Neville Stewart is a well-known Dunedin landscaper. He is known for his passion for gardens. But he’s also passionate about music, which is lesser known. And at an age where he should be thinking about growing old he promptly forgot and went to a song-writing workshop by Charlotte Yates. The songs were already there, in his mind, maybe a tinker or two on the odd instrument, but honed after many years of exploring the Otago landscape. Macro and micro. But Charlotte helped him polish up the rough diamonds and his old mate Murray Burns of Mi-Sex fame helped shape them into display rings in the jewellery store. Works of Art. Indeed. And, wary of trying to publicly re-invent the image of Neville Stewart, he further reinvented himself as Aart Smith. Works of Aart. Tall story? No, absolutely not. True story. Bloody good story, actually.
For, last year, October, you probably missed it, he released his debut album Tall Stories and I think it’s worth a wee retro look while we all sit at home and contemplate our navels.
Tall Stories comprises 10 little songs about life, and while there’s an obvious autobiographical flavour, the sentiments are by and large universal. Although it can only be a southern man who can merge the Otago landscape with the milking shed and conjure up an image of Milk Separating in real time. Lots of friends on the album build texture and depth as the opening tracks resonate with the Dunedin sound tinged with a touch of Merseyside. Rich sounds augmented by horns of different hue, and vocalists galore provide lush harmonies which invoke the Beatles and their peers. How Long Must We Wait?. Wait no longer! Riding on a Star and then a (not so strong) tune about excess of everything and how that becomes an existential issue. Happy Birthday!
And then, all of a sudden, Paul Kelly appears as the harmonies are stripped back, and here we have him, cornered, labelled, identified, and what’s wrong with Paul Kelly as a reference for those like me who can’t help themselves?. Everyone sounds like somebody else. Just can’t put a finger on it? Well, I’ll help you out. As we go on the road, Anticipating You, venture into starry ballad territory with All My Angels, and go bluesy New Orleans with a sad song about Where You’re At.
Beautifully produced, mixed and arranged by Murray Burns (that’s what mates are for), this is a little gem of an album from a man who Forgot to Grow Old, and at the stage of his life where he might well have been reflecting on Simple Pleasures, he makes a record which makes me Glad To Be Here.
And glad that Aart Smith is here to touch us from a distance the way only music can.