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Johannesburg - The guitar has been suffering over the last few years. It is an instrument that has been pushed aside in the studio and replaced by Pro Tools and keyboards. I blame David Guetta and the re-invention of dance music by the Americans. They discovered doef doef music almost two decades after Europe did and have brought it back with a bang. It’s all so awful really, what with people with nursery school names like Riri and Chris Breezy and autotune dominating the charts. Music has never been in such dire straits since the disco-dominated Seventies.
Enter Dan Patlansky and his latest album, Wooden Thoughts. This is an album that will save serious music lovers from despair.
It is his first acoustic album and his sixth album over all. Patlansky is considered one of the best blues guitarists in the country with only Albert Frost as his main rival.
The first time I hear Wooden Thoughts is when we are driving from Splashy Fen together. He had killed it the previous night at the festival on the main stage. There is something magical that happens when Patlansky plays Splashy Fen. This beautiful chemistry between the 10 000 strong crowd and this blues maestro is an experience. That night he was demonic, that kinda devil-at-the-crossroads-and-sell-my-soul-for-the-guitar mythical performance. Blood on his fingers and fire in his heart. Having seen him play many times before, that performance was the best I have ever seen.
The following day it was just chatty Patlansky who was sitting next to me, that power blues rock guitarist having a bit of a snooze somewhere in his soul.
Wooden Thoughts consists of Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan covers, as well as his original music. It also contains his first radio friendly track.
“Radio doesn’t like guitar solos,” smiles the young man, “so we got Theo Crous to remix a radio-friendly track, Wagon Wheel. Bob Dylan wrote the chorus of the track and a band called Old Crow Medicine Show picked up the bootleg version and redid the song.”
Then there is Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir. As comedian John Vlismas reportedly said after hearing Patlansky’s version of the epic song that it’s so good Led Zeppelin shouldn’t have bothered.
The opening track features Wendy Oldfield on vocals. “Wendy can really cane it as a vocalist,” says Patlansky. “We recorded the album at Peace of Eden in Knysna. Wendy lives in Wilderness so it was perfect.”
The slow drive up Van Reenen’s Pass with the Drakensberg basking in its splendour was all the more beautiful because of his music.
A few weeks later, I hook up with him on the way to 94.7 Highveld Stereo.
It’s almost unbelievable that Patlansky is going to be heard during the day on an adult contemporary radio station such as 94.7. Perhaps things are changing for the better? The interview is for the launch of Wooden Thoughts as part of the 94.7 Unplugged sessions taking place this Sunday (April 21) at The Venue.
The following day Patlansky and his band leave for Durban where they are playing Gateway’s Barnyard Theatre on Monday night (April 22). “We did an acoustic tour in September and as this is my sixth album I decided to do something different. There are no drums in the show. We include a cajón, which is an Afro-Peruvian musical instrument (a drum kit in a box) and slide guitar. With the album I wanted it to be as raw as possible. The acoustic guitar is for real men. You cannot hide when you do acoustic. Acoustic draws you to the essence of the song.”
On arrival at Highveld, Alex Jay welcomes us into his studio. He is a bit overwhelming as he holds his caffeine mug and charges between the various bits of equipment in the studio.
He fires off a round of questions at Patlansky who answers them with genuine consideration. And there it is, the first time Patlansky has been up for playlisting on a commercial station. The times they are a-changing.
Over a late breakfast Patlansky explains how his life has changed since the release of his previous album, 20 Stones.
The album was in the top 10 blues albums for 2012 in the world renowned magazine, Blues Rock Review.
“I have new management in the form of Clear Entertainment and Franie Kotze. With 20 Stones we had international exposure and I launched to 5 000 people in Kirstenbosch Gardens. I am planning a European tour in November. This is the first time that I have a team around me. I have a tour manager, a booking agent… it makes all the difference.”
In terms of what fans can expect at his acoustic gigs, Patlansky is very clear: “I have a three-piece band consisting of myself, Clint Falcon and Andy Maritiz. I have always been a fan of three pieces because I love Jimi Hendrix. My music is very blues-based but there will be no drums. I do Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah on the album and that will be one of my ‘wow’ moments on stage. I do a complete, broken down, abandoned, hurt version of it. It is also so raw and empty that it makes you feel weird. It’s such dark lyrics. People mistakenly think it’s about religion.
“It will be blues all the way. 20 Stones was a modern blues album, but some of my fans were bleak about it not being thoroughly traditional blues. I love blues cats because they’re so passionate. It’s blues or nothing.”
With Wooden Thoughts, Patlansky has outdone himself and produced a work of art that can only be created on a guitar. For some real music with great lyrics give Wooden Thoughts a listen. And for an evening of passionate blues delivered on acoustic guitar head to The Venue in Melrose Arch on Sunday. For Durban fans, Monday night at the Barnyard Theatre, Gateway, is the only place to be.