Grant Haua - from Paris to Pukehinahina

Music Plus
with Winston Watusi

After touring Europe and Australia and being praised in Rolling Stone magazine, Grant Haua is home.

He told me he's going fishing and after the last few years' schedule it sounds like a helluva good idea. His new album, 'Mana Blues' has just been released in New Zealand and things are now very different for the singer, songwriter and guitarist.

Grant came up through the usual routes in Tauranga, recording a first album with his band Moss at The Boatshed Studio 25 years ago. After that it was the usual: the band split up, he joined or formed others, played covers, played originals, honed his craft...

Things started changing around 2010, with the return to New Zealand of high-flying drummer Michael Barker, not only percussionist for ENZO and more but, notably, part of Australia's John Butler Trio, which had taken him round the world, from the biggest festivals to America's Tonight Show.

The duo he and Grant formed, Swamp Thing, brought Grant national attention as well as gigs in America, Australia, and all over. They worked like crazy and made four albums, and you could hear the development in Grant's songwriting and guitar style.

Five years ago Grant split to play solo and follow the elusive dream of an international record deal. Those who know him know how much hard work and money went into that process. It culminated in being signed to prestigious French blues label Dixie Frog. With that has come exposure and praise in Rolling Stone, high-profile gigs in France and Germany, and four albums in two years, his initial acoustic 'Awa Blues', two live albums, one recorded at the Historic Village church, and now the full electric outing with 'Mana Blues'.  

It's an album that simply blows me away – great songs, great singing, great guitar playing, great band and great production. Outstanding.

There are ten songs, and one of them is not like the others. The opener, 'Pukehinahina', about the Battle of Pukehinahina (Gate Pa), features French label-mates The Inspector Cluzo and is fast and furious and no doubt heartfelt but an outlier since the rest of the album, recorded at Welcome Bay's Colourfield Studio, is essentially a dynamic Tauranga three-piece.

'Billie Holiday' and 'Blame It On A Monday' immediately establish Grant's Guitar Hero chops with some surprisingly sophisticated shredding. A Led Zeppelin-style take on Blind Willie Johnson's 'Time Of Dying' rocks. There are also nods towards soul, things perhaps leaning in a Robert Cray direction with 'Jealousy', and two roaring funk outings, 'Aches' and 'Bad Mood', both of which climax in dynamite finales, a sign of Grant's musical confidence.

Bass player Brian Franks brings the funk throughout while drummer Jeff Nilsson plays out of his skin and frequently amazes. Producer (with Grant) Tim Julian adds tasty and tasteful keyboards. It's also notable the class that record company support brings: the CD package is generous and fashion photographs of Grant suggest a possible alternative future on the Paris catwalks.

Unreservedly recommended.

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