Pilgrim (Album) Reviews

OKAVANGA 0514 Album cover  BIG JPG

***FATEA Instrumental Album Of The Year Award Winner 2014***

Charlie Elland, FolkWords

" Rarely does an album entrance so deeply that I hit ‘replay’ the second it ends. I gave this one three straight replays. Before I wax lyrical there’s doubtless some that may subjectively decide against an album of vocal-free, virtuoso acoustic guitar music – fools. ‘Pilgrim’ the new album from acoustic duo Oka Vanga is wholly engrossing – spellbinding technique, delightful expression, scintillating synergy and a world-spanning, hypnotic folk and roots vibe.
Oka Vanga are Angela Meyer and William Cox, who together with two guitars, provide a mesmeric symbiosis so tight there’s no a sign of a join. Two instruments in perfect accord. Two artists with a common mind. Angie and Will gather the influences for their compositions continent-wide, blending elements from wherever their eclectic taste takes them. Encompassing old and new, contemporary blends with tradition, this is an album that exudes a charisma that moves from energy and passion, to peace and reflection. Everyone will choose the tracks that touch them the most – for me ‘Cliffs of Moher – Out on the Ocean’, ‘Wildflower’, ‘Wasteland’ and ‘Abounding Grace’ absolutely made my day! http://www.folkwords.com/latestreviews_91128.html "

Pete Bradley, FATEA

"When I first heard the name “Oka Vanga”, I assumed that it was someone’s name, and made an association in my head that they were likely to be a rap artist. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Oka Vanga are a duo, Angela Meyer and William Cox, both of whom are exceptionally brilliant guitarists. Their songs are all instrumental, played on acoustic guitars. They are so in tune with each other that the rhythm and lead swap back and forth between them like a thread being woven into a complex tapestry.

The majority of the songs on their new album “Pilgrim” are their own compositions, apart from a couple of traditonal songs that they have adapted and a fantastic rendition of Mason Williams’ “Classical gas”. They have travelled the world and have blended the sights and sounds into their songs, so there are elements of the Carribean in the traditional “Bimini Gal”, there are elements of Arabia in “Dromadari”, and there is a beautiful blues feeling to “Night Train”.”

After they had visited The Golden Hind, they realised that they had no seafaring songs in their repertoire so they added the Traditional “Cliffs Of Moher” and and “Out Of The Ocean”, so there’s a hornpipe influence here as well.

The most beautiful track on this album, in my opinion, is “Wildflower”. It is a song written for their daughter, Daisy. I could listen to that track over and over again.

When he plays, Will looks pained. He suffers for every note: his guitar is an instrument of medieval torture and his audience are vampires, draining the notes from his soul.

When Angela plays, she seems to enter a state of bliss. She closes her eyes as if she has left this earthly realm and entered some higher Astral plane from where she channels beautiful music back to Earth.
Together, though, they make a beautiful sound.Despite being instrumentals, the songs on Pilgrim are rich in colour and imagery. Each tells its own little story. So, close your eyes and drift off to that Astral plane and ride across the Arabian desert on the back of a dromedary – with me. http://www.fatea-records.co.uk/magazine/2014/OkaVanga.html "

Paul Woodgate, Eye Level with the Stylus

"A first for Eye Level with the Stylus, Oka Vanga’s Pilgrm is an instrumental album. I was lucky enough to see them play in a local venue some weeks ago, which led to an ‘introducing‘ piece on Folk Radio UK. Now, ahead of a launch party at Les Aldrich Music on June 28, here’s the album.

Reviewing instrumental music throws up some interesting demands of the reviewer. It’s very easy to assume a position that stereotype demands, leading to shallow critique about background music and songs merging into one another. Pilgrim very quickly does away with any need to apply these assumptions. It’s a cleverly constructed album with varied pacing, styles and melody that hold your attention from the plucked strings of opener ‘Beneath The Southern Sky’ to the hymnal elegance of ‘Abounding Grace’. In-between these, William and Angela trade licks on short sea shanties, latin, classical, pastoral and folk numbers. The production is clean and both guitars ring true and sharp, not least because these two are flawless players; you can hear every placement of finger on string.

Oka Vanga‘..Southern Sky’ has a mediterranean feel to its stately melody, which is echoed in the opening bars of ‘South Of Havana’, where you are transported from the Med to the shores of Cuba via counterpoint melodies that conjure images of dusty town squares and sedate salsa under the canopy of a shady cantina. ‘Cliffs Of Moher/Out On The Ocean’ rushes by, all salt spray and blue horizons, before my personal favourite ‘Wildflower’. It’s a beautiful melody underpinned by William’s brushed chords and some great picking. It’s brilliant.

Other highlights include ‘Classical Gas’ and two tracks that I’m guessing have a little more of William’s influence on them, ‘Skull n’ Bones’ and ‘Dromadari’. ‘Classical Gas’ starts like a mediaevel round before a running riff lifts off including some incredible guitar work that sounds like very fast trills but for which I have no experience of so can’t use the correct terminology; suffice to say they make you sit up and go ‘woah!’. ‘Skull n’ Bones’ is just mean, a disguised romp through the lower reaches of a piratical adventure with ridiculously fast and bluesy lead lines and percussive beats courtesy of the guitar body. William is, apparently, a self-confessed lover of hard rock and heavy metal and nowhere is this more clearly expressed than in ‘Dromadari’, the tune an ominous series of riffs that would have graced a Metallica album circa Master of Puppets. There’s an underlying sense of danger and fear running through it, as if William and Angela are playing for their souls whilst perched on the edge of a cliff, a little bit of the Devil and Mr. Johnson looking on. If it lacks some of the bite of the live version, that’s understandable in the context of wanting the album to retain a consistent sound. It’s also a perfect example of Oka Vanga’s ability to surprise, making full use of their wide-ranging skills (they proudly proclaim themseves to be an acoustic folk, world guitar duo).

For all the diversity, Pilgrim hangs together well, the progression through the various styles never feeling forced. The aforementioned ‘Abounding Grace’ closes like a palette cleanser after ‘Dromadari’s attack. I would highly recommend seeing Oka Vanga live, where the humour in some of the songs is emphasised alongside the couple’s easy banter, as well as it being an opportunity to see two world class guitarists create magic on their fretboards."

Danny Farragher, FolkAll

"If you want to hear musicians painting an intricate vision of a trip around the globe using only the incredible sound of their talented guitar playing then Oka Vanga’s Pilgrim is the one to do it.
Listening to Angela Meyer and William Cox is like having a two guitar orchestra in your room. Pilgrim is a virtuoso performance without any of the pretence, there are fantastic techniques, lush sounds, evocative chords and really gorgeous sounding guitar playing.
Beneath the Southern Sky starts very gently and immediately evokes thoughts of the Deer Hunter soundtrack but it also paints a picture of lazy sunny days in the hills of Spain and adobe buildings in places such as old El Paso.
Right from the start you can feel as much as you can hear the intricate fingering which is being used to produce the acutely imaginative sound.
South of Havana picks up the pace and immediately evokes images of villagers in a local square celebrating a festival, and while the locals dance around and enjoy the wines and foods on offer, the lone guitarist keeps all the maidens enthralled. The Cliffs of Moher/Out on the Ocean picks up the pace a little more than the previous and transports you on horseback racing along the cliff’s edge with the wind whipping your face and through the mane of your steed as the ocean below washes in and out like the earth breathing. The wonderful thing about this is each track and set of sounds will evoke sometimes slightly and other times completely different images. They will move and shift as fluidly as Meyer, originally from Capetown, and Cox execute the tunes with a precision the military would love to emulate.
It’s impossible to calculate the amount of time one would need to put in to be this competent with an instrument but when you listen to the clarity and range of sounds the Hertfordshire-based duo produce you become thankful there are people in the world who have done all the hard work so the listener can enjoy an absolutely sumptuous album of beautifully crafted sound.
Imagine yourself alone in a field, the sun is shining gently on your face, the only sounds are those of nature and as you stare up into the clear blue sky it dawns on you that you are just part of a wondrous picture created by the elements of natural world.
These are the sort of images Wildflower conjures up and if it’s possible to paint with sound then Meyer and Cox are not only doing it but they are true artists.
Their fun side comes out on Bimini Girl with it’s jaunty, jazzy, slightly calypso style sound and you almost get a sense, as it dances along, that it’s on the album as light relief, to stop things from getting too heavy.
It’s the sort of track that when you play it turn the volume up, clear the furniture out of the way and dance around like you did when you were a kid and didn’t care who saw you.
Night Train is a lovely complex piece of music with the sound of the two guitars interweaving like smoke trails on performing aeroplanes, even the squeak of the fingers sliding up and down the strings seem to add something to the whole.
It’s hard not to make comparisons with John Williams especially on a track such as Wasteland and even more so on the opening bars. The main difference is because they play as a duo there is more depth to the dynamics of the tracks.
It’s almost as if one guitar plays the narrative and the other provides the narration so not only do you get a rich full sound but you get a fuller picture.
Pilgrim’s Rest is a magnificent example of acoustic guitar playing, the layers of sound bob and undulate like waves on the sea and then almost as if the players are controlling the natural world they bring the waters raging and crashing before calming them to a breathless sheet of glass.
To include Classical Gas is a bit of a cliche and if it was to prove they could do it as good as anyone then that’s incontrovertible; if it was to add something new or to modernise it then they didn’t achieve it, the track, however excellently executed, doesn’t add anything to the sum of the album.
Skull ‘n’ Bones is the most dramatic track on the album and has the feel of a concept album just on the one tune. It’s a full-bodied, grown up sound which has more than a touch of passion and matador-like bloodlust and is the sort of track Rick Wakeman or David Gilmour would have been proud of.
You could argue calling a track Dromadari is a little more playful than calling it camel. However, they do convey a feeling of desert winds, hot sands and the mysterious middle east in their playing and interwoven are the visitors from the foreign lands of Spain, Portugal the Americas all thrown in with the feel of them coming together in the melting pot of heaving markets selling some of the most exotic goods in the world.
There is the subtle musical joke on the last track Abounding Grace which alludes to both the album’s title and to the spiritual side of life.
It’s a lovely playful track to go out on as the music dances lightly.
You will have to go far and wide to find better guitar playing than this. There are those who are equal to it such as Williams but others such as Reinhardt, Simpson, Feliciano, John Smith and Ewan McLennan also and if you find yourself among that kind of company then you have done pretty well for yourself. "

Folk & Roots Duo