Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, Birmingham NIA review

Birmingham has changed a lot in the last twenty years or so, and I was most aware of it last night (5 May, 2008), when my folks and I were in the city to catch Robert Plant and Alison Krauss at the National Indoor Arena.

Like Plant, we hail from West Bromwich in the heart of the Black Country (indeed, my dad frequented the same drinking hole as Planty) and wondered what the leonine rock god must make of the changes to the ‘second city’ since he last strolled its streets. Gone are the grubby factories and warehouses, replaced by shimmering glass towers and a slick, cosmopolitan atmosphere. We were certainly struck anew by the city’s transformation as we wandered down the canal-side before the gig.

It seems Brum is not the only thing to have changed – there’s no trace of a Black Country twang in Plant’s voice and his partnership with Krauss on ‘Raising Sand’ is a departure from the heavy rock of his Led Zeppelin days. It’s also the stuff of music critics’ wet dreams: a beautiful bluegrass angel collaborating with the hoary old man of rock to make one of the finest and unlikely parings in recent musical times.

Anticipation was high for this, Plant’s homecoming performance. From a purely anthropological bent, there was also much fun to be had in identifying fans there for Alison Krauss and those there for Robert Plant. Needless to say there were ponytails aplenty on men of a certain age and later in the evening, some head-banging in the aisles to some of the rockier numbers. Of course I can only speculate that they were Led Zep fans …

But before I discuss the main act … the support. This was Scott Matthews, Wolverhampton-based urban-folk troubadour whose band and he were, he cheerily confessed, ‘shitting ourselves’. The local feel of one up-and-coming Black Country lad supporting another made good, set a nice tone and the audience warmed to Matthews fast. He opened with the beautiful “Dream Song”, arguably his best work to date, and gave a soulful and professional support to the main act.

As “Rich Woman’s” swampy guitars kicked in, Plant and Krauss crept out from either side of the stage each looking a million dollars. There’s a strange kind of symmetry seeing them live, all big blond hair and even bigger voices, although this is as far as the visual resemblance goes. In her diaphanous, floaty dress with her perfectly coiffed hair, Alison Krauss looked like she’d been whisked in from Stepford; whereas Robert Plant, wearing block colours and some pretty fine winkle pickers, looked every inch the rock god. He trod the stage like a caged animal for the first few songs, a mesmerising “Sister Rosetta” and “Through the Morning, Through the Night”, and I like to think it did the old boy some good when he finally let rip on tracks like “Nothin” – it certainly looked and sounded like it!

The two were on fire; their voices were nothing short of awesome and melted into each other’s tones perfectly. “Stick with Me Baby” was mesmerising. I’d expected them to sound good, but this good? Krauss’s demure presence belied a torrent of feeling conveyed through her singing which was by turns eerie and angelic. Her rendition of Tom Waits’ “Trampled Rose” was goose-bump inducing and her violin playing exceptional. Her voice was as sweet as honey but more penetrating than any I’ve heard in a long time, filling every crevice of the cavernous NIA.

Despite the obvious difference between her vocals and Plant’s blues wail, his voice was equally on form. He sang as if he wanted to tear the audience’s eardrums out on tracks like “Gone, Gone Gone” and an old Led Zeppelin track (that’s the head-bangers happy then).

By far his finest moment was on “Fortune Teller”, an amusing old standard on which Alison supplemented his bluesy delivery with haunting backing vocals. Of this track he confided that he’d first come across it in the ’60s and that only two others knew it – he got ‘free prescriptions and a long memory’ he self-deprecatingly joked.

On other songs his sound was more restrained, allowing the gravely textures of his voice to reveal themselves in a wonderfully new way. The two were generous to each others’ performances, stepping back to spotlight the others’ strengths through songs which ranged from the old standards from “Raising Sand” and beyond, to blues, country and soul.

The legendary T-Bone Burnett, a black-clad, narrow and angular presence on the stage, was met with adulatory cries of ‘you the man T-Bone!’ from an enthusiastic crowd when he performed two of his own tracks. Krauss nodded to his producing the score to ‘O Brother Where Art Thou’, on which Krauss sings, when she threw in “Down to the River to Pray” with Plant joining in for backing vocals.

To see the three on stage together, their chemistry and obvious ease with each other, was a live crystallization of the successes of ‘Raising Sand’ and was really something. In short, the gig was a triumph. Robert Plant & Alison Krauss made it look so easy and surpassed the elegance of their recordings. Long may the partnership between the bluegrass beauty and rock beast continue.

By: Lindsey Davis

Even more from the new Bud Ad! Budweiser Band plays “Push it” + watch video

Dave Cloud - Budweiser - True Dedications

There’s been quite a buzz surrounding the new Budweiser True Dedication ads on UK TV. The ads feature the “Budweiser Band” – a band of musicians …

Dave Cloud - Budweiser - True Dedication

There’s been quite a buzz surrounding the new Budweiser True Dedication ads on UK TV.

The ads feature the “Budweiser Band” – a band of musicians who play custom instruments made up of all that is Bud – using bottles, kegs and cans.

Rob Cureton - Bass

The ads are short, a little spooky for some reason, and feature the very catchy, easy to whistle along to “Popcorn” song – which continues to go around my head long after the ads end.

They also play their version of Salt ‘n Pepa’s “Push It”, which you can watch even more from the new Bud ad, here on Band Weblogs:

Watch the “Budweiser Band” video – “Push It”

Salt ‘n Pepa, the 80s all female rap group, recorded “Push It” in 1987 for the album ‘Hot, Cool and Vicious’. The track has become Salt ‘n Pepa’s signature single – but receives a new edge from the “Bud Band”.

Even though band members are listed on the Budweiser website as Lucas Leigh, John Sharp, Rob Cureton, Brian Kotzur, Sami Elamri and William Tyler along with short bios, they still seem shrouded in mystery.

The “last genuine lost genius”, veteran Nashville musician Dave Cloud, encourages and inspires the band, as you can see in the ads and videos – and I’m just as uncertain about him as I am the band!

To watch more videos and for more information about the band go to:

Budweiser – True Dedication

By: Jenny May –

Angus & Julia Stone LIVE at Jericho Tavern, Oxford review

Angus & Julia Stone

Photo credit: Gina Policelli. Regular readers will recall how much I love Angus & Julia Stones’ album ‘A Book Like This’, so it was no surprise that I hotfooted it to Oxford’s Jericho Tavern …

Angus & Julia Stone
Photo credit: Gina Policelli

Regular readers will recall how much I love Angus & Julia Stones‘ album ‘A Book Like This’, so it was no surprise that I hotfooted it to Oxford’s Jericho Tavern (28th April, 2008) to catch the antipodean duo in action, accompanied by photographer Gina Policelli. We were not disappointed.

The small venue got increasingly crammed as people jostled to find a space from which they could gaze adoringly at the duo. We were in good company: no less than Romeo from the Magic Numbers was in attendance, which occasioned much excitement from your roving reporter (as anyone who knows me can well imagine). It appears he’s friends with the band as well as a man with exceedingly good musical taste. Off to a good start, then.

The venue itself was perfect for the kind of intimacy Angus & Julia’s music lends itself to – small enough to create a connection with the audience yet large enough to withhold the crowd the band drew. Adorned with leaves and large cut-outs of the picture book-style images from their album cover, the stage had a distinctly bucolic look and the band had a chilled, yet festive vibe. The festive, rural atmosphere extended to the band’s appearance: Angus and Julia looked beautiful, dressed like they’d stepped out of a medieval tableau – travellers of old come to regale the denizens of Oxford with their musical wares.

Opening with the sublime “Mango Tree” with Angus on lead vocals, followed by Julia taking the lead with “Hollywood”, I was struck by their incredible musicianship and slightly breathy, perfectly pitched though totally contrasting vocal styles. Although their voices have very different characters, in performance I noticed a breathy similarity which at times made their harmonies sound as if from one person. Their differing styles fuse to make something utterly distinctive; Angus’s deliciously crisp yet delicate voice providing a backdrop to his sisters crackling lilt – just as Julia herself returned the favour, supplying backing vocals to Angus’ wistful cadences. They took turns on lead vocals, offering the audience a set full of whimsy and feeling.

From the taut guitar of “Paper Aeroplane” to the melancholic trumpet of “Private Lawns” and the stirring harmonica on “The Wedding Song” (dedicated sweetly to a friend and/or anyone in love and in the mood for ‘making babies’), the pair proved it’s more than their vocal dexterity which makes them so beloved of musos and non-musos alike. Their voices were just two of the instruments they used to great effect. They are fine musicians: it was incredible to watch Julia effortlessly switch between guitar and trumpet (oh – she also plays keyboards too! All this and a very pretty dress to boot), and Angus looked extremely iconic as he strummed and picked his guitar and played harmonica.

Backed by Mitchell Connelly (the third member of the band) on drums and Clay MacDonald on bass for the occasion, all four were clearly in their element and looked very comfortable with each other. Crucially, they looked like they were having fun. Angus made a few gentle quips and Julia danced and skipped merrily around the mike in an endearing and elfin manner. The siblings bantered with the audience before their encore, assuring us that the rhythm section – who totally endeared themselves to the crowd – would return for a final track.

One of the final songs proved that the band can put their talents to pretty much anything; their experiments the musical equivalent to the successes of the Gold Rush prospectors in their birthplace Australia over 150 years ago. They took two totally different songs and managed to mine sensory gold from them: a mash-up of Joy Division’s “Transmission” and the Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann”. Incongruous? Yes. Bloody brilliant? Yes again. That the band pulled this off to their own delight as well as the audience’s says it all.

This is a band who are all about sentiment and adventure. Just as the album tells a series of stories, their performance was a playful, meandering scene which stole everyone’s hearts. The duo’s voices sounded beautiful, the gig a credit to their emotional pull of their song-writing. They came across as very likeable and down to earth, hanging around the venue afterwards to their more ardent fans’ glee. They even signed my companion’s CD whilst I – star struck – stammered some praise in an embarrassing manner. Whilst my verbal praise may not have cut the mustard, I hope this review says it all. A very lovely night was had and thanks to the band for showing us how it’s done.

Angus & Julia Stone Official Website
Angus & Julia Stone Myspace

By: Lindsey Davis

Nicole Atkins LIVE at Soho Review Bar, London + EXCLUSIVE interview

Nicole Atkins

Nicole Atkins is one to watch – and I’ve found out why first hand. The singer/songwriter New Jersey native has been on tour in Europe with her band, the Sea, and I was lucky enough to catch her show while she was in London …

Nicole Atkins

Nicole Atkins is one to watch – and I’ve found out why first hand.

The singer/songwriter New Jersey native has been on tour in Europe with her band, the Sea, and I was lucky enough to catch her show while she was in London.

First of all the venue, the Soho Review Bar (formerly the Raymond Review Bar), a place that some might consider seedy due to it’s erotic nature, was a brilliant room to watch a live performance. Just what I like – intimate, dark, the red interior was a plus and the sound was exceptional.

By the time Nicole started her set, the room was full with an expectant audience. She looked a million dollars, wearing a short white and black dress, she sounded great and her banter in between songs was friendly and humorous. At one point she invited people to go up toward the stage to watch – and a few did get up from their seats to sway along to songs that she played from her album, ‘Neptune City’.

The band was tight, and members on stage were Gillian Rivers (violin), Daniel “Cashmere” Chen (keyboard), Derek Layes (bass), Dan Mintzer (drums) and Dave Hollinghurst (guitar). Special guest Russell Simins from the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion sat in on tambourine at one point.

Stand out songs of the night were “Brooklyn’s On Fire”, “The Way It Is”, “Party’s Over”, “Maybe Tonight” and their outstanding cover of the Doors’ “Crystal Ship”.

Nicole Atkins

While in England, Nicole was able to squeeze in a phone interview with me for Band Weblogs the day before her show in Soho.

Jenny May: Do you have a favorite place to write music?

Nicole Atkins: I do. When the melodies of my songs come to me it’s usually when I’m sitting, but moving, so usually in the car or in a train is when they happen. But I really like to finish my songs in my parents’ living room at home. At least when they’re upstairs – but as long as they’re not in the room!

Are your parents musicians?

No. They like rock music, but none of them are musicians. We grew up with like, Frank Zappa as our ‘children’s music’.

Do you tend to write on guitar?

I write everything based on the vocal melody, and then I just put chords to that. It’s more fun and easier for me because instruments are limited, but on vocals, it’s not limited at all so I just layer everything through vocal melodies for every part.

What was the first guitar that you bought, do you remember?

I never bought one. My mom’s little brother, he passed away when he was thirteen and when I was thirteen I found his Yamaha Acoustic learners guitar in the attic. It was kind of a big deal. My mom was kind of reluctant for me to play it because she thought that I would break it, you know, because she got kind of sad when she would see it. Then I just kept going into the attic, I got this Grateful Dead guitar book, and taught myself how to play a bunch of Dead songs. So then after awhile they got really okay with it.

Do you still play it?

No. It’s a learner so it’s very short, and it’s actually harder to play than my guitar now!

And what are you playing now?

Now acoustic, I’m playing a Martin, and electric, I’m playing a Hagstrom Viking. It’s great.

I saw a video of you on YouTube singing “Be My Baby” – that was really good. It’s funny because that was the first song that I ever sang on stage with a band.

Nice. I love that song and I love singing that when my parents’ friends come to our shows ’cause you know, they have no idea what the hell I’m singing about, but when I start singing that, it’s just like, yeah!

I know what you mean. Ha ha.

Ha ha.

What are some of your favorite cover songs to play?

Three that we’re liking right now is “Crystal Ship” by the Doors, “Pissing In a River” from Patti Smith and “Under The Milky Way” by The Church.

I’m not sure if I’m familiar with The Church.

It’s a really pretty song.

I’ll have to look it up. I’m going to your show tomorrow night in Soho, London. Are you going to play that one?

Good. No we’re not…we’re still choosing, so maybe we will.

I was reading through your Myspace messages and noticed that your fan base is missing you in the States.

Yeah. Ha ha.

How do you stay in touch with them while you’re on tour?

Well, I always put out bulletins and I put up blogs of what’s going on out here, and little videos and stuff. So, I keep them fully abreast on the happenings.

I’m sure they appreciate that.

They do, and it’s always weird for me because I’m like, oh, they care!

I saw that video of you performing in Norway.

That was really fun. That was like, the funnest press thing that I’ve ever had to do.

It sounded great.

Yeah we met a bunch of people afterwards that were like super stoked on it. Like all these older people were like, “you have a very nice voice”. I was like, yeah!

How do you prepare for a show each night?

I don’t really do anything, I just kind of do brief vocal warm ups and just hang out with my band or my friends and then just go up and do it. I don’t really get into the mode until maybe 15 seconds before I sing the first note.

I would imagine that makes life easier for you.

It does. If you ever think it, you know, it will be weird and unnatural.

Some singers have all these rituals where they don’t talk or they don’t do certain things…

Yeah, I mean, unless I’m sick, you know, then I won’t talk. I always get on stage and I pick out the eight people that seem kind of skeptical or uneasy or unhappy in a crowd and kind of focus on them, kind of change their mood. I make them my personal mission.

Nice. I did read that you were sick on the road. Did you drink tea, or…

I’m always sick on the road. I just realized I’ve got the weakest immune system in the world. I do everything. I’m like a walking science project.

Ha ha. Is there any one thing that’s tended to work better for you?

Yeah…eight hours of sleep.

How did the David Letterman performance go (“The Way It Is”)? How was that for you?

That was the best day of my life. That was the day my record came out and it had been pushed back so much, I mean, it was, ahhh, finally we did it. It came off really, really well.

It was funny, the way he kept holding your hand at the end.

Yeah, he wouldn’t let go of my hand. It was cool, though, he liked us.

You could tell he liked you.

It was cool.

Nicole Atkins

With your “Neptune City” single, it gives me the chills when I listen to it. What was the recording environment like in the studio?

We were in a barn in the middle of a field in the middle of nowhere in Sweden and it was during the middle of winter. I recorded that song almost a year before I recorded it for the album and it’s one of those songs, that every time I sing it, I get the same feeling as I did when I first heard it. It was one of those things that…it was so much bigger than me.

What brought you to Sweden to record?

The producer lived there so it was much easier for me to go there alone then for him to come to New Jersey.

Did you enjoy it?

I didn’t. At all. I love making my records, and I love the music part of it, but it was the middle of winter so it got dark out at like 2 o’clock everyday. And I was in the middle of nowhere and I didn’t know anybody so it was very isolating…which might have been good because I was able to really focus on the music, but at the same time it probably didn’t do too well for my mental stability. I was very happy when I got home.

How long were you out there for?

A month and a half. Not too bad, but very, very isolating.

What normally is a good recording setting for you?

My idea of a good recording setting is very off the cuff, and very intimate, but it never really gets to work out that way now a days.

Is there a certain studio that you would like to work in that you haven’t yet?

Abbey Road. Who wouldn’t?

With your upcoming release, “Maybe Tonight”, I love it, the video is fun…


Do you have any input with the making of your videos?

Yes, I have full input. The video director (Josh Forbes) said let’s do this like you’re walking on your way to get ready for a late night TV show. I was like, oh, let’s get some circus freaks, you know, because I grew up on the boardwalk. There was a very big carnival culture. So he ended up getting us Vaudeville Cirque, which was way past my expectations, and we improvised everything and did it as we were, and it was just so much fun.

It looks really fun, and it definitely comes across.

It was. I choreographed it too.

That’s really good to know. Had you had experience with choreographing before?

No, I just did a lot of theatre.

Do you want to do more videos, directing, that sort of thing?

Oh yeah, I have tons of video ideas. It’s kind of a passion of mine to make up stories for a film.

Do you have a favorite festival that you like to play?

I’ve never really played any except for Austin City Limits. The one I’m looking forward to the most is All Points West. It’s in Jersey City and it’s with Radiohead. It’s an hour from my house too, so it’s really nice.

You’re playing Bonnaroo as well?

I’m really looking forward to that too, cause we get to play that with our good friends The Avett Brothers, that I went to college with.

Not only are you a singer and musician, but you’re an artist as well. Did you do the cover art for your album, ‘Neptune City’?

No I got my friend Nick to do it. He basically draws how I would draw if I wasn’t lazy and if I had the time!

Are you going to continue doing your art along with your music?

Yes, I always do. Comics and stuff. I put together a zine that goes to our fans so that we can actually mail them the comics and stuff like that. The comics will probably be ready in the fall.

Nicole Atkins Official Website
Nicole Atkins Myspace

Singer/songwriter, playwright Lizzie Nunnery releases Hungry EP – review

Lizzie Nunnery

Lizzie Nunnery is a 25-year old Liverpool-based singer/songwriter to watch out for. A prolific writer and incredible talent, not only has she been writing and performing her own music …

Lizzie Nunnery

Lizzie Nunnery is a 25-year old Liverpool-based singer/songwriter to watch out for. A prolific writer and incredible talent, not only has she been writing and performing her own music for over ten years, she’s also an award winning playwright. Her most recent play, “Tiny Chaos” was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in April, 2008.

Lizzie’s first EP ‘Monkeys and Devils’ was released in 2006 and showcased a soulful, folky sound which set a high precedent for her latest EP, ‘Hungry’.

‘Hungry’ more than lives up to its predecessor and provides ample cause for comparisons to artists such as Joni Mitchell or Nick Drake. Lizzie’s is the same brand of delicate, confessional folk with wonderfully intelligent and emotive lyrics and quietly confident, dextrous turns on the guitar. Yes, Lizzie is one of those ludicrously gifted people who can write and perform with equal (and exceptional) skill.

It is the voice which first hits you: tremulous with feeling but with a body and strength which gathers momentum effortlessly as the tracks unfurl. The EP’s title track, “Hungry”, is the perfect prism for each facet of Lizzie Nunnery’s captivating vocals to shine through; the vocals begin softly enough but work up powerfully to express both a sense of sadness and slight anger. “Hungry” is a beautiful lament on the disappointment of lost love and Lizzie’s voice is at its most shimmering and affective. Similarly, closing song “Concertina” presents Lizzie’s enchanting voice in a live setting and illustrates her vocal range wonderfully.

Lizzie’s lyrics are both conversational and subtly poetic, demonstrating a huge awareness of the power of words when used effectively:

“We were drunk and don’t remember anyway
That’s the account we gave of it the next day
I remember clearly not being near you
Things we didn’t do and didn’t say … you not telling me not to be free”

The sense of regret for what could have been and the time wasted on an unrequited love is palpable and creates a huge impact in the listener. Without condemning either party, Lizzie’s words force the listener to review their own romances and behaviour – surely a sign of an exceptionally talented lyricist.

Opening track “Pubs That Never Close” also taps into a common experience, evoking the feeling of dragging “high heels home” from town after a big night out. Her deft guitar picking and a moody, distorted violin create a melancholic and brooding atmosphere perfect for the lyrics’ reflective tone.

Lizzie is someone who knows how to use language intelligently; she doesn’t use it to show off but to create emotions in her listeners, and her lyrics have a poetic economy which is startlingly insightful. Take “Not My Heart”, in which a failing relationship is documented against an incongruous but actually pretty effective ukulele:

“I was never a fire in your blood/I was a bird in your hand”.

By fusing the poetic and the colloquial, Lizzie raises the well-worn musical topic of bad relationships above tired cliché. She may be following in a folk tradition but her skill as a wordsmith is very original, with a gentle wit alongside moving content. Her singing style also signposts her separateness from the jostling crowd of female singers out there: clear and focussed, technically impossible to criticise and with the same kind of purity as the brilliant Joan Baez. At the same time, her soft Liverpool dialect nudges into her delivery to create a great sense of warmth, feeling and larger sense of individuality than many of her female contemporaries.

All songs are arranged by Lizzie and multi-instrumentalist and producer Vidar Norheim, and the result is testament to their accomplishment as musicians as well as each track’s natural charm.

The EP is beautifully produced by Vidar, who, whilst crafting a polished and professional sounding collection of songs, allows the natural qualities of Lizzie Nunnery’s voice to shine through to promote a feeling of intimacy between singer and listener.

Highly recommended.

Lizzie Nunnery Myspace
Lizzie Nunnery

By: Lindsey Davis

Goldfrapp – “Happiness” review

Alison Goldfrapp

Goldfrapp and their electronica/pop have subtly and endearingly eased into my musical life. With each single release and TV appearances on shows like Jools Holland and Jonathan Ross, I’ve found myself looking forward to their quirkiness and unpredictability …

Alison Goldfrapp

Goldfrapp and their electronica/pop have subtly and endearingly eased into my musical life. With each single release and TV appearances on shows like Jools Holland (watch video) and Jonathan Ross (watch video), I’ve found myself looking forward to their quirkiness and unpredictability more and more over the last few years.

With their latest single, “Happiness”, Goldfrapp has once again caught my attention, and I’m happy to have it as part of my CD collection. The single is off of the British group’s fourth studio album, ‘Seventh Tree’.

Continue reading “Goldfrapp – “Happiness” review”

Mark Cope (The Candyskins, Nine Stone Cowboy) EXCLUSIVE interview

Mark Cope

Mark Cope has been around the Oxford music scene for awhile now. Most people here probably became familiar with him and his music when he played guitar in BritPop band The Candyskins …

Mark Cope

Mark Cope has been around the Oxford music scene for awhile now. Most people here probably became familiar with him and his music when he played guitar in BritPop band The Candyskins along with his brother, frontman Nick.

The Candyskins formed in 1989 and gained a worldwide fanbase, releasing singles such as “Submarine Song, “Monday Morning” and “Feed It”. After touring the US and the UK and experiencing the highs and lows of being in the music business, The Candyskins broke up in the late 90’s.

Lucky for us here in Oxford, Mark Cope is still playing music and has formed a new band, Nine Stone Cowboy. I saw them play at the Bullingdon Arms a couple weeks ago, and enjoyed a great night of music. I’m looking forward to seeing them again soon.

A bit of trivia – Mark’s dad is the very talented English actor Kenneth Cope. He played the ghost, Marty Hopkirk, on (one of my favorite TV shows since moving to England) Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased).

Mark very graciously took some time out to answer some questions for

Continue reading “Mark Cope (The Candyskins, Nine Stone Cowboy) EXCLUSIVE interview”