Steve Abel
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Steve Abel

Band Alternative Acoustic


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"Steve Abel "Little Death" Review Summary"

“Abel is an extraordinarily good songwriter”
…the album Little Death is haunting and quiet…a hidden treasure in the New Zealand music scene.
- Alternatui Awards which named Little Death 2006 Album of the Year

* * * *
“lovely tunes abound"
- NZ Herald, which named Little Death in its Best Sounds of 2006

“an impact that borders on the visual…arrant musical hypnosis…a treasure... Steve Abel deals in muted tales…I could happily play you much more of this lovely album”
- William Dart of Radio New Zealand’s Concert FM

“beautifully crafted”
- Southland Express

“a melancholic masterpiece.”
This superbly packaged little gem has been hovering below the radar for some time now, and thanks to distributor Rhythmethod it can finally sprout and get the full appreciation it deserves. Steve Abel is one of the most unique and beautiful voices in our fair land. Aided and ably assisted by a cast of fine talent (including members of Goldenhorse and Pluto), Abel has created something of a melancholic masterpiece. Beautiful Fish begins things as they mean to go on; measured and brooding, hypnotic and introspected. There is an essence of sweetness here too, as heard on the Duet with Goldenhorse's Kirsten Morell. If you think you've heard closing track Hospice for Destitute Lovers before, it's because you probably have. Steve provided the voice and this song for the excellent independent movie Woodenhead, which was a festival favourite. All up, Little Death is a collection of articulate odes to the lost and lonesome, sung by an old soul with a depth to his songs and voice seldom heard these days.
- Pavement Magazine

* * * *
“will capture your heart”
…a gentle, yet powerful debut…this could be the sleepy album that takes everyone by surprise, similar to SJD's Southern Lights. At its heart is Abel's hushed Will Oldham like delivery and love of the country he inhabits and that has fuelled his imagination to contemplate everything from crickets scurrying in the dark to the orange light at dusk…it's the heartfelt collaboration Duet (Lonely I Be), with [Kirsten] Morell doing her best sultry Emmy Lou Harris impression, and later on again on Ghost of God that will capture your heart.
- Dominion Post

“richly poetic”
The title of Steve Abel's debut album initially evokes a somewhat dark response which is alternatively confirmed and dispelled once the disc starts spinning. Richly poetic lyrics journey through brooding thoughtfulness to create a mood that is sometimes dark, sometimes mystical, yet always well crafted, and bordering on the avant-garde. Listening to these songs is like viewing pictures in a gallery - they need time and space to work their effect.
- NZ Musician Magazine - various

"Steve Abel "Flax Happy" Review Summary"

“Wonderful. Actually, beyond wonderful.”
Steve Abel & the Chrysalids return after their much heralded 2006 debut with a stunningly superb sophomore. Flax Happy is deeply organic and has a glorious live feeling about it. Steve's vocals are warm, melodic and yet, eerily dissonant. Anika Moa joins Steve on a duet and Texan chanteuse Jolie Holland joins him on two tracks - the interplay between their voices actually makes me ache it's so good.
- Andrew Tidball,

* * * *
“A rarity”
Second moody wonder of an album from local outsider…captivating, brooding melodies [with] emotional punch. Of the albums to have swamped us in the recent avalanche of local stuff set off by New Zealand Music Month, this one feels like a rarity – one that will still be revealing itself for many months to come. It's also one that doesn't fit any format. Unless, that is, there's a category for ``brooding folk-rock singer-songwriters backed by Kiwi supergroup and Texan alt country star''.
[Flax Happy] features a band of notable backers – his Chrysalids are two fifths of Pluto, a Goldenhorseman and a former Goodshirter in there too, all showing a sympathetic ear for Abel's acoustic-framed, heavy-hearted but understated songs.
Flax Happy feels a more expansive affair than its predecessor. And while Little Death suggested Abel was our answer to that ever-mournful American gothic guy Will Oldham, much of this feels closer to Beck's pensive album SeaChange, especially on the lovely lilting likes of Sad Girls.
- Russell Baillie, New Zealand Herald

* * * *
“Fierce and tender – beautifully compelling”
Steve Abel’s Flax Happy, with the help of some impressive contributing musicians, mines a haunting spareness with lyrics [that are] fiercely elemental and moody. He’s an artist who understands not to do too much, and yet say so much at the same time.

“No guile, just hard truth and clear eyes”
Abel is a refined writer whose lyrics have a bone-bare quality (Deborah consists of a couple of dozen words, but they say it all) and the balladry quality of acoustic guitars, violin and double bass -- not to mention musical saw -- lends itself to the elemental words which don't shy away from disconcerting themes (Cinders of the Sun, Heart of Misery and Frail among them). Yet this doesn't feel like a dark journey, more the sound of someone writing and singing from a place where there is no guile, just hard truth and clear eyes. Put aside a few dozen recently released local albums for a while and check this one out. It is quite special.
- Graham Reid,

* * * *
“Sparse, spellbinding and special”
The combination of [Abel and Jolie Holland] is sparse, spellbinding and special. To his credit, Abel doesn’t let Holland’s presence overshadow the whole album. The result is a fine collection of dark, otherworldly tunes performed with obvious love, care and emotion.
- Marty Duda, Real Groove Magazine

* * * * ½
Steve Abel’s debut, Little Death, was one of the surprise hits of 2006. With its campfire feel and warmth, it almost beat Bonnie Prince Billy at his own game. Two years later, Flax Happy is a fuller-sounding album, while still retaining its gentle Americana feel. At its heart is Abel’s tender acoustic strum and part-mumbled, brooding baritone, off which the Chrysalids – Goldenhorse’s Geoff Maddock (guitar) and Goodshirt’s Gareth Thomas (accordion and keys), especially add lofty textures that make this a journey worth taking. Abel also has a friend in Texan Jolie Holland, who duets with him on the sublime Heart of Misery (The Bough) and Cinders of the Sun, both bitter-sweet folk numbers played out against a haunting violin and acoustic picking. Once again, Abel’s taken a step back to reflect, and this dreamy album of pensive ballads is worth taking time to discover.
- Dominion Post, May 2008

“In a community of poet troubadours”
They say a good song can striped down to just a voice and guitar and if you’ve seen Auckland singer songwriter Steve Abel play solo you know he’s got plenty of good songs.
[Haven is] typical Steve Abel – a simple strong melody fashioned from traditional materials and a well wrought lyric with a leaning towards Leonard Cohen. Like most of Abel’s songs it’s tough enough to stand on its own but a few extra instruments in the right hands have made it into something bigger.
A track like [Sally] grows from a folk song to a guitar freak-out of almost Neil Young proportions with guitarist Geoff Maddock stretching out spectacularly towards the end. In other places the playing is more restrained yet still it’s the placement of those extra instruments that takes these songs to another dimension like the gorgeously sparse piano figure on [Crushed Ants].
Solitary as Steve Abel’s songs might seem, they place him in a community of poet troubadours. For the bilingual lyric of Pin of Love he’s joined by Anika Moa.
- Various

"“Cut throat honesty - songwriting and musicanship outstanding, talent.”"

I was in New York last week and during my time there, as well as meeting my wonderful fellow blogger Laura I also found time to go to a couple of gigs in town. The first one I went to was Jolie Holland who was playing at a great place called The Housing Works Bookstore Cafe in Lower East Side (supported by the brilliant Ana Egge). I also won a guitar signed by Jolie at this gig but that’s another story.

During Jolie’s performance she invited various friends up on stage to sing with her and as well as Sam Parton (The Be Good Tanyas), one that really stole the show for me was the above mentioned Steve Abel. Originally from New Zealand where he was an active campaigner for Greenpeace and other worthy environmental causes he is now spread between his homeland, France, the UK and I’m guessing New York now too. Having released his debut album Little Death in 2005 to critical acclaim winning the New Zealand best alternative album prize and also Pavement magazine calling it a a melancholic masterpiece, he is now on album number two, Flax Happy. Steve reminds me of a mixture of some earlier Will Oldham (Bonnie prince Billy) with it’s sparseness and cut throat honesty, the looseness of the playing of some Elvis Perkins and the dark, haunting lyrics of Nick Cave and surely you can’t go wrong with that? Incidentally, Jolie Holland also guests on the latter album and with titles such as Sad Girls, Cinders of the sun (Duet with Jolie) and Heart Of Misery you would expect a depressing album but It isn’t. Sad? perhaps, but not depressing as the songwriting and musicanship is outstanding and not only that, what’s wrong with depressing music anyway? I’d much rather listen to someone spilling their guts out in front of me than someone pretending to be Mary Fucking Poppins, honesty from a songwriter is all I ever ask for, good or bad. Steve has a UK date lined up in May and I’m praying he adds more shows to that. I highly recommend both his albums, talent.
- You Crazy

""Equal parts disturbing and lullaby-esque. Consummately relaxed""

There’s a vein in Antipodean pop that deals with the very darkest material, from the ubiquitous Nick Cave to the newly valorised Devastations, who find melody and drama in life’s corners and crannies more than their highways and coffee shops. Sonically, Steve Abel’s second album aligns with many of these quite closely – it’s sparse but dense, quiet but intense the whole way through. Lyrically, Abel dashes from antiquated reference to almost-comical asides – is the phrase “boob rot” supposed to make us laugh?

What remains, despite the confusingly satisfying breadth of lyrical sentiment, is the desire to create utter and total warmth in all the album’s timbres. Rarely do we hear a roar, but when we do we know we’ve worked hard for it, and it’s effective. Like the similar work of James Yorkston, these atmospheres are inviting and accessible, but Abel is wise enough to pepper his expressions with enough challenge to render Flax Happy an engaging, not merely passive, experience. Pin Of Love is a bilingual triumph, with traditional Maori language mixing with simple, folksy English. It never raises beyond a titter but, thanks to the interaction between Abel and Texan guest Jolie Holland, results in a thick, foggy exploration.

As it develops, Flax Happy becomes ever more immersive. When we begin to wind down, the close-miced Heart Of Misery emerges as the album’s simultaneously lightest and darkest moment. Holland returns to add some colourful harmonies, but Abel’s lyrics are foxing – sweet but completely punishing. This is a man who has literally lost everything and concludes by making the ultimate sacrifice, perhaps with a wry grin on his face. It’s equal parts disturbing and lullaby-esque, but one certainly not designed to aid soothing slumber.

Hardly ever have the lines of prettiness and ugliness been so starkly crossed. It’s a fairly standard maxim for the prettiest tunes to have the ugliest sentiments, but Steve Abel sharpens the focus of how that might be possible. Consummately relaxed danger. - Review of FLAX HAPPY by: Pop Musicology UK - 18th May 2009


Flax Happy (2008, Kin'sland Records)

Fomenting the first album collaboration with the same band of musicians - newly named The Chrysalids - Abel's universally acclaimed sophomore release is "A fine collection of dark, otherworldly tunes - Sparse, spellbinding and special" (Marty Duda, Real Groove Magazine). FLAX HAPPY also features Texan alt-folk chanteuse Jolie Holland and New Zealand's Anika Moa.

"Wonderful. Actually, beyond wonderful."
- Andrew Tidball,

- Dominion Post

"A Rarity"
- NZ Herald

Little Death (2006, Kin'sland Records)

Little Death was named 2006 Alternatui Album of the Year and listed in the NZ Herald's Best Sounds of 2006. The album features the seminal Duet (Lonely I Be) with Kirsten Morrell, and the rollicking Sweetheart among many other heart-rending tracks.

"Arrant musical hypnosis...a treasure"
- William Dart, Radio NZ Concert FM

"A melancholic masterpiece"
- Pavement Magazine

"Beautifully crafted"
- Southland Express



Abel was raised in the halcyon haze of the distant south sea isles of New Zealand. The simple sorrow and beauty of life seem to impregnate his songs that often sound primordial in origin.

He is emerging on us now, most recently playing four New York gigs in April 2009 accompanied by Jolie Holland - whom he met on the road in New Zealand and who features on his latest album FLAX HAPPY, which is garnering very favourable reviews around its UK release in May/June 2009.

Abel's song Hospice For Destitute Lovers won a finalist placing in the Music Video category of the ISC (International Songwriting Competition) 2008 and his debut album Little Death was awarded the Alternatui Album of the year in 2006 and was described as -
"Richly poetic lyrics create a mood that is dark, mystical and bordering on the avant-garde. Listening to these songs is like viewing pictures in a gallery." - NZ Musician Magazine

His follow up FLAX HAPPY, which features Texan chanteuse Jolie Holland, was equally well received with Radio New Zealand labelling Abel as "In a community of poet troubadours."

"Abel is a refined writer whose lyrics have a bone-bare quality - the sound of someone writing and singing from a place where there is no guile, just hard truth and clear eyes." - Graham Reid,