The legacy of Pixie Williams, the evocative voice behind the number one 1949 hit Blue Smoke, continues with the reimagined album The New Blue, releasing Friday 9 April. Containing 11 tracks of reworked gems, recorded by a collection of contemporary Kiwi vocalists, the album celebrates the enduring yet brief singing career of New Zealand’s first number one pop song vocalist and wāhine Māori artist.
While Dean Martin famously covered, and had a hit, with Blue Smoke in 1951, a new generation of artists demonstrate that over 70 years later, the compositions remain as timeless as ever. The album includes the distinctive vocal talents of soul diva and te reo Māori champion Whirimako Black (MNZM), acclaimed musician, producer and songwriter Anna Coddington and modern soul singer Louis Baker. The collection of vocalists have all been chosen by the producers for their openness and unique sound, and are matched to each song’s temperament. New artists sing alongside the more established, with only the song to answer to – reflecting the priorities of the day when Pixie recorded Blue Smoke in 1949, fresh from hockey practice as a 20 year old.
The project has been a labour of love for Williams’ daughter Amelia Costello, who in 2011 released the album Pixie Williams: For The Record. This compilation of works set to digitally preserve the scarce collection of Williams’ 78rpm shellac single releases, the only format to remain from her original recordings.
Enter Mike Gibson, sound engineer to a wealth of local artists over the last three decades. Gibson restored and remastered the original shellac recordings for the 2011 release, and now returns as the executive producer and engineer for this new album. Gibson has constructed a unique production team with Riki Gooch (eru dangerspiel, Trinity Roots) and vocalist Lisa Tomlins (Fat Freddy’s Drop, L.A.B, Hollie Smith), who bring a refreshingly natural and effortless beauty to the production. “The key was stepping out of this modern world and allowing the space for each song to guide us,” says Gibson.
Alongside a healthy collection of composer Ruru Karitiana’s works, the album features a tune by another great songwriter of the time, Sam Freedman; responsible for writing the iconic Haere Mai. First recorded in 1949, and now reimagined and recorded in te reo Māori, Freedman’s Māoriland is a fitting bridge between eras, when recording in te reo would not have been a consideration.