Listening to ‘Rivonia’, the third release from South Africa’s Dear Reader, is like being in the audience of a student-penned school play that you desperately need to take a work call in the middle of but definitely feel like you shouldn’t. Vocalist Cheri MacNeil has assembled an enraptured musical narrative around the true story of an anti-apartheid community’s secretive existence, just miles from her native Johannesburg in the early ’60s. The stories weave tales of conflict, revelation, clandestine escape and eventual victory, with a totally unselfconscious sonic mirroring of this real life drama in the emotive group chorals and storybook lyrics, MacNeil’s own feral yelps and breaths acting as imagined first-person percussion for the whole production. There’s earnest beauty in spades but, like all albums driven by such a focused thematic concept, the individual songs on ‘Rivonia’ might struggle to survive outside their context.

Read all of our new album reviews here, in Loud And Quiet 47, out now

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