Ariana Tikao – From Dust To Light (Independent) CD REVIEW

THERE ARE ALL sorts of reasons for wanting to like this album. Shall I count them?
1) Tikao seems to want to make her Maori ancestry a living thing by presenting some of her songs in Te Reo, and using Maori instruments wherever they’re a good fit.
2) She takes the gift of song seriously, writing about things both close to her heart and concepts that she finds meaningful.
3) She was clearly personally devastated by the Christchurch earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 (she hails from the southern city, though now resides in Wellington), has been involved in the emotional rebuild, and the album was ‘inspired’ (possibly a poor choice of words) by those events.
4) She comes across as sincere.
Albums are made for listening, however, and when the music itself doesn’t ever quite convince, there’s no getting around that fact.
The 11 songs on From Dust To Light, her third album, are pleasant enough; but there’s no escaping the mumsiness of her vocal delivery, or some of the terrible lyric writing. Try this for size: ‘Hate me for leaving/But like a fundamental truth I must go.” It may have been preferable if she’d stuck to Te Reo for the whole project, but then we’d still have to read song descriptions like this: “I was inspired by watching a tui feed off the nectar of a kowhai tree in bloom.” It’s not that the sentiment is wrong here, it’s the need to write it down at all.
While the Maori instruments add to the atmospheres, most of the songs are gently guitar-picked and folk-flavoured and accompanied by low-key contributions by Lee Prebble (who helped to produce the album), Charlie Davenport (cello) and Leyton (electronics). But whatever magic is hinted at in the music is quickly brought down to earth by the singer’s clunky vocal style, and songs that are, at best, slight. GARY STEEL
Music = 2.5/5
Sound = 3.5/5

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