Saturday, 23 November 2013

Bryan Ferry at the Royal Albert Hall, London - 04/11/13

As part of his most recent UK tour, Bryan Ferry returned to London a fortnight ago, for a unique 'Evening With' performance at the Royal Albert Hall. The concert comes almost a year after the release of The Jazz Age, a record that offers a unique approach to both Roxy Music's catalogue and Ferry's solo work, with a collection of songs recorded instrumentally by the Bryan Ferry Orchestra. The album is an intriguing listen in that it features such an eclectic track listing, from the classics ('Love Is The Drug', 'Slave To Love') to the arguably not so predictable ('Just Like You', 'The Only Face'), all the while remaining authentic to the inspiration that is the basis for the album - the jazz sounds of the 1920's, which not only defined the era, but has proved a major influence on music in years since.

The Bryan Ferry Orchestra opened the two-hour set with 'Do The Strand', which effortlessly progressed into a further selection of instrumental tracks from The Jazz Age. Ferry then joined the musicians for a slick, fast-paced rendition of 'The Way You Look Tonight', which, along with 'Avalon' were early favourites in this initial part of the set. Though the orchestra sounded fantastic in the intimate surroundings of the Royal Albert Hall, it was the appearance of Ferry's tour band who kicked in midway through 'Reason Or Rhyme', that added a heightened intensity and excitement to the music. The addition of the band and the timing in which they entered into the song, was a key moment of the evening, and an enticing indication of what was to come.

Backed by both bands, Ferry then eased into the rhythmically smooth 'Don't Stop The Dance' and 'Oh Yeah', two tracks which have become setlist regulars in past tours for good reason. This gig was no exception, as both songs saw the crowd take to their feet, appreciatively clapping in time to the music.  'A Song For Europe', complete with a poignant, but beautifully extended piano intro was another key moment of the evening. The set was heavily dominated by covers, with Ferry performing four Bob Dylan tracks, two of which feature on 2007's Dylanesque album, though 'Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right' was by far, the most memorable of this selection.

The latter half of the gig felt more consistent, with a steady flow of fan-favourites keeping momentum high in the venue. 'Jealous Guy', 'Love Is The Drug' and 'Stranded' were the most notable crowd-pleasers of the night, but my personal highlight was 'Take A Chance With Me', a rarity from 1982's Avalon. Perhaps the only less than stellar track was a stripped-down rendition of 'Casanova', which lacked the impact of the studio version that appears on Country Life.

Overall, Ferry delivered a generous setlist that was finely structured to include just the right balance of material from The Jazz Age. Though the orchestra were a welcome addition, the duration of the gig was quite rightly owned by Ferry and his outstanding tour band (guitarist Oliver Thompson, especially), who, as in previous tours, demonstrated great musicianship throughout.


Friday, 25 October 2013

John Mayer at the O2 Arena, London - 20/10/13

The last time I saw John Mayer live was in 2010, when he embarked on his first ever UK arena tour, in support of fourth studio album - 2009's Battle Studies. The past three years has seen Mayer undergo surgery for a throat condition, and subsequently go on to release 2012's Born And Raised, followed by Paradise Valley just over a year later. Admittedly, I haven't been overly enthralled with any of the studio albums released since 2006's Continuum. While I feel that Battle Studies lacks the strength and consistency of Continuum, I viewed it as a transitional album, and envisioned that his next release would be more along the lines of a John Mayer Trio inspired studio record, or even something of a jazz-orientated genre. As it is, the last two releases have had a mostly country sound, with both albums having a more 'quiet' feel than any of his previous efforts. This is by no means a criticism, there are standout tracks on both records, particularly Born And Raised, I just haven't been drawn to them in the same way that I was - and still am - with the first three albums. Taking this into account, I attended the O2 gig last Sunday with an open mind as to how the new material would transpire in such a large venue (and with an almost entirely new band), but also confident in the knowledge that Mayer is a gifted musician, both live and on record.

Mayer opened the two-hour set with 'Wildfire', followed by 'Half Of My Heart', the latter of which progressed into an impressively soulful middle eight breakdown featuring call-and-response vocals. However, it was the unmistakable extended intro that led into a nine-minute 'I Don't Trust Myself (With Loving You)', that really got the gig underway, and was without doubt, my favourite track of the evening. Of the other songs played from Continuum, 'Slow Dancing In A Burning Room' and 'Belief' were also key moments of the set, and went down a treat with the crowd.

Much of the new material, in particular, 'Paper Doll' and 'If I Ever Get Around To Living', translated fantastically in a live setting, more so than I expected. Even if I haven't quite taken to the most recent albums in the same way as his earlier work, I thoroughly enjoyed hearing these new songs played in an atmospheric venue. Mayer's band demonstrated great musicianship throughout, but sounded most tight on 'Queen Of California' - probably the most solid track of the evening, and one that gave me a new appreciation for the studio version that appears on Born And Raised. Equally as impressive were Mayer's vocals, which were on fine form, and didn't show any sign of strain throughout the gig - a clear indication he has recovered well from his throat surgery. His range was particularly impressive on a cover of 'Can't Find My Way Home', in which he sang the majority of the track falsetto. His vocals were further complimented by backing vocalists Carlos Ricketts Jr. and Tiffany Palmer, whose rich harmonies added a further warmth to the songs. This was most apparent on 'Something Like Olivia', though the main vocal highlight was final encore track 'Gravity', which featured an interlude of Otis Redding's 'I've Got Dreams To Remember'.

Reflecting on the gig, it is evident that the setlist perhaps, wasn't as spontaneous as in previous years, with no real surprise tracks or rarities emerging. While I was thrilled with the selection of songs played from Continuum, it was slightly disappointing that Mayer barely touched upon his first two releases, with just one track - 'Why Georgia' - from 2001 debut Room For Squares, appearing in the set. However, considering he is currently into his sixth studio album, and this tour was inevitably centred around both Born And Raised and Paradise Valley, I feel he delivered a well balanced setlist that engaged both the casual and long-time fan. It was brilliant to hear the new material in a live setting, along with favourites from Continuum. Mayer has a talent for playing songs with a uniqueness that sets them apart from the versions that appear on his records, and this gig was no exception.

'Half Of My Heart'
'Paper Doll'
'I Don't Trust Myself (With Loving You)'
'Something Like Olivia'
'Going Down The Road Feeling Bad'
'Slow Dancing In A Burning Room'
'Free Falling'
'Blues Run The Game'
'Queen Of California'
'Dear Marie'
'If I Ever Get Around To Living'
'Waiting On The World To Change'
'The Age Of Worry'
'Why Georgia'

'Can't Find My Way Home'

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Josh Rouse - Bedroom Classics, Vol. 2

Josh Rouse's Bedroom Classics series could certainly be viewed as a collection of lost treasures among his broad catalogue of full length records. The EPs, which are comprised of three separate volumes, have been gradually released over the course of his fifteen-year career, appearing perhaps, somewhat quietly in between his ten studio albums. Though brief in duration at about five tracks per volume, all of the EPs vary in genre, with volumes one and three also featuring demos of tracks that would eventually appear on later studio releases. In this post, I will be focusing on 2005's Bedroom Classics, Vol. 2, the first album to be released on Rouse's independent Bedroom Classics label.

Inspired by Rouse's love of film scores, the EP, of which two of the five tracks are instrumental, has a moody and atmospheric tone running throughout. The spacious arrangements and rich instrumentation on 'The Last Train' are so endearing, they are somehow more effective at creating a visual imagery than the lyrics themselves. However, 'Oh, I Need All The Love' is the standout track on this collection of songs, and the one that most embodies the classic Rouse sound. Lush strings give lyrics like "Oh, I miss you, all those days we're apart / Oh, I need all of the love in your heart" an added intensity and warmth, while Rouse's effortless vocals provide a timeless edge that is consistent throughout the song.

I have heard other reviewers suggest that the tracks featured on the Bedroom Classics series are not typical of the material that would appear on a full length Rouse album, and that it would be difficult to envision the songs on anything other than an EP. I disagree - Rouse's main strength, and what initially drew me to his music is his ability to freely experiment with genres. Each of his studio albums are unique and diverse in the themes and sounds they touch upon, a quality that has arguably kept him from the mainstream singer-songwriter category, though has seen his fan base remain invested in his music and excited for future releases. For example, while the songs on Bedroom Classics, Vol. 2 have an overall cinematic feel, Rouse's 2010 album El Turista, takes on a Spanish theme, with songs featuring Spanish and English lyrics, along with tracks that are solely instrumental. El Turista is a genre-specific record, and much like this Bedroom Classics EP, succeeds in delivering an authentic sound - an aspect that, in one way or another, has been apparent on all of his work to date.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Franz Ferdinand at Electric Brixton, London - 20/08/13

Ahead of next week's release of fourth studio album, Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action, Franz Ferdinand returned to London last night to play a sold-out gig at Electric Brixton. The intimate performance, in which tickets were initially only available to purchase through a lottery, marks the band's first London gig since 2009 - the same year that saw the release of their last studio album, Tonight: Franz Ferdinand. After four years, and as a long-time fan of the band, I was eager to hear the new songs, along with material from past albums, in a live setting.

The band emerged to a cheering crowd at 9:30pm and wasted no time in getting the set underway with lead single 'Right Action', from the upcoming album. This was followed by 'No You Girls' and the harmonious, bass driven grooves of 'Tell Her Tonight'. New songs 'Bullet' and 'Love Illumination' suggest a return to the former sounds of their first two records, with strong beats that kept the crowd on their feet. Of the newer material played, 'Evil Eye' and 'Stand On The Horizon' stood out as early favourites, and I look forward to hearing the studio versions of these particular tracks upon the album's release on Monday.

As exciting as pre-album release gigs are, it is inevitably difficult to get the balance of the setlist right. Playing an equal quantity of new, unreleased material, against a selection of fan favourites is just as vital as the track order, but Franz Ferdinand are a band that know what their fans want, and the setlist very much reflected this. Aside from the new songs, a large majority of the setlist comprised of tracks from their 2004 self-titled debut, with the remainder of the performance touching upon 2005's follow-up You Could Have It So Much Better and Tonight in almost equal measures. Early classics 'The Dark Of The MatinĂ©e' and 'Take Me Out' went down a treat with the crowd, though 'Jacqueline' and 'Do You Want To' were my personal highlights of the evening.

Though the band displayed brilliant musicianship throughout the gig, my only gripe is that as the night progressed, there were moments where the vocals got lost in the mix, but this certainly didn't detract from the overall solid performance that the band delivered. Not only did this gig prove that their new music shows great promise, but the early songs still sound as fresh and relevant as they did nearly ten years ago.

'Right Action' 
'No You Girls' 
'Tell Her Tonight' 
'Evil Eye' 
'Do You Want To' 
'The Dark Of The Matinée'
'Fresh Strawberries'
'Walk Away'
'Stand On The Horizon'
'The Fallen'
'This Fire'
'Take Me Out'
'Love Illumination'

'Treason! Animals'
'Goodbye Lovers & Friends'

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Hidden Treasures: Falling Star - Jonah Werner

Taken from his 2006 album Better Things, Jonah Werner's 'Falling Star' is an excitable fusion of wistful vocals and dreamy melodies. Werner's direct lyrics and rhythmic vocal delivery effortlessly leads the song from verse to bridge, though it's the sweeping choruses, complete with uplifting backing harmonies, that are the true defining moments of the track.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Track of the Day: Quarter Life Crisis - James Craise

On 'Quarter Life Crisis', James Craise's soulful vocals deliver lyrics that are raw and honest. Lines like "Dreading Sunday, knowing that it's Monday / When I wake, it's more than I can take" are universally relatable, and succeed in being comforting rather than pessimistic. Though this is mostly due to Craise's impressively powerful vocal range, the track has a strong, flowing structure that adds further depth to the lyrics. A delicate piano is the dominating instrument, while strings and unison vocals add an effective intensity and richness to the song.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Hidden Treasures: Looking Out To Sea - Red Sails

Glorious melodies and unpredictable hooks are a plenty on Red Sails' 'Looking Out To Sea'. The track offers up a sublime mix of sounds, from smooth guitars and tinkering keys to crashing drums, all of which flow effortlessly alongside soulful vocals and backing harmonies. Though the song is instantly addictive, solid production results in further interesting elements - both instrumentally and structurally - being revealed upon each additional listen.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

The Killers at Wembley Stadium, London - 22/06/13

Playing Wembley Stadium is a feat few bands achieve in their career, but for The Killers, last Saturday's gig at the 90,000-capacity venue holds further sentiment in that it marks a decade since the band's first ever UK gig, at intimate club, The Dublin Castle in Camden. In those ten years, the band have released four studio albums, ranked up 20 million worldwide record sales and played countless festival headlining slots, all of which have culminated to this mammoth gig at Wembley - their largest performance to date.

The band took to the stage just before 9:00pm, with Brandon Flowers playing 'Enterlude' solo on the piano. The set then got underway with fan favourite 'When You Were Young', followed by the equally energetic 'Spaceman'. Flowers' vocals were on top form throughout the two-hour gig, though it was the Battle Born material that really demonstrated his range, most evidently on 'The Way It Was' and 'Miss Atomic Bomb' - both of which were highlights of the evening. The rest of the band also showed great musicianship, in particular Ronnie Vannucci, who played an impressive extended drum solo that led into 'From Here On Out'. Other key tracks included, 'Read My Mind', 'A Dustland Fairytale' and Sam's Town rarity 'This River Is Wild', while songs like 'Human' and 'Runaways' kept the pace flowing and momentum high.

The most surprising moments of the night came in the form of a cover of 'I Think We're Alone Now', while 'Wembley Song' paid tribute to artists who have previously played at the venue. The track also reflected upon the band's career, with lines of "Mr. Brightside had you scratching your head / When you heard we were from Vegas / But you were positive it was Sheffield or Camden... You took us in like your own" being a clear reference to Britain's early embracement of the band, and how this support shaped their rise, from the days of 2004's Hot Fuss right up to the present sounds of Battle Born. It was perhaps inevitable then, that 'Mr. Brightside' - complete with fireworks and confetti - would round off the superb four-track encore and draw the fantastic evening's performance to a close.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Fine Acoustic Listens: The Village Sessions - John Mayer

After the rich, soulful sounds of John Mayer's third studio album Continuum, I was curious and perhaps slightly sceptical at the thought of an acoustic EP based on that album. Though this is due in part, to the fact that, as I have mentioned in a previous post, I prefer listening to music with a full band rather than acoustically, in the case of The Village Sessions, there were more factors which contributed to my general lack of excitement prior to its release. Firstly, I love the production on Continuum, the instrumentation holds a consistent warmth and fullness that is complimented by slick arrangements and Mayer's thought provoking lyrics, overall culminating in a soulful, solid sound that runs throughout the album. However, it was attending the live shows throughout the Continuum era (and listening to all of the amazing fan-made recordings from the tours) that gave me a fuller appreciation of the album - the songs just sounded so damn good live, arguably even better than on record.

As it is, The Village Sessions is a thoroughly enjoyable acoustic listen and a fine accompaniment to Continuum. The six-track EP features five songs from that record, plus one track from Mayer's 2005 live album Try!, that was recorded as part of the John Mayer Trio. The EP is worth obtaining if only to hear 'Waiting On The World To Change', a fantastic collaboration with Ben Harper. The addition of Harper's vocals on the chorus and the stripped down breakdown of the middle 8, gives the track an irresistible groove that in my opinion, is far superior to the studio version that appears on Continuum. Another key track on the EP is 'Belief', which despite having considerably less instrumentation, and a more relaxed tempo, delivers just as much impact as the original. 'Good Love Is On The Way' is another surprising highlight. I would never have thought an acoustic rendition of this track would have worked as superbly as the original that features on Try!, but this version succeeds in its acoustic approach, mainly due to Mayer's impressive guitar skills and bluesy vocals, of which he freely experiments with key changes and ad-libs. The Village Sessions is an overall refreshing and endearing EP, with acoustic re-workings that add an interesting new dimension to the original recordings.


Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Josh Rouse at Islington Assembly Hall, London - 22/05/13

Two months after his surprise intimate gig at The Lock Tavern in Camden, Josh Rouse returned to London last Wednesday to perform at the Islington Assembly Hall, in support of his most recent album, The Happiness Waltz. Josh took to the stage with a full band to play to a sold-out crowd of 700 fans, a very different atmosphere to The Lock Tavern gig, in which he played a solo acoustic set in a cosy upstairs room in a pub.

Since I purchased the tickets to the gig through PledgeMusic, my friend Steve and I got the opportunity to attend a meet and greet with Josh and watch him and his band soundcheck in preparation for the evening's performance. The soundcheck was like a concert in itself, with Josh playing eight tracks, all of which got us excited for the night ahead, though it was hearing the first verse and chorus of 'It Looks Like Love' that really got my feet tapping, and left me hoping that the song would be included in the evening's setlist. I always enjoy watching soundchecks, as they allow the lucky few who are in attendance, an insight into what goes into prepping for a performance. This one was no exception, as we were able to watch Josh and his band in the setting-up process, from the warming up of instruments to an actual preview of the possible setlist - all in all, a fascinating experience.

The actual gig began at around 9:15pm, with Josh and his band starting the set with early classic 'Dressed Up Like Nebraska', a bold choice for a set opener, but one that successfully got the crowd invested in the music. This was followed by 'This Movie Is Way Too Long' and 'It's Good To Have You', two tracks that eased the set into the more recent sounds of The Happiness Waltz. These new songs sounded fantastic with a live band. Other key moments of the newer material included 'A Lot Like Magic' and 'The Ocean', the latter of which featured hauntingly beautiful vocal harmonies that brought the song to life.

Though this show was naturally centred around The Happiness Waltz, Josh did play a good variety of songs from previous albums, most notably 1972 and Nashville, though it was also great to hear so much material coming from Subtitulo. 'It Looks Like Love' was a particular highlight - after hearing a teaser of the track in the soundcheck, I was thrilled to hear it live in its entirety, especially as it had never been played at any of the previous Rouse gigs I had attended. Another standout song was 'Domesticated Lovers' - from 2007's Country Mouse, City House - which featured a guitar solo that was almost as smooth and enticing as Rouse's vocals. However, my favourite moment of the night came in the form of the four-track encore, which featured some of my most loved Rouse tracks. 'Sad Eyes' in particular was a welcome surprise, as during the meet and great earlier in the day, Josh had informed me that it wouldn't be included in the set. Much to my delight, he must have had a change of heart.

Overall, this has been my favourite Rouse gig to date. His band showed great musicianship, while delivering a wonderfully diverse setlist (though there were certain tracks that I felt could have benefited from a keys player, particularly on the material played from 1972 and Subtitulo). Rouse is a gifted musician whose songs translate just as effectively live, as on record, regardless of whether he is playing tiny pubs, or in the case of this gig, sold-out concert halls.

'Dressed Up Like Nebraska'
'This Movie Is Way Too Long'
'It's Good To Have You'
'Domesticated Lovers'
'I Will Live On Islands'
'A Lot Like Magic'
'Julie (Come Out Of The Rain)'
'Quiet Town'
'Western Isles'
'My Love Has Gone'
'The Ocean'
'It's The Nighttime'
'Love Vibration'
'Simple Pleasure'
'It Looks Like Love'

'Sad Eyes'
'Comeback (Light Therapy)'
'Winter In The Hamptons'

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Franz Ferdinand Announce New Album

Franz Ferdinand have announced that their fourth studio album, Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action, will be released on August 26. The album, which is the band's follow-up to 2009's Tonight: Franz Ferdinand, has a confirmed track listing of ten songs, seven of which were debuted recently at an intimate gig in Glasgow.

This album will be an interesting and eagerly awaited release, especially since Tonight, quite deservedly, received a mixed response from critics upon its release. I think part of the problem with Tonight, was that it was previewed as a heavy departure from the previous sounds of their 2004 debut Franz Ferdinand and 2005's follow-up You Could Have It So Much Better, with the album promising Jamaican influences, along with elements of electro. Upon release however, it was clear that aside from one or two tracks, Tonight pretty much sounded like any other Franz Ferdinand album, which would have been great if the material on it had of been anywhere near as strong as those previous two records. As it is, the brightest moments on Tonight lie in the opening three tracks ('Ulysses', 'Turn It On' and 'No You Girls'), a trio of songs that are perhaps a reminder of what made Franz's music so well liked in the first place. Apart from the experimental, eight minute spectacle that is 'Lucid Dreams', the rest of the album falls short and is a fairly dull listen.

With Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action, the album trailer suggests the band may have returned to the signature sound of their first two releases, though it is difficult to tell from such a brief snippet. I look forward to hearing more track previews - and hopefully a tour announcement - in the coming months.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Track of the Day: Satellite - Guster

Released as the second single from their 2006 album Ganging Up On The Sun, I initially found this Guster track to be somewhat of a grower, especially in comparison to the rest of the album, the majority of which I warmed to almost immediately upon the first few listens. However, there is something so subtlety endearing about the song, a quality that perhaps refreshingly, isn't glaringly obvious on first impression, that over time the track gradually featured more and more frequently in my Guster listening marathons. All aspects of the song - vocals, lyrics, instrumentation, tempo, structure - all contribute to an overall captivating listen, with verses that feature lines of "Shining like a work of art / Hanging on a wall of stars / Are you what I think you are" leading into choruses that offer up equally dreamy lyrics - "You're riding with me tonight / Passenger side, lighting the sky / Always the first star that I find". Though, the defining moments occur in the latter half of the track in the form of an instrumental break, that is only matched by a concluding chorus and instrumental outro.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Everything Everything On Later... with Jools Holland

Last week, Everything Everything appeared on Later... with Jools Holland to perform a few songs from their current album Arc. The band played 'Cough Cough' and 'Kemosabe', both of which highlighted their penchant for interesting hooks and falsetto vocals, while tight musicianship and unison backing harmonies provided further proof of why they are such a unique and exciting band - both live and on record.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Five Underrated Michael Jackson Songs

Michael Jackson's music is so widely known and admired, that it is debatable as to whether any of his songs can be classed as underrated, especially for hardcore fans of his work. That being said, I do think there are certain tracks that fly under the radar and are often overlooked in favour of the universally recognised classics such as 'Thriller', 'Billie Jean' and 'Man In The Mirror'. Below is a list of what I feel to be underrated Jackson songs, most of which have been selected based on listening to Jackson's catalogue as a whole, while others have been chosen because I feel they are underrated on the specific album on which they appear.

'I Can't Help It' (Off The Wall)
On Off The Wall, an album largely made up of uptempo disco tunes, 'I Can't Help It' is an understated gem. Co-written by Stevie Wonder, the soulful track is dominated by an irresistibly seductive bass line that draws the listener in from the start.

'Human Nature' (Thriller)
Although 'Human Nature' may not be considered an underrated Jackson song in general, it could most certainly be viewed as a "forgotten" track on the Thriller album. Appearing on the tracklist just after the record's title track, followed by 'Beat It' and 'Billie Jean', it's understandable that the song, with its laid back, melodic beats, could be overshadowed by this trio of Jackson's most successful and well known tracks. However, all of this doesn't detract from what a beautiful and inspiring song it is.

'Remember The Time' (Dangerous)
I'm usually met with surprised / blank stares when I tell people that 'Remember The Time' is my favourite Jackson song, and that Dangerous is my favourite album. I feel the album is underrated as a whole, and features a wonderfully diverse mix of genres, from the hook heavy 'She Drives Me Wild'  to the softer tones of 'Gone Too Soon'. However, it's the funky verses and ad-libbed choruses that make 'Remember The Time' my most loved MJ track.

'Stranger In Moscow' (HIStory)
It's hard to believe that 'Stranger In Moscow' only peaked at number 91 on the US Billboard Chart when it was released as the fifth and final single off HIStory in 1996. The down tempo ballad features lyrics rooted in loneliness that are reflected in both the instrumentation and call-and-response vocals.

'You Rock My World' (Invincible)
Though it received mixed reviews at the time of its release, Jackson's final studio album Invincible, is often regarded by fans as underrated and lacking the recognition it deserves. I feel the wavering reviews came as a result of too many music critics comparing the album to the likes of Thriller, which had been released nineteen years earlier. Really, Invincible should have been reviewed based on its strength as a standalone album, a record in its own right. As it is, the album features a strong selection of slick R'n'B floor fillers and soulful ballads that all contribute to a very enjoyable listen. However, it's the infectious beats and bouncy strings that make 'You Rock My World' the standout track of the album. The accompanying video is also awesome and equally underrated.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Josh Rouse at The Lock Tavern, London - 26/03/13

Last Tuesday, Josh Rouse played an intimate solo acoustic gig at The Lock Tavern in Camden, London.  The free admission show, which had only been announced two days earlier, was an unexpected treat for fans like myself, who are eagerly awaiting Josh's UK tour at the end of May.  On arrival at The Lock Tavern, I was surprised but thrilled at how small the setting was - this wasn't like the venues I was used to seeing Rouse in, instead it was a cosy upstairs room in a pub, packed full of people enjoying their drinks and looking forward to an evening of live music.

The performance coincided nicely with last week's release of his tenth studio album The Happiness Waltz, with Josh explaining he was in the UK for the week doing promo for the album which led to this last minute gig.  He then proceeded with the hour long set, which included a healthy balance of material from the new release, along with much loved classics from previous albums.

Josh opened the set with the upbeat and super catchy 'A Lot Like Magic', followed by 'Julie (Come Out Of The Rain)', 'The Ocean' and 'The Happiness Waltz'. These new songs, accompanied by Josh's sublime vocals sounded fantastic in an acoustic setting and I look forward to hearing them played live with a full band in May.  Much to the delight of the crowd, Josh took requests for a fair majority of the show which resulted in a wide range of tracks being played from earlier albums, the most notable of which being 'Dressed Up Like Nebraska' (from the album of the same name), which was a highlight of the gig.  My favourite songs of the evening were 'It's The Nighttime, 'Winter In The Hamptons' and 'Sad Eyes' from Nashville, though other key moments included 'The Western Isles' and '1972'.

Overall, the amazing experience of seeing one of my favourite musicians in such an intimate and relaxed setting, combined with a brilliant setlist, made this unexpected performance one of the most memorable gigs I've been to in a long while.  I hope Josh plays more shows like this in the future.

Monday, 25 March 2013

The Perfect Cover

Josh Rouse's delicate cover of 'The Perfect Girl' couldn't be in further contrast to The Cure's original version of the song.  With soft piano and a relaxed tempo that finely compliment Rouse's signature smooth vocals, the overall result is a beautifully unique, yet classic cover of a great track.  This version appears on Rouse's Singles, Covers And Demos Collection Vol. 1, that is available to download from the Bedroom Classics Closet Archives page on his website.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Track of the Day: For Lovers - Wolfman (featuring Peter Doherty)

"I'm running away with you / That's all I ever do" sings Peter Doherty on 'For Lovers', a song that is lyrically uncomplicated, yet beautifully sentimental.  The instrumentation is also simple but effective, with a piano arrangement that adds depth and a further poignancy to the track's lyrics.  Doherty's lingering vocals effortlessly deliver lines of "Meet me at the railroad bar / About 7 o'clock / We joke while the sun goes down / Watch the lovers / Leaving town", that progress into a soulful chorus backed by drums and guitar.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Unsigned You

Unsigned You is a website that draws recognition to independent music by allowing unsigned artists and bands to come together in one place to post music, videos and other music related media.  The networking site is a highly useful tool, as it gives members the opportunity to promote their music and get connected to other like-minded musicians.  In addition to users being able to upload music, videos and photos, Unsigned You also features a live newsfeed, forum, blog, and an events page.

This week saw the launch of the site's newest feature, Unsigned You PRO, which provides unsigned musicians with a platform to promote and sell their music, gig tickets and merchandise online. Unsigned You PRO supports unsigned artists and bands through powerful social media campaigns and showcase gigs, while also providing them with an artist and band development programme, specialising in everything from original songwriting to bespoke album art design, CD production and distribution.

Unsigned You is an ever growing community that succeeds in bringing wider focus to all the fantastic unsigned artists and bands out there, while at the same time allowing users the opportunity to connect and network with each other.  I caught up with founder Jacob Anthony to find out more about Unsigned You, and how it's supporting unsigned musicians.

Hi Jacob, what inspired you to create Unsigned You?
Jacob:  Stephanie, that's a great question. Being a singer as well as an internet marketer, I get to hang out with lots of other musicians who are always telling me how they want to get more gigs and sell their music.  In fact, one day I was talking to a really good friend of mine who's an awesome singer.  He was really frustrated that everyone who heard him sing, including me, was telling him he was great and that he should go out and perform at his own gigs.  He was frustrated because he didn't know how to get gigs and he was scared that nobody would come to his gigs as he wasn't well known.  So we discussed how I could help him get more exposure, more gigs and therefore sell his music to a growing fanbase. We also discussed how having a website, a social media campaign and video marketing campaign could really help him raise his profile.  We chatted some more and it dawned on me that most unsigned musicians and bands would benefit from this sort of help.  When I looked at the resources that were already out there, such as Reverbnation, CDBaby and Bandcamp, I realised they were all great in their own way but there was still something missing.  None of them offered all of the marketing elements that a band or artist would need. They all still required the bands or artists themselves to do much of the marketing legwork of getting fans to their profile pages.  To me, it made much more sense to allow the bands or artists to concentrate on creating the music, whilst we concentrate on marketing it for them, because I've always been taught to concentrate on what you're good at.

So, you're a musician yourself?
Jacob:  Yes, I'm a soul singer that also helps to run a choir.

What music are you currently listening to?
Jacob:  I have a very eclectic taste and can go from Eric Clapton to local South Wales bands like Clear The Auditorium in about 60 seconds!

The way we listen to music has changed drastically over the last decade or so.  What are your thoughts on the rise of digital music and the affect it has had on unsigned artists and bands?
Jacob:  I think digital music has had a very positive affect on unsigned artists and bands because it allows them, if used effectively, to reach more fans and create a deeper bond with them.  The fact that we can now download and consume music everywhere we go, means that we can now use it to motivate us whilst we are out running, wake us up whilst we travel on the bus to work, or search for and play any track we want at a party.  It also means that fans are now free to purchase the music they want as opposed to what's just available to buy from record labels. Therefore, making the record labels sit up and take notice of bands and artists that the fans are choosing to listen to.

Your site is not only a great way of drawing recognition to unsigned artists and bands, but it is also a useful tool for connecting and networking musicians. Would you consider hosting meet ups or even a music festival in the future?
Jacob:  That's a great question too!  In fact, one of our aims is to set up a nationwide network of music industry networking groups which will meet up on a fortnightly basis.  From this, we then hope to build an annual festival specifically for unsigned artists. 

Thank you, Jacob!

To find out more about Unsigned You, please visit

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Some Fine Acoustic Listens For A Tuesday

Given the choice, I much prefer listening to music with a full band, compared to acoustically.  I do enjoy acoustic music, but for me it's just not the same as the excitement of hearing a full band, whether it be on a studio recording or in a live performance setting.  However, there are a few acoustic albums that I have found myself listening to a lot lately.

The Silver Seas' Chateau Revenge! - Blue Edition is a re-recorded and instrumentally stripped down version of their original Chateau Revenge! album. What I really like about this alternative track-by-track rework of the original recording is that the majority of the songs take a refreshingly unique approach to the acoustic genre, with a fair few of the tracks sounding completely different to that of the original studio album.  This is by no means a criticism of the original album which remains my favourite release of theirs, I just think this alternative version offers some very interesting arrangements of some already great songs. Perhaps the most obvious example of this is 'Candy'.  With a slower tempo, softer instrumentation and vocals sung in a lower key, this version couldn't be in further contrast to what appears on the original album.  Other noteworthy tracks include 'Home & Dry' and the hauntingly beautiful 'Kid'.

John Mayer's The Complete 2012 Performances Collection - EP is a good acoustic selection of four of the strongest tracks from Mayer's latest release, Born And Raised, as well as a previously unreleased song titled 'Go Easy On Me'.  My favourite songs here are 'Something Like Olivia' and 'Queen Of California', the latter of which I like almost as much as the version which appears on Born And Raised.

Finally, I can't write an acoustic post without mentioning my favourite acoustic album of all time - Jason Mraz Live & Acoustic.  Recorded in 2001 at coffee house Java Joe's, Mraz is joined by percussionist Toca Rivera and bassist Ian Sheridan to perform a selection of tracks, some of which would later appear on future releases.  The album not only highlights how vocally gifted Mraz is, but his band perform a setlist which is tight in terms of both rhythm and vocal harmonies.
Mraz's charming and humorous banter makes the record even more likable.
Though the entire album is an enjoyable listen, 'Bright Eyes' is my personal favourite, closely followed by a fantastic cover of 'At Last' that effortlessly leads into 'Sleep All Day'.  Other key tracks include 'Did I Fool Ya?' and 'Conversation With Myself'.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Everything Everything at Heaven, London - 13/02/13

Having been a fan of Everything Everything since their 2010 debut Man Alive, I'd wanted to see them live for quite some time, however, it was after hearing this iTunes EP, that I knew they were a must see live band.  As part of the NME Awards Shows series, I was looking forward to seeing my first Everything Everything gig in the intimate nightclub venue that is Heaven in London.

The band's signature sound of crazy hooks, off beat tempos and falsetto vocals were as present as ever throughout the hour long set, which comprised of an almost equal selection of tracks from both Man Alive and Arc.  Though the understated 'Undrowned' made for an unusual opener, the proceeding songs of 'Torso Of The Week' and 'Kemosabe' really kicked the set into action.

"We're gonna play some party tunes now" announced lead vocalist Jonathan Higgs before launching into crowd favourites 'Schoolin'' and 'Photoshop Handsome', which perfectly placed alongside one another in the setlist, proved to be key tracks of the evening.  Other highlights from Man Alive included 'Final Form' and the furiously addictive 'My Kz, Ur Bf'.  'Duet' was my favourite of the newer songs played, the band's vocal harmonies worked brilliantly against sequenced violins, making it the standout track of the performance.

Higgs proved to be a charismatic frontman with a performance that was both energetic and engaging.  However, I was most impressed with his vocals which showed no signs of wavering, despite belting out the majority of the set in his distinctive falsetto range.  The overall musicianship of the band was also admirable, the instrumentation was tight and the backing vocals in perfect harmony.  On a side note, Heaven makes for a brilliant music venue.  This was my first time attending a concert there, but the acoustics were good and the sound was consistently clear throughout the set.  All in all, a fantastic night of great music in an intimate and atmospheric venue.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Hidden Treasures: Love Underground (Live) - Robbers On High Street

I listened to Robbers On High Street a lot this past weekend.  Though I rate all of their albums, Tree City (as mentioned in my previous post) remains my favourite to date, largely due to the fact that only after the first few listens of the record, I instantly loved the majority of the track list.  Taken from that album, this live version of 'Love Underground', complete with the band's distinctive indie sound and Ben Trokan's smoking hot vocals, is a fine example of what drew me to their music in the first place.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Track of the Day: Big Winter - Robbers On High Street

'Big Winter' is the song that initially got me hooked onto Brooklyn based band, Robbers On High Street.  The track appears on the soundtrack to the 2005 film 'Just Friends', and it was while watching this film that I heard the song for the first time.  Instrumentally warm and melodic, I instantly liked what I heard and knew I had to track down the song and discover more about the band behind it.  The lyrics are simple yet effective in delivery, as lines of "That's why it's so hard for
me / To have to say goodbye / To take off and fly / To where the sun shines" ride high over strings that progress into a sublime guitar solo.

The album on which 'Big Winter' appears, 2005's Tree City, is also a much recommended listen and other key tracks from this record include 'Japanese Girls', 'Amanda Green' and 'Love Underground'.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Josh Rouse - The Happiness Waltz

A few weekends ago, Josh Rouse streamed his upcoming album The Happiness Waltz on  The preview was available for a limited time exclusively to fans who have made pledges in exchange for packages and experiences surrounding the new album through PledgeMusic.  The items/experiences on offer ranged from t-shirts and posters to a private house show and an opportunity to record a song with Josh (I opted for a signed copy of the album and a pair of concert/meet and greet tickets).  While the majority of money raised from the project will go towards the funding of The Happiness Waltz, 10% of any money raised after the goal is reached will be donated to Action Against Hunger.

Onto the actual album itself.  With a title like The Happiness Waltz, I assumed the album could be of a similar theme to 1972, and while there are traces of this album in places, most notably on 'A Lot Like Magic', I see more influences drawn from Nashville, with hints of Subtitulo scattered throughout.  I think it's fair to say that musically, The Happiness Waltz is a departure from the Spanish rooted sounds of Rouse's last two releases El Turista and its follow up project Josh Rouse And The Long Vacations, instead leaning more towards the genres of the three or four albums that came before.

What captured me to Rouse's music in the first place other than the infectious melodies, is the atmospheric lyrics which not only succeed in creating a vivid imagery for the listener, but also tell a story, whether it's over the span of a song or an entire album (my favourite example of this is 2002's Under Cold Blue Stars, which follows the relationship of a Midwestern couple in the 1950's).  Infectious melodies and atmospheric lyrics are certainly present on The Happiness Waltz. Album opener 'Julie (Come Out Of The Rain)' sets the mood of the album with lines like "Outside the wind was talking / Of how I felt for you" riding strongly over country guitars and lingering bass lines.  'Western Isles' is a wonderfully upbeat track that instrumentally, with it's groovy, horn filled bridges, is reminiscent in places to 'Comeback (Light Therapy)' from 1972.  Lyrics such as "I can see the life from the Western Isles / Faded and white like a Western smile / We could live here, you know" are effectively placed, adding warmth to the song.

It's apparent that The Happiness Waltz is very much a family inspired recording, with the theme running throughout the album.  This is evident on tracks like 'Start Up A Family' and 'It's Good To Have You'.  However, 'Our Love' is the track that most succeeds in depicting the experiences that is the journey of modern family life.  "Home late from work and I'm feeling so wiped out / There's never a minute to rest / You had the kids and your feeling the same / When there's always time for a kiss" sings Rouse effortlessly over jazz littered pianos and bluesy beats.  On the chorus he sings of getting older, "The sun hides the grey in our hair / We look for things to remember / But there is life out there".

Though I found most of the album to be an enjoyable listen, there are about four or five songs that have already grown to become early favourites.  'City People, City Things' and 'Simple Pleasure', the latter of which has an irresistibly catchy chorus, are both standout tracks.  On another key track, 'A Lot Like Magic', Rouse sings "I met a man and he gave me advice...He said you live each day like your very last one / So I took that down and wrote this song" before launching into an energetic chorus filled with hooks and horns.

While I loved El Turista and Josh Rouse And The Long Vacations, I like the direction Rouse has taken with The Happiness Waltz.  The record takes influence from his previous albums, while at the same time progressing forward with modern themes and a mixture of genres - something that Rouse has always been great at, and what makes each one of his albums so unique from the last. Overall, The Happiness Waltz is classic Rouse - timeless songs with inspiring lyrics.

Monday, 14 January 2013

The Lost Song on 'Bionic'

I blame a lack of consistency and over experimentation for the disappointment that was Christina Aguilera's fourth studio album Bionic.  I felt the album was trying to be three albums at once, which wasn't helped by the poor track listing that split the album into strict sections of electro/dance and ballads.  The clash of genres and arguably poor production resulted in a chaotic mess, which may have worked if the album's material had indeed been used towards three separate recordings. (Furthermore, it seems ironic that 'Birds of Prey' - probably the most interesting of the electro tracks, features only on the deluxe edition of Bionic - the standard version of the album could have benefitted from this song being on the track list, rather than appearing on another disc as a bonus track.)

Among bizarre songs like 'I Hate Boys' and 'Vanity', the latter of which include lyrics of "I'm not cocky, I just love myself, bitch!", Bionic has a true moment of strength in the form of 'I Am'. The track's beauty lies in its honest lyrics, that combined with Aguilera's refreshingly pared down (yet still powerful) vocal, delivers lines such as "Take me, free me, see through to the core of me" with an emotional vulnerability that is mostly absent from the rest of Bionic. Structurally, the verses are perhaps the most poignant moments in the track, featuring lines like "I am temperamental and / I have imperfections / I am emotional" which are direct and effective in conveying the meaning of the song. It's lyrics like these, along with subtle, yet beautiful instrumentation which gives 'I Am' a genuine passion and honesty that I haven't seen so evidently in Aguilera's music since 2002's Stripped.