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Peggy van Zalm - Biography & CD Review of "Different World" by Alex Green, Discoveries Magazine USA

"... Van Zalm has the kind of voice that makes you go dreamy. Vowels soar, consonants gracefully glide, and the songs come together as elegant emissaries of a rich and talented musician.

Hailing from the small farming/surfing/vineyard town of Cowaramup near Margaret River in Western Australia, Van Zalm grew up on healthy doses of Joni Mitchell, and art bands like Talking Heads, Cocteau Twins, and later on, singers like Sinead O'Connor. Van Zalm helped found Martha's Vineyard, who quickly generated a buzz, and ended up touring with the likes of INXS, The Saints, Weddings Parties Anything, Paul Kelly, Mental as Anything, the Go Betweens, Eurythmics and Simply Red. While Martha's Vineyard's lone album--a self-titled 1989 offering containing the hit single "Old Beach Road," became an instant favorite, Van Zalm made the decision to head out on her own. After the demise of Marthas' Vineyard, Van Zalm released a string of successful albums--1994's Soul Magic--- and 1998's Revival and earned rave reviews for her inspired live performances.

In 1998 she even parlayed the gift of a camper van from her family into an exploration of the road and the Australian countryside.

It was during this time that the songs for Different World began to germinate. In her Web diary she wrote of the influence this somewhat nomadic experience had on her songwriting: "Increasingly the Australian landscape, spirit of place has been an influence in my songwriting and the gypsy life has opened the way up for me with a number of new songs being written and fortunately recorded in some great settings along the journey. I've really been finding that the traveling is infusing my whole attitude with renewed enthusiasm and the very nature of being on the move, in a spontaneous flow has definitely heightened the synchronicity factor of being in the right place at the right time."

Recorded on a Mobile Studio Different World is a moving eleven song collection which traverses musical terrains, offering healthy doses of rootsy lullabies, outback blues, and earthy jazz.

A moving song cycle of love, loss, faith, and the distances between people, Different World is wise and knowing and wants to share its experiences with the rest of the world. Moving with purpose and a kind of unspoken intent, Different World has a generous agenda. In fact, opening with "Belly O" and closing with the rousing "Let's Escape," which instructs the listener that "New friends are old friends," and urges "Let's escape and follow our star,"

As a songwriter, Van Zalm says that anything in her life might make it into her compositions. "If something strikes a chord--no pun intended-- a song can be spurned," she says. "I seem to be inspired a lot by where I am, making reference to physical and internal landscapes sometimes though as yet not often do I tell stories like say, Paul Kelly who is a true narrative style lyricist. That doesn't come so naturally to me, not so far anyway." Van Zalm is the first to admit that there are recurring themes in her work, that as a writer she tends to revisit. "I think that 'issues' occur and reoccur for us to ingest and process," she says, "and my work somehow addresses these for me. Themes do come up and evolve themselves as it were. I think after a period themes do live out their value in a sense, when perhaps a degree of resolve has occurred and then they probably do not need to be revisited--their emotional virtue has been spent. In that way I feel my songs are very much tied to where I am in my spiritual journey, cause that's where the juice of the song comes from."

Whether it's the lilting beauty of "Red Star" or the nimble "Forever Today," what makes Different World such a special album is that even though the songs are beautifully composed there still exists in each number a spare quality that lets in an element of improvisation, giving all of the songs a chance to breathe and in every case, yield surprising musical turns. Throughout each track, Van Zalm is the sonorous, almost maternal guide, giving a musical tour through the universes' many mysteries. "I initially began writing songs as an extension of my personal journal writing," Van Zalm says. "These songs continue to serve as messages to myself, time capsules , life-soundtracks and pointers for emotional and spiritual resolutions along the way." Organic and philosophical, Different World is a mature and unforgettable album. With her beguiling voice and thoughtful lyrics, Van Zalm gently introduces the great questions of existence, but the trick of the album is that somehow it seems she's holding the answers too. You've just got to listen.

Alex Green Discoveries Magazine Summer, 2002 alex670@earthlink.net

 

Reviews for Peggy's EP "Revival"

"Powerful, folk/pop played with finesse and integrity from an artist whose voice is rich and earthy. It takes a couple of listens to get past the beauty of van Zalm's voice and fully appreciate the quality of the songwriting underneath. These are songs about the spirit, the land and feelings that well up inside of us as we work to blalance lives wrought with the stresses of living in a big city world." Mark Garnaut - Conscious Living

" With the comfort of some extraordinary musicians including Richard Mellick( keys), Blair Greenburg(djembe), Svetlana Bunic(piano accordian), Chris Roodenrys(electric guitar), Debra Anderson(double bass), Warwick Hornby (midi bass) and Buzz Bidstrup (acoustic guitar, drums, backing vocals and production)~ Peggy sings with a real depth of range. Her vocal kept me on the edge, waiting for that wail that rarely comes, great control at retreating from the obvious. REVIVAL remained on our multi disc player for some three weeks - a great feat considering the competition in this house, and the first six or so listens it still felt like I'd heard it for the first time, it is not the album full of hooks and radio friendly schmaltz - this is heart felt understated talent. Revival features deep and rich musicality, I have enjoyed my growing rapport with this album and Peggy's subtle, sensual and powerful delivery." Kaeleen Hunter, METTAMUSE/SINGING UP THE WOMEN

"Revival sourced much of its inspiration from the Australian landscape and vibes with a positive energy whilst it's instrumentation (including piano accordion, double bass and traditional African percussion) adds depth and sophistication." Monty James - Inpress

 

CD Launch"Soul Magic"Three Weeds Sydney July 1994

"Peggy van Zalm shimmies across the stage like a feminist Chuck Berry, behind her swaggering acoustic guitar. She has a rainbow for a guitar strap and a silver moon pinned to her black coat. Her face reminds you of a gypsy or a Comanche, refreshed and dark and strong all at once...even van Zalm's nervous gestures, like the peculiar inward/outward smile she has are sparkling with generous confidence tonight.That pure feeling that van Zalm gives is what all great artists give: cos to be in love with their idea of themselves, with what they dream themselves to be. Nick Cave, Tex Perkins, Dave Graney, Ed Kuepper...Peggy van Zalm is getting ready to sit comfortably beside them in this country. Beside those grand ideas that involve us and which help us to create and understand ourselves. Formerly with Perth band Martha's Vineyard, van Zalm confessse "I did my dash in Sydney" Retreating to the Blue Mountains, she's returned years later with her new album SHINE. It's sophisticated pop surface shouldn't distract you from the muscle beneath, or from van Zalm's cast as a genuine spiritual voyager in music a la Van Morrison and Joni Mitchell. SHINE is a black stone, a memory you can't shake, one of those new beginnings won the hard way... and it's great driving music as well; qualities all over tonight's performance. Playing acoustic guitar with restless precision & beautiful hunger, she roots her cosmic sympathies in music of swing, grit & epic swell. I can not recall seeing an Australian artist with such conviction, melodic power in songwriting, guitar playing ability, fineness of voice & sheer spiritual integrity all rolled into one. Internationally I see no reason why she can't grow to the dimensions of a Rickie Lee Jones or Joni Mitchell. Just watch her rise. Mark Mordue "Drum Media"

Peggy's CD "Shine" Reviews

...an inspired work of folk-pop that summoned critical comparisons to Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison & Nick Drake". Mark Mordue "Australian Style"

"Peggy van Zalm should not be underestimated. Her rawness rooted firmly in reality and songwriting abilities alone showcase her enormous potential to be a quite formidable force within the industry." Allison O'Donaghue - Drum Media.

"SHINE" is a strong, confident album, and marks a welcome return for van Zalm. Possessed of a rich, sensuous voice and a sense of almost jazzy playfulness around a melody line , songs such as Mystery Movie and The Divers boast of a substantial talent." Shane Danielson "Sydney Morning Herald"

"Songs of quiet strength move through P.V.Z. 's solo debut album. If radio programmers have the grey matter to play this, it could comfortably reside in both the independent & commercial charts. "SHINE" Heralds the confident return of an entrancing vocalist & songwriter." Annette Basile ~ "On The Street Magazine". Sydney

 

MARTHA'S VINEYARD

Excerpt S.M.H. The Game Breakers April 1989... "Critics Top Fives"... John O'Donnell, Toby Creswell, Jon Casimir

"When asked to name five "new " bands that he thinks most deserve to succeed on the charts, Toby Creswell, includes Martha's Vineyard, with the band's mixture of acute lyrics and Chrissie Hynde-meets-Joni Mitchell voice with its sparse, folk -based instrumentation fast became the critics favourite" when the band made a brief trip across the Nullabor for a handful of performances, and released an independent mini-album, "For A Small World.".
M.V. Reviews - Harold Park April 1989..

With the recent successes of Suzanne Vega, Toni Childs and Tracy Chapman, observers of the local music scene have been wondering why Australia seems almost totally devoid of women singer/songwriters, or at least those who are making a mark. This week however, Peggy van Zalm answered the question, if she didn't solve the problem. In van Zalm we have our Tracy Chapman and much more. ...Fortunately, M.V. last month made the somewhat inevitable trek across the Nullabor and are now permanently based in Sydney. And with this being their first headline performance it would be difficult to imagine a better start. Their music has little about it that resembles rock. The lilting, well constructed arrangements, van Zalm's assured voice and the intelligent, minimal use of volume all combined to provide the Harold Park Hotel with the ambience of a folk club. Fortunately, tidy folk tunes are not all that M. V. play. When the band had people up and dancing they were smart enough to keep them there with the rousing rockabilly of More of the Same. They further varied their set with Skin on Skin, which began quietly and then proceeded to get weird. Safe and Sound with its engaging jazz swing perfectly complemented by the beatnik goatee and menacing double bass lines of Phillip Kakulas, again broke the mould and was the night's highlight. Being the writer of most of the band's material, playing guitar, and possessed of a wonderful voice, van Zalm is the obvious focal point. Where this critic finds Tracy Chapman a bit wet and one dimensional, van Zalm and band, and their songs, are possessed of an undeniable joie de vivre, and a variety that never fails to sustain interest. John O'Donnell - Sydney Morning Herald.

Martha's Vineyard played Tivoli, April 1988


"...they struck out on a hearts-and -flowers course, with influences like Joni Mitchell and Van Morrison underlying a Ricki Lee Jones-ish sass. The latter inflection came gift charged with the presence of a great-voiced singer in a bop cap, her easy Beat manners ... a cool sense of optimism and the crackle of warmth against the the cold. Assisted by three guys who looked like young eccentric uni-going hippies, this unit employed... a singing, stinging lead that knew how to hold itself back for the melody, a mariachi acoustic bass and soft, swinging drums with just enough thunder. Out of it all came a uniquely commercial sound, shamelessly mid 70's in its roots but original and honest enough to transcend the cliches - coming on like a strange, pumping, heavy form of 80's folk pop absolutely nothing like the Pogues. Cousins to the likes of the Widdershins, White Cross and Chad's Tree, Martha's Vineyard sound good for the tired spirit and even better for the urban cynic still willing to remember that beauty is every bit as powerful as noisier intensities. Mark Mordue, RAM

 

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