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Josie Field is sitting on a gem of an album. 1984 is this folk singer’s third and best album to date.
Unfortunately, besides being nominated three times for an MTN South African Music Award and having a great video for the first single, Man on Fire, 1984 has not enjoyed much commercial success.
There are the usual reasons for this, from bad marketing on the record label’s side to the creative restrictions commercial radio stations impose on South African musicians in their pursuit of the dollar.
The album, however, has received critical acclaim across the board from South African music writers and journalists.
But Field is not too alarmed by the slow commercial success.
“I am finally at a place as a folk artist where I want to be. People can’t really box me which is maybe a down side, but I don’t give a f***. This is who I am.”
1984 sees the singer and songwriter exploring her folk roots while using the latest technology to explore her music.
“I was born in 1984 which is also the era when music and technology was going from analogue to digital,” she explains.
“I made my peace that I missed the Sixties and am trying to embrace modern sounds. Having said that, I am not leaving my folk roots.”
This is ably demonstrated on Man on Fire which, in the video, has her in a sexy corset doing a predatory walk.
“That was such a hot day,” she recalls in amusement. “We shot at Hartbeespoort Dam the whole day and afterwards I had to get treated for dehydration.”
The song is menacing, her emotions and lyrics filled with a loathing for humanity, yet the sad chorus expresses hope for some redemption for the species: There is only one thing that separates me from him, it’s my love.
The opening track, Everything Is As it Should Be, is a gentle start to the album: “I normally write about myself, but with this track I realised afterwards that it is about this country, but not in a cheesy way. I believe everything right now is as it should be.
“I’m not into those ‘let’s hold hands’ type of tracks, but this turned out to be one of them.”
Her voice on the track, and indeed, all of the songs, is amazing. Her unique deep voice sets her apart from her peers and over the years Field has developed a trademark sound.
She explores her musical boundaries further on Soul Search which she describes as her interpretation of soul music.
Her voice fits in perfectly with the soul rhythms of the song and she chooses to leave her deep tones for high notes in the chorus. It works.
“We used a horn section for the first time in my music. It makes the song more soul-ee.”
On Power the singer leans towards her rocker side and also explores her main theme on the album with the lyrics: I carry nothing in my pocket because this is the digital age. I just press a button and get my way.
A more experimental Field is revealed on her last track, Time.
“It’s not really a track, it’s an experiment. The album is diverse and this is one of the most diverse.
“My producer, Kevin Leicher, and I started banging on weird things in the studio to make up the track. It was such fun. I also wanted it to be like a Southern song from the deep American South. We also sampled that train sound to give it that rocking back and forth feel.
“Lyrically, I explore the concept of time. Time is an amazing thing. It changes and gives you thinking. I list all the things that time does.
“I also have a secret song because I always have a secret song. It is about death and it comes across as the creepy song at the end of the album. Some of my fans hate it because it is so spooky.”
Spooky it certainly is and it consists of just a banjo and her voice. It would fit in perfectly with a dark moment in any Coen brothers film.
On the first listen, Field’s 1984 is an aural adventure. By the sixth listen it has become part of your life. It is an album well worth investing in, a gem of an album that, like most great art in South Africa, flies under the radar.
• Josie Field plays at the JaZZme at Nambitha’s Restaurant in Soweto on Saturday. The show starts at noon.