As places to be stuck in lockdown go, New Zealand would seem to be a good one. Luckily for both them and us, that’s where UK alt folk duo Good Habits have been – the March lockdown came at the end of the New Zealand tour and they haven’t been able to move since. I say it’s lucky, because not only have they been in a fabulous place, Paekakariki, but they have taken the opportunity to record their first album, Going for Broke. Comprising singer-cellist Bonnie Schwarz and accordionist Pete Shaw, Good Habits create folk-infused songs that primarily use just their traditional instruments. Their essential hibernation has captured a collection of songs reflecting the leap of faith required to travel to the other side of the world in search of their musical career and, when confronted with this amazing set of circumstances we find ourselves in, record an unexpected album.
The nine songs on Going for Broke revolve around themes of travels and encounters and it’s easy to hear the experience that their live music brings throughout. The addition of violinist Tiffany Anderson and bass player Léo Rocha help create a sound that straddles folk traditions from around the world. Singer Bonnie’s vocals are full of warmth and strength, beguiling when necessary yet unafraid to challenge. Like, I suspect, many people, I was unsure that an album full of accordion would be quite my thing; happily, it proved to be exactly my thing, bringing just that little extra to each track. Cello, accordion and vocals, with the added extra instrument now and then might be unusual but shows that traditional instruments can still push boundaries in music.
The standout track for me is the first, ‘See How the Evening Goes‘ which is a very catchy opener, full of joy, warmth and excitement – just seeing what might happen is one of the most underrated feelings around. Singing her way through lyrics that talk about going for broke and just doing something, to see what happens, Bonnie brings a quality to the song that makes you want to join her and, yes, see how the evening goes.
If toe tapping danceability is what you look for, then ‘Hitch‘ and the final track, ‘Racing the Hour Hand‘ are great. We’re all guilty at some time or other of racing the clock and” trying not to lose” and ‘Racing the Hour Hand’ takes us frenetically through that feeling; it’s an upbeat song to end the listening experience. At the other end of the tempo scale is ‘Forget It‘ and ‘You’re Not Alone‘. In the former, Bonnie sings of
forget it, don’t hold on to the pain for too long / you have nothing to gain from it now
and in the latter, Bonnie sings a song that her mother, Zoe Schwarz, wrote. With just her cello and her pure voice, Bonnie gives us a beautifully still moment, saying something that so many of us struggle to say to another person:
I’m still here, please don’t get lost
Like their album, Bonnie and Pete’s advice for aspiring musicians is all about going for it:
Spend lots of time on your craft / with your instrument; it’s easy to get lazy and just repeat what you can already do so get creative and challenge yourself artistically and technically, especially when you’re left to your own devices and there’s no one there to push you. Also, do what you can with what you have and where you are. You could spend a fortune, in both money and time, chasing online ‘success’, but we have found that growing our audience organically through meeting people at gigs and having a genuine connection with them is a much nicer way to grow your following. We now have a big group of friends around New Zealand that started off as fans of our music coming to a gig.
Going for Broke was released on 18 September. Get your copy here.
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