We listened to Dear Silence Thieves all the way down to Splashy Fen and back. This is Dan Patlansky’s finest yet. It was produced by Theo Crous who has given it a far more commercial edge while still sticking to Patlansky’s core roots – the blues.
This is Patlansky’s seventh album and I was fortunate enough to have a private listening session with the great blues guitarist.
My first impression is that Patlansky is singing better than ever before. Just like Hugh Masekela, Patlansky often sang out of necessity, but when he was recording his acoustic album last year, he discovered his voice.
The opening track shows Patlansky’s great sense of humour. It is called Pop Collar Jockey and features long-time friend, Gordon Legg.
“Those guys you find in the north of Jozi, like Fourways,” he grins. “You know those ous with the flat monster caps and tap-out vests and they think they’re cage fighters. Some of those ous are my worst kind of people.”
The next track Chile is raunchy with a hint of testosterone and is rather mocking. “Chile is an old blues way of saying child, like Voodoo Chile. They didn’t say their “D”s in those days.”
Backbite is more of a Motown track in the vein of a 1960s influenced Stevie Wonder. “I love that ‘60s sound. I use a clavinet in this song. It was made famous by Stevie Wonder’s Superstitious. It’s an offensive sound.” The sound also has a Beatles’ Come Together influence. Dan agrees and admits he is heavily influenced by The Beatles.
Fetch Your Spade, on the other hand is almost an ode to Audioslave. “I love Audioslave because they are so close to the blues. I love Tom Morello and Chris Cornell is the greatest singer alive after Robert Plant.”
Hold On is the radio single. However, Patlansky is very firm about one thing: “I don’t want to make radio hits. I want to make good music. This album is about songwriting. When I was a laaitie it was just about playing, but now that I am singing I am concentrating on the song structure and my voice.”
This is also the first time that Patlansky has used a producer, and what better producer than Theo Crous. This former guitarist of Springbok Nude Girls has produced for South African greats such as The Parlotones, Prime Circle, Chris Chameleon and Karen Zoid. His understanding of music, particularly rock and how to structure it, is unsurpassed in this country.
“It was heavy in the beginning because you are handing over a part of yourself, but I trust Theo. My biggest fear was to give a producer my blues stuff and he gives you back this Bieber-type vibe.
“It was so cool having someone saying play faster here, slower there. His brief was to have a good album with a vintage feel because I am a blues player. I learnt a lot from him. I learnt how to workshop tunes. He’s patient. We would experiment with all avenues and we discovered other ways of doing things. Theo is meticulous so it was a long process. In the past when I was producing I would get tired and say f*** it, it’s going on the album like that.”
We continue with the listening session and he plays Taking Chances. “It’s a very traditional blues track. I had to do it because that’s where I come from.”
Even the lyrics roar blues: Play a hand with a queen and a two is like taking chances on a lady like you.
Windmills and the Sea is a beautiful acoustically centred song about touring South Africa.
“I took that whole Nibs van der Spuy approach so instead of caning it the whole time I relaxed a bit.” The song begins in the North West where he drives past old gold mines with bullet holes in the middle of highway signs. It then moves south to the yellow fields of the Free State.
“I had a Durban verse but Theo cut it out because he said the song was too long. It was all about the humidity.” Patlansky pauses and then chuckles: “Damn Theo for hating on poor Durban.” The song ends at the Cape with winter rains and puddles under the trees. It is, indeed, a beautiful description of our land.
The conversation moves back to Crous and I ask him what his initial thoughts on the Nudies were. “It was that primal scream. It just screamed rock ’n’ roll. I was terrified of Theo when I saw him on stage.”
Another terrifying moment for him was when he opened for Bruce Springsteen in front of 64 000 people at FNB Stadium.
“It was the waiting that was terrible. Also it wasn’t my show so they were not there to see me. The first song was nerve-racking because I was waiting for the reaction. But I received a great reaction and I relaxed. Then I made the fatal mistake of looking at the side and saw Tom Morello and Bruce watching. Dude, like both Morello and Springsteen watching me – no pressure there. As I was walking down the metal stairs an arm popped out and I thought it was a techie but it was Bruce. He said ‘hey, cool show.’
“Yowza. What was amazing was that he allowed us to have the same sound as him which doesn’t happen to support acts. Obviously he had 50 000 musicians and stuff on stage and there were only three of us. But to just hear that loud guitar, I was like ‘uhuh, I can get used to this’.”
• Dan Patlansky starts his national tour on Friday at Rivonia Barnyard and ends it on May 31 at the Bush Fire Festival in Swaziland. Dear Silence Thieves is only available at the shows. However, it will be available on iTunes South Africa and other platforms at the end of the month.
Friday: Rivonia Barnyard, Johannesburg
Saturday: Atterbury Theatre, Pretoria
May 15: George Arts Theatre, George
May 16 and 17: Cash Store, Port Elizabeth
May 18 : Potters Place, Jeffreys Bay
May 19: Fugard Theatre, Cape Town
May 24: Strab, Mozambique
May 26: Gateway Barnyard, Durban
May 31: Bush Fire Festival, Swaziland