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Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Steve Earle, Symphony Hall, Birmingham May 20 2013 review

You’re never quite sure what to expect from Steve Earle.

Will he be the incendiary rock and roller, taking no prisoners as he rips into the politicians? Will he be treading the dusty roads of Americana, grumbling his way through tales of the Depression?

Will he be the playful country troubadour – or the tormented soul with the weight of the world on his shoulders?

You pays your money and you takes your chances.

Thankfully, the first night of Earle’s 2013 UK tour at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall, lived up to anticipation. It’s been a while since we saw him in full band mode, a far cry from the bare bones Townes solo shows.

In a brave move he played not just some of the tracks from new album The Low Highway – but all of them. Serving up new material can be tricky; delivering a dozen new songs commercial suicide.

But such is the strength of the new material that there was no uncomfortable shuffling in the Symphony Hall’s plush seats.

An opening triple whammy of The Low Highway, 21st Century Blues and Calico County – the latter a rabble-rousing rocker that the Stones would surely envy – set the tone. Earle was here to rock and roll.

The 20 or more songs that followed made for a two-hour set that, apart from the occasional muddle, was carefully balanced.

Sure, we got the standards – Guitar Town, Copperhead Road, Someday and a fragile My Old Friend The Blues – but they were matched by Pocket Full Of Rain (Earle’s first public piano playing in the UK), After Mardi Gras and the rollicking Down The Road Pt II.

Earle says that the addition of husband and wife Chris Masterson and Eleanor Whitmore – who perform as The Mastersons when not touring with the Dukes – has made his band the best he has ever had the pleasure to lead.

Certainly, Masterson’s command of pedal steel swoon and rock and roll licks adds new texture to Earle’s guitar grumble, while Whitmore’s pure vocal and harmonies are gorgeous. She plays a mean fiddle and mandolin, too.

There’s attitude there, too. When the boss mixes up the setlist – it is the first night of the tour, after all – she gives him a feisty WTF glare when she finds herself on the wrong side of the stage.

Cemented by the tied and tested rhythms of longtime bassist Kelley Looney and drummer WIll Rigby, it’s a new incarnation of The Dukes (And The Duchesses) that takes songs both old and new into new territory.

Among highlights was a trio of tunes inspired by New Orleans. That All You Got? and Love’s Gonna Blow My Way (his character’s famously unfinished song from the Treme TV series) were playful; This City a love letter to post-Katrina courage.

Two of the new songs were deeply moving.

Invisible addressed the issue of recession, with a preamble about a local church’s soup kitchen which had been open for years, unnoticed by Earle. It was only when the queues stretched out the door he realised it was there.

During the encores, Earle talked of his kids back home, revealing that one of them was born with autism.

He wrote Remember Me for the three-year-old in case his own well-documented drink and drugs past should ever catch up with his health while the youngster is too young to build a lifetime’s memories of his father.

There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

But, lest you think Steve Earle was getting sentimental in his old age, the gig ended with a raucous The Revolution Starts Here – a defiant call to arms which ended in squalls and sputters of angry feedback.

Welcome to the Low Highway to Hell.

Little Boots : Nocturnes review

She has built a global fanbase since the release of debut album Hands back in 2009.

But the jury’s out on whether the long wait for Victoria Hesketh’s sophomore set was worth it.

Synth-driven songs such as Motorway and Broken Record are meant to be floor-fillers but are riddled with sub-Kylie cliché.

“I’m gonna dance to the beat of your heart,” she sings In Beat Beat, as predictable as Eurovision pop.

It’s all damnably pleasant but Kylie left bigger boots to fill than this.

Joe Satriani : Unstoppable Momentum review

Perhaps it’s because he’s been rocking out with part-time supergroup Chickenfoot, but Satriani returns with his most accessible album since 1992’s The Extremist.

Because, make no mistake, this is a rock and roll album.

A new collection of instrumentals is highlighted by A Door Into Summer (a cousin of hallmark Summer Song), the driving Lies And Truths and freeway radio anthem A Celebration.

Three Sheets To The Wind is a playful blues boogie and Jumpin’ Out a nod to Jeff Beck.

Satriani plays Wolverhampton Civic Hall on Thursday, June 13.

The show, with special guest blues guitarist Matt Schofield, is part of Satriani’s first UK tour since the Black Swans and Wormhole Wizards Tour 2010. 

Airbourne : Black Dog Barking review

They’ve always unashamedly followed in the footsteps of Angus Young & Co, and now Aussie rockers Airbourne have come up with the best album that AC/DC never made.

Close your eyes and you could be at a gig by the Highway To Hell legends.

Songs such as Ready To Rock, Back In The Game, Firepower and the title track boast gravelly vocals, relentless guitar riffs, thudding bass and tight drumming.

Live It Up even pinches a bit of For Those About To Rock.

Barking mad. But up the right tree...

See them live at Download 2013 on Sunday June 16.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Beth Hart & Joe Bonamassa : Seesaw review

Some things are meant to be, and the musical marriage of Stateside blues belter Beth Hart and guitar giant Joe Bonamassa is made in rock and roll heaven.

Reprising their acclaimed 2011 Don't Explain partnership, the pair’s latest setlist opens with big band blues swing Them There Eyes and closes with a haunting take on Billie Holiday’s anti-racism anthem Strange Fruit.

In between they rock up a storm, particularly on Ike & Tina-styled Nutbush City Limits, the rollicking Can’t Let Go, and the Commitments soul punch of the title track.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

John Fogerty joins The Rolling Stones in San Jose : video

Creedence Clearwater Revival frontman John Fogerty joined The Rolling Stones onstage in San Jose on May 8.

Here’s some fan footage of the jam, with Jagger and Fogerty trading vocals.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Agnetha Faltskog interview : why the Abba legend has returned with a new album after turning her back on fame

It takes only a few seconds’ of listening to Agnetha Faltskog’s new album – titled simply A – to experience a familiar feeling.

When she opens her mouth and sings the first lines of The One Who Loves You Now, the sense of recognition is immediate.

A voice that soundtracked millions of lives but has not been heard on record since the release, nine years ago, of her chart-topping album My Colouring Book, yet those opening notes demonstrate nothing has changed.

Her crystalline, precisely enunciated tones, that heartbreaking vulnerability, and then those hooks.

Hell, she even takes to the dancefloor, too.

Plenty of singers have found that growing older can be unkind to their voices. Not Agnetha. Listen, back-to-back, to her early hits as a solo artist, to a song from the Abba years, to a track from her new album.

Now playing spot – okay, hear – the difference. Not easy, is it?

Ask Agnetha if, when she first stepped into the vocal booth last year at sessions overseen by producers Jörgen Elofsson and Peter Nordahl, she felt the same about her voice, and her answer is a surprising one.

“I wasn’t scared about the project,” she says, talking in a suite in Stockholm’s Grand Hotel, “but I was scared about my voice. I hadn’t used it in such a long time, so I suppose I was thinking ‘What if it’s not there anymore?’”

It was, of course. But that didn’t stop Agnetha from entertaining doubts about her singing – and doubts, too, about re-entering a world she had pretty much left behind following the release of her 1988 album, I Stand Alone.

“I hadn’t closed any doors,” she continues, “but I didn’t think that I was going to record again.

“It is nearly 10 years since my last album, and almost 25 years ago since I recorded new original material. I thought at the time that maybe that would be my last one. And after that, I really didn’t think that much about it.

“My life contains so many other things – I have my children, my grandchildren, my two dogs, and a big place in the country. I have my own life.”

Home – on an island to the west of Stockholm – is where the heart is for Agnetha, a place she cherishes and spends as much of her time at as she can. The desire for privacy, after years in the public eye, is understandable.

But others have been determined to see it another way.

Almost from the moment Abba split up in 1982, the world press has engaged in an endless game of conjecture – and no little cruelty – about the life of a woman catapulted to international stardom when Abba won the Eurovision Song Contest with Waterloo in 1974.

Agnetha was subjected to relentless media scrutiny over the course of the next eight years, and thereafter.

“She’s a recluse,” they wrote. “She’s shut herself away.”

“I have been described as very mysterious,” Agnetha says, “but I’m not – I think I’m just very grounded. I took the decision to buy my house in the countryside in order to be away from all of this, and just be a person.

“I like going into town and having fun for a night, but then I love to get back, to wake up in the country.

“All artists are different, of course. Some of them love the glamour of it all, and that’s fun for me, too, for one night. But there’s too much noise nowadays, and it’s incredibly silent where I live.

“When people come and stay they say: ‘Wow, it’s quiet here – too quiet!’. But I love it.”

Into this idyll, 18 months ago, stepped Jörgen and Peter, who first made contact with Agnetha through a third party.

She doesn’t quite say it but you sense that the producer Jörgen Elofsson – famed for his work with other chart-topping artists such as Britney Spears, Kelly Clarkson and Westlife – displayed a fair amount of doggedness in persuading her to return to the recording studio.

Agnetha had made a conscious decision to step away from the limelight. Why return?

“The project came about through a good friend of mine,” she explains. “She called me up and told me that Jörgen Elofsson and Peter Nordahl wanted to play me some music. They came to my house and played me three songs.

“After listening to them I thought ‘Oh my God, I have to do this’. It felt like a challenge.”

Did she consult her family and friends?

“I did ask my daughter ‘Do you think I should do this?’,” says Agnetha. “She said ‘Well, you have to think about this a lot before agreeing. You know it could all start again.’

“‘The really nice part of it was the recording sessions, but you have to remember that other things happen as a result of that.’”

Those ‘other things’ brought Agnetha fame and fortune, but there can be a price to pay. Abba’s records still sell in their millions every year, and the Mamma Mia! phenomenon rolls on.

“You never get away from it,” Agnetha admits. “And it starts up, over and over again. There’s a new generation, and then another, there’s a musical, a movie – and it goes on forever. It never stops.

“But I’m very, very proud of what we achieved. We took it incredibly seriously, throughout that period, and the quality of what we made endures.”

The recording sessions that Agnetha so enjoyed last year yielded 10 remarkable songs, including a duet – I Should’ve Followed You Home – with Gary Barlow, a surefire chart-topper if released as a single.

You can almost see the video.

Agnetha’s verdict on working with Gary – “I think our voices work so well together” – is spot-on.

The undoubted highlight is confessional closer I Keep Them On the Floor Beside My Bed. Written by Agnetha out in the country, it wouldn’t be out of place in a show like Les Misérables, her voice at its most vulnerable.

Writing by herself rekindled old fires (it’s worth remembering that, long before Abba, Agnetha’s own compositions topped the Swedish charts).

“Jörgen kept saying ‘You have to write a song for this record’,” Agnetha recalls. “I hadn’t written any music for a long, long time. But I sat at the piano, and suddenly it was there.”

Old habits die hard? “Exactly. A friend of mine said a lovely thing: ‘It’s in your spine. Even if you feel tired, when it’s time, it will be there’.”

Other highlights on A include the contemplative Bubble, a song that encapsulates Agnetha’s attitude to fame, the rollercoaster disco ride of Dance Your Pain Away – you can almost see the glitterball – and the sugar-rush pop of Back On Your Radio.

Emotional first single When You Really Loved Someone and the tender, piano-led Past Forever also grab your attention. The central refrain of the latter –  “What can’t be broken: the kind of love that lasts” – sums up Agnetha’s beliefs, and the things she holds dear.

Celebrity is fickle, she says; only love endures.

“You never get away from fame, but it’s not real life. In my private life, I very seldom think of myself as a very good singer, or as this world-famous artist – it’s not in my head. But I also know that, when it’s time to sing, I focus on it, and it’s there.”

Fans have Jörgen and Peter to thank for reminding the world that “it” is most definitely there.

Agnetha’s new album, out on Monday, is compelling evidence that one of the greatest voices in pop is still capable of stopping you in your tracks.

For the woman who started writing songs at the age of five, who played the harpsichord in her local church, and sang in its choir, who first had a No 1 single when she was 18, and then went on to conquer the world with Abba, the journey continues – at her own pace, and on her own terms.

Life offers you lessons, Agnetha says: the key is to heed them. She’s been away, but now she’s returned – with an album of songs that are somehow timeless, and sung in a voice whose beauty time has not dimmed.

Welcome back – you’ve been missed.