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Editor's Note: This article was written in QUORUM almost a year before the band signed to the American InPop label and changed their name from Tree to Tree63, and chronicles their early releases before coming to the states.

How do you describe a band no-one's ever heard of? With delirious? I usually refer to them as "the best band you've never heard of" but, thanks to those excitable Texans running QUORUM and cMusicWeb.com [editor's note: Dan lives in Minnesota], you may have heard of delirious?. And if you have, then I can safely say that Tree is the best band you've never heard of.

The band consists of the treesome (or should that be tree-o?) of John Ellis (guitars, vocals, keyboards), Darryl Swart (drums, percussion, bv) and Scoop (bass, bv). The band formed in South Africa towards the end of 1996, an area of the world where God is beginning to put down roots and the Christian music scene is beginning to explode. Tree started off supporting South African dance band MIC before being invited to attend the Soul Survivor 1998 festival. Opening for delirious? meant they had to put on a good show to appear even moderate; instead they played some of their new songs and blew the audience away. They were quickly invited back for the next year, and they turned up, charged with their second album. This time they opened for nobody...and rocked the show.

From the opening chords of their first album Overflow through to the anthemic last track of their latest, 63, it is plain to see that Tree are something special. Outrageously emphatic guitar riffs, laced equally with a moody depression and an irrepressible happiness, provide the musical background for John Ellis's pen. Mixing emphatic chords with provoking lyrics, Tree paint the way forward for Christian rock music - as can be seen with their progress from album to album.

Overflow, released in July 1997 in South Africa and now set to be released in the UK on November 19th on Survivor Records, is a raw album which is openly focused on God, expressed poetically but always earthed in groovy guitars and dynamic drumming. Tree experiment with different styles, from the congregation-based "Joy" and "Enough" through to the mainstream-sounding "Worldwide" and "Overflow", yet maintain a style that is unmistakably Tree. While at times sounding like Jars Of Clay ("Look What You've Done"), Tree draw on wider influences that include various South African bands you'll have never heard of and the more recognised sounds of delirious? and the mainstream bands Radiohead and U2. The delirious? influence can be seen in "This Is Not How It Was Meant To Be" where Ellis uses the turn of phrase "You believe your doubts / Doubting all that you believe" which is reminiscent of Martin Smith's turn of phrases. Ellis' words have a simple complexity to them: Overflow is a rosy Christian album where things go well, ignoring the struggle of Christianity ("Let me be a shining light for you / Let me be a joy to you always") while concentrating on the plus sides of faith ("It's not a question of what you can do for me ~ but what can I do for you my lord?"). Overflow displays promise as an album, for the band had to make do recording in the technically 'dodgy' South African studios, and the mixing is at times poor as unwanted distortion breaks the feeling of this raw album.

Realising that technical limitations were holding Tree back, the organisers of Soul Survivor (who played an integral role in bringing Tree to the UK's attention) invited them to Eastbourne's ICC studios to mix their second album (incidentally, Martin Smith, of delirious? fame, worked in those studios. The similarities continue...). After recording in South Africa, Tree decamped to Eastbourne in April 1999 to mix their second, and greatest, album 63 (inspired by Psalm 63). The labour of love of the previous two years drove the band to new heights - 63 is an acclaimed success by all those who have heard it. Technically greater, more polished, deeper, and just plain better than Overflow, the fourteen track follow-up album is a sonic experience to rival the greatest albums of the decade. The album sleeve even looks better - possibly because photography was done by the delirious? photographer Andy Hutch. More similarities. From the first cut "1*0*1" to the anthemic, erm "Anthem", 63 mixes original music with some truly inspiring lyrics. Ellis really outdoes himself on this album, writing some songs that praise God and others that deal with the day-to-day reality of reality, such as the vibrantly comforting "Scary" with it's chorus "What are you so scared about? I said you'd never be without me ~ What are you so scared about? What could be so scary?" providing encouragement in these testing times. "Still Small Voice" talks of the difficulty of hearing what God has to say ("Almost believed these truths were truthless") while "Stumbling Stone" admits what we all hope deep down - that we "stumble over mountains" and that "one day soon I'll take them in my stride" if we could only get rid of this "stumbling stone that just won't let me be / All I can for You". Musically, the vibrantly up-tempo numbers "Perfectly", "Treasure" and "Can I See Your Face?" provide the head-banging, dancing aspect to the band, but the mellow "Have Your Way" and nostalgically melancholic "A Million Lights" steal the show with their pensive, penetrating lyrics, with the second verse of the latter ringing truth from every word, "Could I walk out to sea way beyond these breakers? ~ We have no place among the movers and the shakers ~ Yours is the only throne I'll ever get down on my knees before". Tree, however, do not want to be pigeon-holed in terms of music style and shatter images of peaceful placidity with the catchily exuberant "Fisherman" which talks of how Ellis found his wife and hinges on the bridge's statement that "How can I thank You? Is my word enough for you?". One way in which it is possible to classify Tree is by saying that they like repetitive, sprawling endings to their songs, for "Sacrifice" is marked by the way the chorus runs from "It's all for You Father, It's all for you, I live for you Father, And I die for you" into the statement "Hallelujah" which in itself is then expanded by continuing the sound of "hallelujah" by repeating "yeah, yeah, hallelujah-yah-yah-yeah-yeah!" and the final cut, "Anthem" is an epic that basically consists of falsetto Ellis tones repeating over and over again the fundamentally true statement "I am always in Your heart, in Your heart" in a manner which simply leaves you close to tears.

Tree are a band that wear their heart on their sleeves (or drumsticks for some). Almost without intending to, Tree have grown into a festival phenomenon in the UK and become South Africa's most imminent Christian rock musicians. With only two albums under their belt (and a five-track remix CD entitled tREeMIX) Tree are showing so much potential, both musically and especially lyrically ("hopelessly in love with all those things that freak you out" from "Weirdo") that it can't be long before the US market tunes into their infective brand of incisively soul-searching rock music.
- Adam Kirkman
October 1999

GoldUSA.com currently sells 63 and Overflow/tREeMIX for those in the States that want to get these signature Tree albums.
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