Dear Reader – Rivonia
Dear Reader began as an alternative duo hailing from Johannesburg, South Africa. Singer-songwriter Cherilyn MacNeil and producer/bass player, Darryl Torr formed the band in 2006, releasing their first album The Younger under the name Harris Tweed. They were asked to rebrand in 2008 by a Scottish textiles company with the same name, and Dear Reader emerged. Two years on, the pair went their separate ways, MacNeil moving to Berlin to carry on working under the name Dear Reader.
Now on Dear Reader’s third record, Rivonia is MacNeil’s second solo attempt, a concept album like its predecessor, Idealistic Animals. Whereas Idealistic Animals was focused on MacNeil’s loss of faith and the destruction of her previous band, Rivonia looks at the oppression in her native land’s history with each song telling a different story. 27/04/1994 is about the first day of interracial elections in South Africa. On They Took Them Away MacNeil recalls the day in 1963 when South African police arrested 19 members of the African National Congress, the underground organisation run by the already imprisoned Nelson Mandela, in the village of Lilliesleaf near the singer’s old primary school.
Unfortunately, with such historic themes, this is a case of the ideas being bigger than the delivery. MacNeil barely ventures a decibel above a whisper throughout the album, which is a shame as she is at her best when she does raise the volume, especially on Back from the Dead where she relentlessly repeats the title, her voice becoming a powerful weapon expressing the frustration and anger of her ancestors. But it is when she enlists the help of multiple male and female backing vocalists that MacNeil really takes flight, especially on short closer, Victory, which sounds like an epic call-to-arms chant. Also notable is Down Under, Mining whose blend of harmonies, drums and vocals really engage the listener.
The main problem here is that MacNeil’s vocals are perhaps too pleasant, too calm for the themes of oppression she is trying to convey. However, the highlights from the album are enough to garner interest even from those ignorant of South Africa’s past.
Rivonia was released on 8th April.
Watch the video for Victory here: