Andrew James & The Steady Tiger
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Andrew James & The Steady Tiger

Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa
Folk Roots

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"Andrew James - Red in Tooth and Claw"

People have been making pop and rock music for like 65 years now, so it’s rare when we come across something truly unique. Andrew James and The Steady Tiger, whose name is James von Minnen, are the two men responsible for the Polyphonic Spree-esque sound that comes out of “Red in Tooth and Claw”. This album has so much sound and energy packed into it that you’ll need to see with your own eyes that it’s only two people before you’ll actually believe it. When you have two world class instrumentalists playing together, it hardly matters that there are words in the songs at all, but the words are some of the most valuable aspects of this album.

For those of you that are familiar with the John Butler Trio (if not, do yourself a favor) and Ben Harper’s awesome lap steel stuff will find yourself right at home with Andrew James and The Steady Tiger. While Harper’s voice is often more expressive than his lyrics or music could ever be, the opposite is true with Andrew James, whose unique sound and style create an atmosphere with minor and major chords that clearly set the tone for the song. For example, the first track and one of my personal “song of the year” candidates, “Swansong”, begins seemingly without direction and then evolves into a sound that is angry, frustrated, and aggressive. Add in incredible lyrics about the current global political and environmental situation (the band is from South Africa) and you have a powerful song with intense lyrics and music that sets the tone for the rest of the album. The second verse: “And we choose the thieves and the liars who will govern,/ As they don their disguises and prey on the prizes we bought them./ And we’ll say that we didn’t know./ We’ll be know as the wicked the lazy, the crazy,/ the people that choose to be blind.”



There are artists, Jason Mraz for example, who often pack so many lyrics into a song that it’s hard to distinguish one verse from the next. While Mraz’s lyrics are fun, they’re often nonsensical (“We could keep chillin’ like ice cream fillin’”? Really?). Another gem from “Red in Tooth and Claw” is “Conversations with a Cobbler”, a lyrically complex and difficult song, but never rushed, never silly. Throwing a piano in with guitar and drums, James croons “And through the walls, the piano found a way out,/ Through the floorboards where the words that he heard just never could./ And he never told her he was a magician,/ before he confessed it she guessed it she could see by his gaze.” With lyrics and music that’s equally complex, it’s the kind of music that honestly takes dozens of listens or sustained concentration and focus to decipher completely.

“Don’t Look Down” shows off von Minnen’s uncanny ability to get more sound out of two hands and drums than should be possible. As you saw in the video above, his dexterity creates layers of sound that make it sound as though you’ve got a mini drum circle in your headphones. “Stories” is another atmospheric song, a nearly 7 minute ballad whose lyrics read like a chapter of a novel. “The stories you tell yourself may keep you warm,/ but you won’t see the lightning and you won’t hear the storm.”

This a live version of Andrew James playing “Stories” solo, using a loop to create the percussion:


There aren’t any skippable songs on this album, where they all, save one, hit 4 minutes with half of them being 6 minutes or longer. “Port Grosvenor”, the last track, shows a more mellow side, mixing some harmonica with socially and emotionally conscious lyrics. We haven’t reviewed or talked about a band, I don’t think, that has a better grasp on their own message than Andrew James and The Steady Tiger. They’ve created an incredibly cohesive and unique album, one that will undoubtedly go unnoticed by most, especially here in the US. And that, in itself, is a travesty. - Ear to The Ground - Music Blog


"Indie Acoustic Cover Artist: Andrew James – Red in Tooth and Claw"

Rating: 5/5 Stars

It took all of two notes for me to announce that I was covering Andrew James. Incredible guitar playing and percussion combined with great catchy tunes and lyrics with a message would be the quick description for this duo from Cape Town, South Africa. Imagine if John Butler, Ray LaMontagne, Ben Harper and Bono decided to start a band…that supergroup would sound a lot like Andrew James.

Andrew James and James van Minnen (aka The Steady Tiger) create incredibly textured music working as a duo, but the magic on Red in Tooth and Claw was due in part to producer Aron Turest-Swartz (FreshlyGround). This trio has created a brilliant album.

Each song tells a story and provides a musical backdrop with layers to be explored for days. Whether it is the Butler-esque lap steel on songs like “Swansong” and “Don’t Look Down” or the emotionally raw title track, the lyrics are strong and open your eyes.

This entire album is filled with superb musicianship. The songs are all built for the stage where it is obvious a six minute tune can be played out much longer as the duo work their magic. - IMR - Indie Music Reviewer


"Red in Tooth and Claw"

I first saw Andy Jamieson opening for Guy Buttery a couple of years ago, and I was surprised. He was so damn good! The sound was bluesy and country and soulful. I’d only ever seen a guy play a guitar on his lap like that in the camp, sleazy old Patrick Swayze movie, Roadhouse where blind, mullet-wearing Canadian bluesman Jeff Healey did a little cameo (and an overblown 80s rock-blues soundtrack) and here was this young, clean-cut, sincere guy, looking like a Calvin Klein model and doing all kinds of rootsy pyrotechnics while sitting down and picking out the sounds like an Slovenian zither player.

Obviously, there are a bunch of cool lap steel guitarists around at the moment, most notably, Xavier Rudd, Ben Harper and John Butler, but being a downloader, not a purchaser of music these days, I’d never actually seen any of these blokes playing the thing!

What struck me most at that gig, besides the incredible lightness and dexterity of his handling of the strings, was the feeling that Andy was trying to do so many things he was obviously good at, but he wasn’t giving any of them enough attention.

Now, I’m happy to report that all that creativity seems to be finding a much cleaner line. Reincarnated as Andrew James and working with drummer James van Minnen (the Steady Tiger), all the talent is still there, but now those sliding notes country-blues grooves and world-aware rhythms are delivered with deceptive simplicity, leaving it sounding raw, yet soulful and subtle.

The collaboration with drummer James van Minnen is one of two musicians ready to explore a whole range of interesting country-bluesy, earthy folk-funk sounds without it ever feeling cluttered. There are moments on this album that are straight out of the early 70s, with simple/complex grooves like a bass heavy, latter-day John Martyn while others sound more like a laidback John Butler Trio.

If there’s a criticism it’s that it’s too referential. Andrew James often sound like their heroes. To some that may be a problem. Back in the day, in a world not so taken with the cult of youth and instant gratification, this would be called an ‘apprenticeship’, paying dues and showing respect. It seems that Andrew James and the Steady Tiger are on a long path. Having guides and mentors on the path is good. Respecting and emulating your heroes can lead to becoming a truly unique, fully evolved master of your craft. But only if you don’t get stuck there.

Andrew James
Image © lovemadevisible.co.za

But the deeper you get into the album, the more they start to sound like themselves. It’s like they throw down all their influences up front and then slowly and subtly draw you in and give you a little glimpse of their world.

There’s a word that comes from old school jazz, ‘woodshedding’. When a musician has mastered the way his teachers, friends and contemporaries play, has a meltdown, gets his heartbroken on a number of different levels and then goes back to the farm, locks himself in the woodshed and plays the sounds in his head until its empty and only his true voice remains, the sound in his heart. Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, even Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones, all the great masters have to go through this process.

On Red in Tooth and Claw Andrew James and the Steady Tiger show a lot of promise of what’s to come. But, the path to mastery is long and lonely and there are lots of dead-ends and false starts along the way, especially in a South African music scene defined by a dire lack of resources and opportunity. How they deal with these obstacles in pursuit of their music will invariably define them. But it may take a broken heart to crack open and reveal their true gifts.

- Mahala


Discography

Still working on that hot first release.

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Bio

"Incredible guitar playing and percussion combined with catchy tunes and lyrics with a message would be a quick description for this duo from Cape Town, South Africa. Imagine if John Butler, Ray LaMontagne, Ben Harper and Bono decided to start a band…that supergroup would sound a lot like Andrew James."

It is difficult to explain how a guitarist and a drummer (not even half a rock band really) can create music so deeply layered and sonically diverse. This duo can fill a festival stage or an intimate coffee shop. They have quickly earned a reputation as folk hero’s at home and they’re global audience is expanding, having recently featured on the cover of Indie Music Reviewer Magazine.

Virtuosos both (in the strict sense of the word), their capacity for creating music that compliments and augments their lyrical storytelling knows no bounds. Watching Andrew wield the acoustic guitar, lap slide and banjo, using a unique and mesmerising finger-picking technique, is an experience in itself. His relationship to his instruments, from which he can coax sounds as diverse as they are expressive, is one of obvious intimacy, even love. His voice is alternately plaintive, nostalgic, innocent and angered as he considers the consequences of our thinking and our actions in uncertain times.

James, on the other hand, can extract a beat from a feather and a shoe if it were asked of him; seated at his drums he appears as a blur of limbs and crashing steel from which infectious rhythms emanate in metronomic waves. Incorporating percussion instruments such as the cajon, darbuka and frame drum, he infuses African and Middle Eastern rhythms into their songs with hypnotic effect.