Natalie TitleNatalie Duncan is one of those artists that’s always guaranteed to grab my attention. She plays beautifully, has a powerful and expressive voice and she’s a genuinely original songwriter, so I couldn’t resist going to see her when she was playing in Camden. Her recently released “Black and White” EP with its loops and samples is a world away from the traditional instrumentation and production of “The Devil in Me”, so I couldn’t wait to hear how she would reconcile the two styles in a live setting.

Support on the night came from Chris McDonald, playing his last UK gig before moving to Ireland. His brand of honest and compassionate songwriting combined with a fairly partisan audience, and a band which seemed to add a new member every time you looked away from the stage, set the scene nicely for the evening’s headliner. It’s fair to say that since the initial publicity around “The Devil in Me”, Natalie hasn’t had a particularly high profile, but that doesn’t mean that she’s been forgotten; she still attracts a healthy audience every time she plays. And her creativity is still firing on all cylinders.

The last couple of months have seen a transformation for Natalie Duncan. The musical stylings have changed (she’s working onstage with a guitarist/keyboard player and drummer), but she’s also changed her appearance. The long hair has gone, replaced by a funkier look and the whole package feels like someone drawing a line under the past.

The set started with “Pure” and Natalie sitting at the piano as you would expect, but the second song, “Oh My God”, from the new EP saw her move out of the comfort zone (Natalie’s words, not mine) and stand centre stage with just the microphone between her and the audience. The move out to front and centre didn’t last for long, but it was another sign that things are changing in the way Natalie relates to her audience. The remainder of the set was a mix of material from the new EP (“Black and White” and “Elysium”), new material (“Sonic”, “Plastic” and the excellent “Diamond”) and two album songs to close out the set on a familiar note, “Sky is Falling” (with a lovely guitar solo) and “Uncomfortable Silence”.

Perhaps familiarity with the “Black and White” EP helped a little but the new material, although very different in style from the album songs, seemed to fit neatly with the more familiar piano settings. The two musicians backing Natalie, Tom and Ali, were deliberately self-effacing (apart from one guitar solo), allowing the songs and Natalie’s powerful, yet occasionally fragile, voice to shine through. There were a few technical glitches, but nothing that could suppress the feeling that we were all seeing something a little bit special.

If you want to see Natalie live in London the next week or so, she’s playing at:

The Social, Little Portland Street                    Tuesday May 5 (8pm)

St Pancras Station                                          Wednesday May 6 (5:30pm)

Get yourself down to one of those; you won’t regret it.

Duchess TitleOk, let’s get the whinge out of the way first; I really wish smaller venues would do something about their stage lighting. On a night when it looked like you had to have a pass if you weren’t taking pictures, the  lighting made it almost impossible to get a decent photo. Rant over. The good news is that the support for the evening, Shady Blue Orphans were very good, knocking out a great set of mainly seventies and eighties rock covers including “Hold the Line”, “Jump” (Van Halen, not the Pointer Sisters) and the classic Thin Lizzy ballad, “Still in Love with You”. The playing was spot on and singer Tony Monk has a very special rock voice. I spent ten minutes working out that his voice sounded a lot like Music Riot favourite Aynsley Lister, and that’s a very good thing in my book.

Anyway, on to Space Elevator. Their debut album was reviewed here last year and this is the first chance we’ve had to get out and see them live. For the Garage gig (the first of their summer mini-tour) the line-up was reduced to a four-piece, the band playing without the benefit of Elliott Ware’s keyboards. The songs from the album all fit in somewhere between good and very good and the standard of musicianship is as high as you would expect from seasoned session players but with all due respect to David Young, Brian Greene and Chas Maguire, it still needs another ingredient to make it special; to get upfront and sell that expertise and hard work to the audience. The not-so-secret weapon for Space Elevator is The Duchess and it’s fair to say she’s impossible to ignore. The voice is big and she commands stage centre with hyperactive moves and catsuit set to stun.

The set was basically a runthrough of the album with the occasional unexpected ingredient thrown in to spice up the mix, and it held together really well as a live set, opening, as the album did, with “Elevator”. The singles “I Will Find You”, “Loneliness of Love” and “Oils and Bubbles” were interspersed with “Ordinary Day”, “We Are the Losers” (which are definite singles material as well), “Little White Lies” “More Than Enough”, “Really Don’t Care” and “We Can Fly” to showcase almost all of the album. Two non-album songs, “Take the Pain” and “Far Away” were slotted in before the two sides of the current single and we even got a cheeky cover. I wouldn’t have predicted that “Day Tripper” would be a Space Elevator cover but the band made it their own with a truncated riff and a harder edge that worked particularly well. And not forgetting an encore of “Love in an Elevator” to round things off.

There were a couple of technical glitches, but you have to expect that on the first night of a tour and it was still a banging set. The songs work well live, the rhythm section was rock solid and David and The Duchess have all the melodies you could ever need. Throw in that extra bit of onstage exhibitionism and you’ve got the perfect rock package.

You can still see the rest of the tour here:

Railway Venue, Bolton                       April 25

Arts4every1, High Wycombe             May 9

Homefest, Buckinghamshire              July 19

The Foghorn Stringband - 'Devil In The Seat' - TitleOver the last couple of years, we’ve featured a few artists like The Kennedys and Carrie Rodriguez who very successfully incorporate elements of Americana and roots music into their own particular fusion of styles, but we’ve never had an all-out, old-school roots band to tell you about – until now. The Foghorn Stringband is two couples; one from Portland, Oregon and the other from Yukon. They all sing (in the old stringband tradition, around a single microphone) and the instruments line up something like this: Nadine Landry (upright bass), Stephen “Sammy” Lind (fiddle and banjo), Caleb Klauder (mandolin and fiddle) and Reeb Willms (guitar). The band describe their sound as ‘Ass Kickin’ Redneck Stringband Music’, if that helps you to get your head round the style.

The album wastes no time at all in establishing its credentials with the old square dance tune “Stillhouse”, before slowing down for the fiddle-led “Mining Camp Blues”, where you get harmonies from the female singers, a nice mandolin solo and even a bit of yodelling before moving back uptempo for “Columbus Stockade Blues”. As someone who doesn’t specialise in traditional and roots Americana, I was surprised by the variety of styles on the album but not by the quality of the musicianship, which is excellent throughout.

There album shifts seamlessly through the gears, taking in squaredance stompers (“Columbus Stockade Blues” and “Old Molly Hare”), traditional English folk (the haunting a cappella “What Will We Do”), country (“Longing For a Home” and “90 Miles an Hour”) and a few waltzes (“Henry Lee” and “Leland’s Waltz”). The lyrical themes are as dark as you would expect from traditional folk and country songs with tales of murder, mayhem and maidens led astray, and the old and the new rub shoulders comfortably in the hands of these exceptional musicians.

Many of the instrumentals are fairly short (around two minutes), which means that you get a whopping sixteen tracks on the album, emphasising the vast musical territory covered by the band. It’s a nice touch that the band credit not only the writers of tunes, but also the artists that brought the tunes to their attention initially; it’s not something anyone’s obliged to do, but it’s good to see.

As good as this album is (and I think you might guess where this is going), I suspect that you really need to see The Foghorn Stringband live to really appreciate how good they are. Fortunately for everyone, they’re coming to the UK in May and you can see them here:


Wednesday 7              Dublin                          Whelan’s

Thursday 8                  Dungarvan                  The Local

Saturday 9                  Baltimore                     Baltimore Fiddle Fair

Tuesday 12                 Dingle                          John Benny’s Pub

Wednesday 13            Castlebar                     The Linenhall

Thursday 14                Galway                        The Crane Bar

Friday 15                     Manorhamilton            The Glens Centre

Northern Ireland

Saturday 16                Cookstown                  The Red Room (Sold out)


Sunday 17                   Glasgow                      CCA

Monday 18                  Edinburgh                    Traverse Theatre Bar


Wednesday 20            Newcastle                   Cluny 2

Thursday 21                Liverpool                     The Caledonia

Friday 22                     London                        Kings Place

Saturday 23                Tunbridge Wells          Cajun Barn, King Charles Church Hall

Sunday 24                   Towersey                    The Three Horseshoes


The album “Devil in the Seat” is out on Monday April 27 and will be available on CDBaby.

Kris Delmhorst TitleYou have to admire the faith and dedication of musicians who fly across the Atlantic to spend their evenings playing to small audiences around the UK in an effort to get some recognition for their music. Kris Delmhorst and Hayward Williams completed their eleven days/eleven gigs UK tour at Green Note in Camden on Sunday with a couple of sets to warm the heart of even the most cynical of old gig warriors (and there were a few of those in the crowd).

The evening started with a short solo set from Hayward featuring mainly songs from his most recent album “The Reef”, including “Helping Hands (If I Go Under)”, “Beginnings” and the album’s closing song “Under Control”. Even without the band arrangements from the album versions the songs were strong and punchy (the guitar backing on “Beginnings” sounding a lot like The Jam’s “A Town Called Malice”) and Hayward’s laconic musings between songs about his home town of Milwaukee and various other subjects were perfect for a London audience.

After a short break, Hayward was back to join Kris for most of her set, strapping on the electric to supply a bit of extra weight to the arrangements and some very nice fills as well as some assured harmonies. The interaction between the two performers kept the audience involved between songs, particularly when Hayward took a break as Kris performed songs from earlier in her career and had his guitar “stolen” while he was off-stage.

If you haven’t heard of Kris Delmhorst, she’s a singer-songwriter who was born in New York, but now lives in Massachusetts, plays a variety of instruments, and writes songs about her life and the lives of those around her which she delivers in a laid-back style relying on interesting themes and melodies to deliver her message. “Blood Test” is her first album since 2008 and, unsurprisingly, features heavily in her live set. The musical arrangements on “Blood Test” aren’t overblown so it’s relatively simple, with a bit of creativity, to make them work with two voices and two guitars. Lyrically the album leans towards the re-evaluation that life events force on you, and that was reflected in the songs included in the live set.

The set opened with the low-key reminiscences of “Blood Test” and worked through “Saw it All” (with some lovely guitar fills from Hayward), “Bees”, “Homeless”, “We Deliver”, “Little Frame”, “Temporary Sun”, “92nd Street” and “Lighthouse”, all performed as a duo. To take a break from the new material, which the audience seemed to be pretty familiar with anyway, Kris threw in a few older songs including “Freediver”, “You’re No Train” and “Magic” (a song from her album of Cars covers).

This was the first time Kris has visited the UK since 2008 (just before her daughter was born) but I’m fairly certain it won’t be another seven years before we see her again. Judging by the response of the audience, I’m guessing that Hayward Williams gained a few fans for his solo set and for riding shotgun for Kris. It was the kind of gig that sends you out into the cold spring evening with your own personal glow.

“Blood Test” is available now on Signature Sounds or Kris’s website.

“The Reef” is available at CDBaby.

Keltrix Title“Between & Beyond Storms” is the second album from Cambridge-based duo Keltrix, who are Keri Kel (singer, songwriter and guitarist) and Sharon Sullivan (violinist and producer) and it’s a bit of an interesting one. There’s a combination of folk and Celtic roots with elements of rock, reggae, trip-hop and harder-edged dance beats. The Keltrix mission seems to be to create something new by fusing all of these elements into a new genre. It’s not just a double album, there’s a major tour and a documentary film to follow; there’s a lot of creativity and plain hard graft going into this. So, does it work?

As always, this is purely a personal opinion; feel free to tell me if you think I’m wrong, but I’m not convinced. For me, the strongest tracks are on the “Beyond Storms”. The reworking of “Alibi” as “My Alibi” works and, in the middle of the set, “Displacement” and the remix of “Endure” both have an ambient, trip-hoppy feel and lots of space, allowing the songs plenty of room to breathe. These three songs, particularly “Displacement”, would stand up alongside anything else I’ve heard this year.

And that’s the upside, but there is a downside. There are a few things that don’t work at all for me and they’re connected with the individualism the band is trying to create. Keri Kel’s singing mashes up folk intonations and inflexions with elements of Kate Bush and Lene Lovich (maybe even Marianne Faithfull from the seventies onwards) and sometimes becomes a distraction, pulling the attention and focus away from the song. There’s also a bit of a kitchen sink mentality; there are loads of ideas bouncing around and it seems to be important to try to cram all of them in, so we get songs with lots of tempo changes and lyrics which sound rushed to try and fit in with the melody.

Keltrix mixes up a huge variety of styles and getting the blend right isn’t something that happens overnight. If you look at this album as part of the journey, rather than the ultimate destination, then it makes a lot more sense.

“Between & Beyond Storms” is out now.

Bad Touch TitleWhen you find out that a rock band’s from Norfolk, there’s one connection that you have to make and, yes, there is a link to The Darkness. Bad Touch made their debut EP in the Leeders Farm studio owned by The Darkness, but that’s where the link ends. This isn’t spandex hair metal; from the opening gently-picked guitar spiced up by a bit of slide, it’s obvious that Bad Touch’s roots go much further back than the noughties. Mix up a brew of the Allman Brothers Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Led Zep, throw in a bit of Chris Robinson and you’re just about there.

The single “Wise Water” is a taster for their new album “Halfway Home” which is released at the end of this month and it’s pretty successful in that respect. You get a sledgehammer guitar riff, a slide solo, a breakdown to drums and vocals (you know, the bit where the audience clap along) and a big live ending. It’s a pretty good single and if you like what’s on offer here, you’re probably going to like the album. We’ll find out in a few weeks.

“Wise Water” is out now.

Witchingseason TitleI know we don’t feature a lot of metal bands here, but we don’t mind making an exception occasionally: Witchingseason is a three-piece from Kent tipped to succeed this year by Quite Great when they contributed to our High Fives in December. The band is fronted by Tom Reyolds with James Willans (bass) and Wayne Summers (drums) providing a thunderous rhythm section. If you want a frame of reference, then you won’t go far wrong with Alice in Chains, Foo Fighters, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and Queens of the Stone Age. I’m not saying that their new single “The Healer” (to be released on April 27) is breathtakingly original, but from the opening over-driven riff it sounds like they mean business. The raw instrumentation backs a surprisingly melodic vocal (supplemented by backing vocals from Leogun’s Tommy Smith) and the whole package should be equally at home in the pit or on whatever device you use to listen to your music (or maybe even on the radio).

But don’t take my word for it, you can listen for yourself:

April Verch - 'The Newpart' - titleThere’s an awful lot to like about Canadian April Verch’s tenth album, “The Newpart”. It has a warm and authentic roots feel while incorporating influences from country, traditional, blues and jazz seamlessly into a cohesive piece of work. With the assistance of Hayes Griffin (guitars), Cody Walters (upright bass and banjo), who both turn in exemplary performances, and producer Casey Driessen, she has pulled together an album which celebrates and pays tribute to her influences while showing us how those influences have developed her own style.

The album’s opening track is the instrumental, “Belle Election”, which sets the tone for the album perfectly. The playing is spot on and it’s a great uptempo opener for the set, which has another four instrumentals. “Cruel Willie” and “Midnight Wheeler” are (mainly) traditional North American pieces, “Polska from Kumla” is traditional Swedish and the title track is an April Verch composition which is a tribute to the area of her parents’ house where the family gathered to play music.

There’s some honest-to-goodness fun on the album as well; Lew Childre’s “It Didn’t Do Nothing but Rain” and John Hartford’s “Bring Your Clothes Back Home” are all about having a good time, the latter showcasing April’s voice, fiddle and step dancing. And that leads me to my only criticism of the album. I’m not convinced that “Gilchrist”, which is purely step dance works as an album track; I think it needs the visual context to make it work. I’m sure the purists will disagree and I know there’s a certain element of irony when this criticism comes from someone who’s trying to write about music but it just doesn’t do it for me: sorry.

The country songs all work well; Hod Pharis’s “I Heard the Bluebirds Sing” has lovely high harmonies and call and response vocals, “It Makes No Difference to Me” (written by April and Cody Walters) is subtle and poignant and Seger Ellis’s “Montana Call” has a delicate, ethereal quality enhanced by the jazz-inflected guitar. And any song that mentions whippoorwills will always push my country buttons. Don’t ask me why, it just will.

“If You Hadn’t Gone Away” is a twenties torch song with some neat jazz guitar stylings and the album closes with the traditional spiritual “Dry Bones” and April’s hauntingly beautiful “This Melody”, which is about the beauty of music as a means of expression. April Verch has selected a disparate group of songs and stitched them together around her vocals and fiddle to create a very listenable album.

“The Newpart” is out on April 20th on Slab Town Records (STR15-01).