The Peppermint Conspiracy

The singer-songwriter is an awkward creature. The bravery of going out there on your own is incredibly admirable, especially as we are now drowning in an ocean of the buggers, their hopelessly bland little faces buoyed by the 5 star reviews that the broadsheets dish out like candy.

What ever happened to the HONEST review? E.g: Newton Faulkner is a retarded little troll who couldn't write a song to save his life, Feist and Stoney suck both ass and balls, and the less said about KT Tunstall and Jack Penate the better. Where are the Woody Guthrie's, Leonard Cohen's and Billy Bragg's of this world. Samantha Marais is stepping on dodgy ground here..

Luckily for her, me and everybody it is not bad at all. Arriving from South Africa to London with a guitar in her hand sounds awfully romantic and so it is. Of course if her songs were crap it would be just depressing, but they are far from it. lushly sweet and drenched in summer dew, the 'Peppermint Conspiracy' is a sterling example of what an album can achieve without the misguided praise and resultant fame spoiling it all.

'First Days of June' sounds like a cliched title for a folk song and compared to the bulk of the album it is a little lightweight. By the time next track 'Warm Winds' blows in (sorry) we are treated to an almost childlike and heartfelt arpeggiated melody that Nick Drake would be proud of. Title track 'The Peppermint Conspiracy' is so beautifully delicate you feel it would break if you touched it. A mere two minutes in length it disappears like a lovely robin in the garden right before you can take a picture of it. "Fall out of bed into the sunshine" is not as sickening a lyric as it reads on paper, honest..

'Falling Star' is one of those songs that could be used in a court case about the useless-ness of drummers. The delightful guitar licks and chords are given time to breathe and conjure up a setting of camp fires and soft drugs. The organ at the end is the cherry on the icing. By the time 'Hourglass' arrives with its spoken word poetry over the sound of splashing pools of water you may very well be asleep. Not a rock 'n' roll monster by any means, it requires a certain mood and level of hormones in your system. On the other hand it probably creates this mood and subdues you unwittingly. Jury's out.

'Please take your time' is a bit too woolly for my tastes at least. The duet with a wimpy male voice adding saccharine instead of sugar. The music is clearly ripped off from somewhere as well (you can never put your finger on it though).

'Now and Then' reprieves drummers everywhere. A darker offering of minor chords and mandolin driven by an delicious 'oompa' beat. "Now and then I let you in/But I don't want you to fall and pull me down again" suggesting a defensive fraility and a weed in the summer garden.

"Theres a man living in a plastic sack at the bottom of my garden" is a fabulous opening line. An obviously true story of an intriguing tramp, 'Charcoal Man' continues the lack of sunshine, the ponderous and eerie arrangement marking out a 'can't take your ears off it' best track.

Samantha's voice of course is a vitally important ingredient in the mix and is bared in all its glory on the a'cappella of 'George Collins'. At once girlishly soft and then strangely powerful in a quiet sort of a way, she is reminiscent of Joanna Newsom, a fellow folk freak who actually deserves her review brownie points.

As the album closes, I am so relaxed I need a slap in the face. I don't get one. 'Runaway' delves into a 60's hippie vibe once more and though nice enough, could have easily built into a toppling crescendo for maximum effect. Similarly 'Birdman' is one cheerful strum to many and reveals not much more than a Dylan obsession.

Recorded in a studio at the bottom of a garden and it shows in the best way possible, Samantha Marais should be held aloft amongst the wealth of singers who will inevitably halt any success this warrants by their sheer number. Marvellously delivered but definitely for the faint-hearted. Night Night...