If you check out MusicRiot regularly, you’ll know that our contributors have one thing in common; they’re all passionate about (maybe bordering on obsessed by) music. All of the Riot Squad (John Preston, Louie Anderson and, most recently, Klare Stephens) love music of all styles and the reason we do this is because we want to share our passion and maybe get a few more people to listen to the music we love, whether it’s live or recorded. Also, because music is such a personal thing we like to bring that element into our contributions; opinions are always subjective, but at least we’re upfront about it. Often it can feel like shouting in the dark: then you have a weekend like the one I’ve just had.
Last week I published a review of the excellent album “Closer than you Know” by The Kennedys and I was invited to review their gig at Kings Place in London on Friday. I also had a gig lined up for Sunday night, going to watch the Billy Walton Band in High Barnet with some good friends. Both gigs were superb in very different ways; you can read The Kennedys review and previous Billy Walton Band reviews here on MusicRiot and work out for yourself that I’m impressed.
The live performances by these bands, however, are only part of the story. All of the musicians at these two gigs (Pete and Maura Kennedy, Billy Walton, William Paris, Rich Taskowitz and John D’Angelo) are extremely gifted musicians who love what they do and love to interact with their audience personally and online. Both bands mix with the audience when they aren’t actually performing (and sometimes when they are; yeah that’s you Billy and Rich) and have a huge amount of respect for their fans, fellow musicians and songwriters.
Both gigs were superb in different ways; The Kennedys stripped down their songs to arrangements for two acoustic guitars and two voices while the Billy Walton Band played raucous r’n’r (and blues and soul and the rest) in the way that bands from New Jersey do. Both bands were happy to play requests from the audience regardless of the setlist they had prepared. Most importantly, both bands were obviously having a good time. So far, so good, but excellence is pretty much what I expected from these two bands and this weekend was about much more than that.
I’ve been reviewing gigs in London and elsewhere for MusicRiot for six years now and sometimes it can be a bit depressing; you watch incredibly gifted bands and artists performing to audiences which just scrape into three figures and most of them are friends of the band. I’ve been to blues gigs where the majority of the audience at least twice as old as the musicians. It was great to see two very different gigs this weekend where the ages of the audience ranged widely and everyone was there to hear great live music and have a good time. And that brings me on to the reason why we all contribute to MusicRiot.
We don’t ignore the established bands at MusicRiot; we had two reviews of the Daft Punk album last week and we’ve reviewed albums by Bruce Springsteen, Scissor Sisters, Lana del Rey and Saint Etienne in the last year or so. We also love to discover a diverse range of bands and artists that you might not have heard of and tell you all about them so we’ll carry on telling you all about artists like The Kennedys, the Billy Walton Band, MS MR, Sally Shapiro, Tomorrow’s World, Lilygun, Stoneface Travellers, Dean Owens and many more. We’ve even got some pretty good photos for you to look at.
If there’s one lesson that I’ve learned from six years at MusicRiot it’s this; whatever you hear on daytime radio, there’s always good music out there if you know where to look and that’s why the Riot Squad do what they do. And thanks to Richie Taz for the title.
The enigmatic, publicity-shy Sally Shapiro continues in the same musical vein as her two previous albums, the somewhat disappointing “My Guilty Pleasure” and her, considered by some to be classic, debut album 2006’s shimmering “Disco Romance”. Shapiro is in love with Italo disco and in particular the fragile, melancholic vocals of the genre but on this album other influences, some good and some not so good, start to come through. “Somewhere Else” starts and ends well; “I Dream With An Angel Tonight” is lush and soothing and “All My Life” sounds like fellow pop swede Annie (a very good thing) and has a spoken verse towards the end that has the same rhythm that Neil Tennant employs on “What Have I Done To Deserve This”. From here on in though, things start to become more of a challenge.
Deep breath; “This City’s Local Italo Disco DJ Has A Crush On Me” unfortunately does not live up to its title. Did it ever really stand a chance? It’s a burbling, squelchy late 80s sounding piece of kitsch which would be fine if it had a more distinctive melody to fall back on. “What Can I Do” opens with a flute and whimsy like nothing I’ve heard this side of the early 1970s Scandinavian folk pop of Abba. I have a feeling that both of these tracks are an attempt, a heavy-handed one at that, at irony and a pastiche on the genres they seem to be aping and they feel jokey and are hard to take seriously; neither are very good songs. Saint Etienne are a band that can also flirt with sonic themes and periods in pop culture that have a bit of self-conscious wink to them but with much more favourable results and, essentially, a sincerity that makes you invest in them. This mid-tempo slump continues with “If It Doesn’t Rain”, the best of the bunch, recalling (and not just because of the wet weather theme) the superior “They Say It’s Gonna Rain” by 80s, Essex hi-energy queen, Hazell Dean. “Sundown” sounds like a Shakatak ballad which shouldn’t in any way be interpreted as a good thing and another reference here is the eighties ‘jazz-funk’ group, (a popular musical trend at the time, young people) The Rah Band and the completely delightful and eccentric “Clouds Across The Moon” but the magic of that track isn’t captured in the clutch of songs here.
The final third of the album is much more successful at hitting its intended target. “Don’t Be Afraid” gets the sad, bitter-sweet mood down perfectly with its descending chord changes in the verse and it’s undulating, warm synths offsetting the heartbreak; it’s the best song here. “Lives Together” and “Architectured Love” are both sleek, pulsing Giorgio Moroder beauties with Shapiro swirling angelically above the machines and it’s in these closing tracks that “Somewhere Else” begins to match the pure melancholic and melodic sweetness of “Disco Romance”.
Sally Shapiro is a niche artist and I’m surprised and very pleased that this album has actually been given a physical release; many independent artists like her are seeing their work just being released in digital format now, which is depressing. This is a good album and a real grower too, even the weaker mid-section has its moments, but it’s really when she reverts back to the original musical format of her debut album that you begin to appreciate Shapiro and similar artists continuing to express their vision with such dedication, however specialist and limited it may appear. “Somewhere Else” may wear its influences on its sleeve but it also doesn’t sound like anything else I’ve reviewed in the last 18 months and for that reason alone Sally Shapiro and her third album should be commended.
So, what’s coming up now that we’re well and truly into 2013? Well, I’m glad you’ve asked because we’re going to be very busy over the next few weeks. We’ve got some tour schedules for you from some of our favourite artists, including Anna-Christina from Lilygun doing an acoustic mini-tour and Dean Owens visiting everywhere from the far north of Scotland to the south of England.
John Preston has reviews of Tegan & Sara, Sally Shapiro, Major Lazer and Laura Mvula coming up and I’ll be reviewing anything that pops into the MusicRiot inbox, including the new Martin Harley Band album and many more albums and gigs. Anything else? As it happens we’ll be bringing you updates on the progress of the Radio (in my) Head project which is motoring along at the moment as we get closer to the release date.
And just one other thing; we’re working on a new look for the website with loads of new visuals and presentation ideas which we should launch within the next few months. Apart from that, it’s all a little bit quiet really.