for one reason or another: it didn’t suit the artist’s mood in playback, it was the wrong material for the album at the time, or lengthwise, it just didn’t fit in.

Diana Krall lost her mentor and producer Tommy Li Puma (1936-2017), but her last recording with him has resulted in some leftover tracks for the album This Dream of You. And, if Krall continues with the soft, light jazz approach, then many fans will be happy. In fact, it is the perfect bookend to the Turn Up the Quiet album. But it might not suit others, myself included, who think that it’s time for a serious jazz album.

I’ve played one track over and over again from this disc: Just You, Just Me, which features a fiddle and is an absolute gas. Stuart Duncan has featured on dozens of country albums, yet here he plays with the ghost of Joe Venuti sitting on his shoulder. Duncan reappears on the album’s namesake, Krall’s interpretation of Bob Dylan’s This Dream of You. It’s a sensitive reading with the inclusion of an accordion.

New Zealander Alan Broadbent, never far away from a Krall album, resurfaces here playing the piano on the track More Than You Know, and has a hand in arranging several other tracks. Music for a summer’s night then.

Chasing the Sun | Regional News

Chasing the Sun

Sola Rosa

Way Up Records

Reviewed by: Colin Morris

Knowing that I was into old school soul, a friend gave me a copy of Sola Rosa’s 2005 album Moves On. To say that I have devoured all their albums since would be an understatement. This wildly eclectic group, led by Aucklander Andrew Spraggon, has continued to redefine soul as we know it by incorporating electronics, jazz beats, neo-soul, dub, loops, and reggae, so much so that Sola Rosa’s mantlepiece is chock full of nominations for Best Electronica Album, Best Independent Release, Best Producer, and Best Dance/Electronic Album.

Best not to call this an Andrew Spraggon album, but rather a cumulation of like-minded artists intent on getting a groove on from track one and never taking the foot off the pedal. Included are regular collaborator and Streets singer Kevin Mark Trail, Basement Jaxx’ Sharlene Hector, and UK reggae star Kiko Bun. Others include Londoners singer-songwriter Josh Barry and eclectic neo-soul singer Jerome Thomas. British reggae and dub MC vocalist Eva Lazarus, plus up-and-coming Australian artist Thandi Phoenix are in the mix also. Closer to home, expat Kiwi vocalist Wallace Gollan and Aotearoa’s Troy Kingi add their talents to the mix.

No wonder then it took five years to make this album. Mind you, it doesn’t surprise me as Spraggon, in an interview with NZ Musician, reveals an artist not content to rest on his laurels. Many tracks started off in one direction but changed midstream. For example, on the track For the Mighty Dollar, Julien Dyne’s drums replace Spraggon’s programmed beats and, by a twist of fate one day when a singer couldn’t make the London session, Spraggon was given the name of Josh Barry. The magic happened and he can be heard on You Don’t Know.

If your tastes run from Earth, Wind and Fire meets Snap, or Mtume’s Juicy Fruit to M People, you will fall in love with this disc. It takes all of these elements and adds a fresh take with layer upon layer of hip-hop and dub beats.