Review: Steve Louw – Headlight Dreams

By Kerneels Breytenbach

(read original review in Afrikaans)


Steve Louw – Headlight Dreams

Old rockers never really retire; in fact if there’s still a flame burning in them they get better and better as the years go by. Steve Louw is such a rocker, and his new album, Headlight Dreams, is note-for-note proof. 

In each of the guises we’ve come to know Louw over the years he’s shown a desire to grow and move on from his previous incarnations. The journey from All Night Radio to Big Sky to this album captures a lifetime of musical inspiration. And this album doesn’t have any fillers.

The collaboration with guitar legend Joe Bonamassa on the track Wind in Your Hair is exciting news. The entire album is a guitar-driven affair, as can be expected from Louw, but when Bonamassa lets rip the notes reverberate through your skull.

His appearance is thanks to Louw’s friendship with his long-time producer, sound maestro Kevin Shirley. Shirley had just finished recording Bonamassa’s Royal Tea album at London’s Abbey Road Studios when he and Louw met up at a Nashville studio to start work on Headlight Dreams. In between Shirley was putting the finishing touches on Royal Tea, so when Bonamassa popped into the studio Louw grabbed the moment and asked him to play on Wind in Your Hair. The result is a pure joy. 

The songs on Headlight Dreams had their roots in a 8 000-km motorcycle trip Louw had undertaken across the length and breadth of South Africa. There are also references to trips across the US, along with introspection on the cruel, wonderful, crazy turns life sometimes takes. Louw says the motorcycle trip put him in a strange frame of mind, as if he was experiencing the open road and vast plains in slow and hyper motion at the same time.

Recorded in just three days in an old Nashville church building that had been converted into a studio, with Kevin Shirley behind the controls of a vintage Neve console, each track on the album is imbued with a warm, intimate sound. The combination of the building’s ambience and vintage equipment bring the best out of these recordings – just listen to the hard-hitting The Lost and Found.

Track by track 

Crazy River: About a boat trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, featuring an impressive blend of rock and typically South African guitar patterns. The slide guitar is by studio ace Rob McNelley.

Wind in Your Hair: This track featuring Joe Bonamassa is about the contours of a long relationship. Glorious music with an amazing solo by Bonamassa, who’d only ever heard the song once before. 

Don’t Wait: About thoughts experienced during a long road trip. The layered guitars have a lovely Tom Petty-feel and Louw’s vocal performance is among the best on the album.

Train Don’t Run: Louw is an ecology activist, as is clearly evident in the lyrics of this song. Excellent solo by McNelley.

Seven Roses: Heavenly rock with a tinkling piano; a buttkicking rocker that slides back into high gear every time it sounds as if Louw’s about to calm down.

Get Out Of My Heart: Can one ever understand love? I love the opening phrase: ‘I’d rather walk than drive another mile with you’ – after which Louw avoids her embrace. The ringing notes make one wonder if he ever did get that woman out of his system . . . 

The Lost and Found: Inspired by his experiences on a Greyhound bus trip across the US. The energy and sheer oomph of the music makes it one of my favourites. #u*+ it, this song cooks! 

Headlight Dreams: The first track recorded for the album. In a less frantic vein then The Lost and Found, yet the song gradually builds as Louw’s lyrics take in the contrasts between people, habits and their dangers. The multi-layered production includes guitars, organ and that welcome old sound of excellently recorded drums with each hit punching you in the stomach. Turn the volume up to eleven!

Heavy Weather: This song could be about the water crisis that hit Cape Town a few years ago. The music builds into a groovy boogie and McNelley’s guitar takes it to another level.

Queen Bee Maybe: There’s something of a swamp rock thing going on here. Louw says it was inspired by his attempts to remove a swarm of bees that had moved into the roof of his house – without getting stung. And just when you think the guitars are about to gather for a final showdown, Kev McKendree interrupts with a sweating, crying Hammond B3 solo, before letting the guitars finish the deal.

I absolutely love this album. I just hope we don’t have to wait another seven years before the next one – Louw should continue to travel and bring us the sounds they inspire!


Steve Louw – Headlight Dreams

Ou rockers raak nooit werklik stil nie. As hulle die ou vlam nog binne in hulle voel brand, raak hulle net beter met die jare. Steve Louw is een van hulle. Sy nuwe album, Headlight Dreams, bewys dit, noot vir noot.

In al die gedaantes waarin ons hom deur die jare leer ken het, het Louw met elke sprong vorentoe gebeur, en verbeter op sy vorige inkarnasies. Van All Night Radio na Big Sky na hierdie album het hy ’n lewe van musikale besieling vasgevang. En hierdie keer is daar geen snitte waarop hy die pas markeer nie.

Uiteraard sal die samewerking met die legendariese kitaarspeler Joe Bonamassa meeste mense laat regop sit. Die snit is “Wind in Your Hair”. Die hele album is kitaar-gedrewe, soos mens van Louw verwag – maar wanneer Bonamassa inklim, galm die note dwarsdeur mens se skedel.

Bonamassa se deelname geskied danksy Louw se vriendskap met die klank-maestro Kevin Shirley. Shirley het pas in Londen se Abbey Road-ateljees die opnames van Bonamassa se Royal Tea-album hanteer, en is toe na Nashville saam met Steve Louw, om Headlight Dreams op te neem. Shirley moes terselfdertyd laaste retouching doen vir Royal Tea, en Bonamassa moes laaste toevoegings bylas. Net daar slaan Louw toe, en praat Bonamassa om om op “Wind in Your Hair” te speel. Die resultaat is suiwer plesier.

Headlight Dreams se wortels lê in ’n baie lang road trip wat Louw op ’n motorfiets kruis en dwars deur Suid-Afrika onderneem het; daar is ook verwysings na reise in die VSA, asook die soort retrospeksie wat mens doen as jy nadink oor die wrede, wonderlike, waansinnige draaie wat jou lewenspad gemaak het. Louw sê sy motorfietsrit het hom in ’n vreemde skedelspasie geplaas, waar hy op die langpad deur die vlaktes dinge tegelyk in slow motion en hyperspeed beleef het.

Opgeneem in die bestek van drie dae in ’n ou kerkgebou in Nashville, met Kevin Shirley agter die kontroles van ’n ou Neve-klankbank, word elke snit op die album omgeef deur ’n warmte van klank, ’n ander soort intimiteit as wat met digitale opnames geskep sou gewees het. Baie van die klank-kombinasies baat baie meer by die analoog-opnames. Luister maar hou daar gat geskop word op “The Lost and Found”

’n Kort kyk na al die snitte:

“Crazy River” – Oor ’n kanoe-rit op die Coloradorivier, met ’n indrukwekkende vermenging van rock met tipies Suid-Afrikaanse kitaarpatrone. Slide-kitaar deur Rob McNelley.

“Wind in Your Hair” – Die snit met Joe Bonamassa. Handel oor die kontoere van ’n lang liefdesverhouding. Verruklike musiek, en die solo van Bonamassa is absoluut amazing as jy in gedagte hou dat hy die liedjie net een keer vantevore gehoor het.

“Don’t Wait” – Oor die gedagtes wat opkom tydens ’n road trip – met ’n heerlike Tom Petty-gevoel in die lae en lae kitare. Louw se sang van die beste op die album.

“Train Don’t Run” – Louw is ’n ekologie-aktivis, wat hier baie duidelik spreek. Uitstekende solo deur Rob McNelley.

“Seven Roses” – Hemelse rock, tintelende klavierklanke en absolute gatskop rock elke keer net wanneer dit klink of Louw gaan kalmeer.

“Get Out Of My Heart” – Kan mens liefde ooit verstaan? Ek’s mal oor die openingsfrase, “I’d rather walk than drive another mile with you”, en daarna maak Louw hom skaars uit haar omhelsing in ’n liedjie waarin die hangende note ’n mens laat wonder of hy die vrou heeltemal uit sy gestel gekry het. Musiek en melodie wat baie lank in jou gemoed bly draai. Louw se sang van die beste wat ek hom nog ooit hoor doen het.

“The Lost and Found” – Geïnspireer deur sy ondervindinge tydens ’n Greyhound-reis in die VSA, en die energie en oemf van die musiek maak dit een van my gunstelinge. Hierdie liedjie kook, #o* it!

“Headlight Dreams” – Die eerste snit wat vir die album opgeneem is. Veel meer bedaard as “The Lost and Found”, maar dit bou stelselmatig op soos Louw se lirieke die kontraste tussen mense, gewoontes en gevaarlikhede opbou. Hier is baie lae musiek te hoor, van die kitare tot die orrel tot die ou-ou genot van tromme wat baie goed opgeneem is, sodat jy die slae op jou maag voel. Draai die volume oop tot by elf.

“Heavy Weather” – ’n Liedjie wat vermoedelik Kaapstad se waterkrisis van ’n paar jaar gelede in gedagte het. Die musiek ontwikkel in ’n lekker boogie en McNelley se kitaarspel lig ’n mens uit jou gestoelte.

“Queen Bee Maybe” – Daar is iets van ’n swamp=rock gevoel hier aan die gang. Louw vertel dat dit geïnspireer is deur ’n ondervinding wat hy gehad het toe bye in sy huis se dak ingetrek het, en die proses om die swerm ongeskonde uit te lok. En net wanneer ’n mens begin verwag dat die kitare gaan saamkom vir ’n sluitende magsvertoon, tree Kev McKendree na vore met ’n solo op die Hammond B3 wat sweet en skree. En daarna sluit die kitare die verrigtinge af.

Ek is heeltemal versot op hierdie album. Ek hoop nie daar gaan weer sewe jaar van stilte hierop volg nie – Louw moet meer gaan reis, en klank aangee na ons!

Published by Brian Currin

Playlist Creator & Web Marketer. The son of a church organist father and pianist mother, South African born Brian Currin grew up surrounded by music. In his pre-teen years he realised that he had no real talent for playing music and he couldn't sing, so he immersed himself in the world of music by listening, exploring and researching. Which he still does today. He served in the military for five years, then spent many years in corporate sales and marketing until his involvement in the re-discovery of Rodriguez, opened up a whole new world for him. He was the Content Editor for Rhythm Online, South Africa's first online music store, from 2006 to 2012. He ran Mabu Vinyl, the iconic music store seen in the Oscar-winning "Searching For Sugar Man" film from 2013 to 2019. His voice could be heard on the streaming radio station All Jazz Radio where he hosted the Vagabond Show from 2012 to 2019. He is very involved in promoting South African music, and is the co-owner of a number of music-related websites including www.rock.co.za which he founded in 1999.

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