Dear Reader is Cheri MacNeil – an alternative/pop artist originating from Johannesburg, South Africa but now based in Berlin. The band was founded in 2006 by singer-songwriter Cheri MacNeil and producer/bass player, Darryl Torr.
Their previous album Idealistic Animals was released in Germany and South Africa in September 2011 with a later release in Europe and the UK in November 2011. The album was nominated for Best Alternative Album at the 2012 South African Music Awards.
In 2012 MacNeil began work on the follow up, Rivonia. This time, MacNeil produced the album herself and recorded and edited most of it in her one-room apartment in Berlin, going for a more pared down instrument base. The sound quality and production values on Rivonia are stunning.
Each song on Rivonia is a story inspired by South Africa’s history which is in turn a celebration and recognition of its deeply problematic history. The record is layered with enhancing choral sections, the vocals are clear and impassioned with reminders of Kate Bush. But Rivonia can be especially praised for the brave creativity and slightly obscure story telling it showcases while it manages to maintain its thrilling and unique musicality.
Now Dear Reader is set to release another album, We Followed Every Sound. We Followed Every Sound is a record that was recorded live with The Deutsches Filmorchester Babelsberg. When Potsdam-based radio Station Radio Eins offered up the opportunity to perform the songs of Rivonia with the added dramatic texture of an entire symphonic orchestra, it was a logical move for MacNeil. The songs are musical miniature movies and the Film Orchestra of Babelsberg specialises in recording film scores. Music for the big screen. A marriage made in heaven.
The result is We Followed Every Sound, an album which sees the songs of Rivonia taken to new levels of dramatic and dynamic thrill. Under the careful guidance of conductor Bernd Wefelmayer and his orchestra, and by way of the creative orchestra arrangements of dramaturge Max Knoth, the songs in question, already magical in their own right, climb to new heights of scintillating warmth and intensity. And it is only the icing on the cake that it is not only the songs of Rivonia they are revisiting with this expanded configuration but that they also tackle classic Dear Reader stand-out tracks from previous albums, such as Great White Bear, Dearheart and Idealistic Animals.
Starting track, Back From The Dead is an anthemic track which is a match for Elbow’s One Day Like This. The triumphantly vocally blasted the chorus, “I’m coming back from the dead/You can’t hold me down here’’ is fantastic, especially when MacNeil sings this accompanied only by the piano after the build up and sudden drop back from the orchestra.
Down Under, Mining is instantly appealing showcasing a driving tribal drum beat. MacNeil’s vocals are played on a loop allowing the layers to still be present in this live version.
From Now On is an irresistibly simple and honest declaration of love which is expressed through MacNeil’s angelic, heart-breaking vocals.
Man Of The Book tells the tale of a religious man torn between his faith and his morality. It’s a fascinating evocation of a character. Performed with a live orchestra makes this song even more tempting to fall in love with all over again. The deep harmonies during the crescendo are perfect – this is a song made to be performed live.
Took Them Away has a stronger folk theme but again has a powerful story-line leading it to be an emotional and haunting ballad which is fully enhanced by the orchestral sounds.
We Followed Every Sound is a refreshing, accomplished and interesting listen. If MacNeil can reproduce this richness on record, Dear Reader must be incredibly impressive when actually seen performing live.
We Followed Every Sound is out on City Slang on December 9.
By Kate Dexter