Saturday, 20 September 2014

Live In 2014: First Aid Kit at The Colston Hall, Bristol on Friday 19th September

It was across the Severn Bridge yet again on a hot and sultry September evening for my first gig by First Aid Kit. And what an evening it would be.

The support artist for the evening was Manchester based singer/songwriter Jo Rose.
He has just released his debut album on download (on cd at the gigs) called Spurs.

Tonight it was just Jo and his guitar. On the album, the sound is enhanced by other musicians.

I've been listening to the album on Spotify for a few weeks and I've enjoyed it immensely. Tonight had a different vibe with the songs stripped right back but still as good.
Jo is an enchanting young fella and his songs are likewise with a sharper edge than you may think.

Jo engaged well with the Bristol crowd and had quite an applause following his set. He's one to watch.

Then came the Soderberg sisters from Stockholm, Sweden. Klara on guitar, Johanna on keyboards - First Aid Kit.

I had no idea what to expect, trying to keep away from youtube videos etc, not to spoil the show.

But I must admit, they blew me away.

With just the girls plus the excellent Melvin Duffy on Pedal Steel, Mandolin & Telecaster and a Swedish drummer who's name I couldn't catch.

The girl's latest album is called Stay Gold and the theme was the basis of their stage set and clothing. And it really looked stunning in it's simplicity.

They opened the show with the title track, Stay Gold. A mix of folk and country with a contemporary twist. The album is excellent and is the basis for the majority of the show.

What surprised me over the full length of the show was how upbeat the performance is. I wasn't expecting this as the albums are somewhat wistful and gentle but the new treatments of the songs worked well in the live format.

The girls have those superb harmonies that only siblings can have - think a female version of The Everly Brothers.

Next up was the delicate Blue from their previous album, The Lion's Roar.

I have included the set list at the bottom of the page - suffice to say there were a few surprises. Firstly there was a lovely acapella version by the two girls of Ghost Town from The Big Black & The Blue album which just brought the house down.

There was dancing, there was singing and so many smiling faces you could have lit up Bristol.

Another highlight was a storming version of the Jack White song Love Interruption. Together with strobes, electric guitar and genuinely rocking out  by the band.

It was amazing the sound that was created with such a small amount of instrumentation. On the musical side, Melvin Duffy stole the show with his mandolin & pedal steel guitar producing some wonderful sounds to accompany the sisters' soaring harmonies.

The ladies ended the set with the title track of The Lion's Roar which again was performed with a tremendous energy as opposed to the atmospherics of the album version.

The band then came back for a three song encore ending with Emmylou - which the crowd had been calling for all night.

It was a brilliant show - something I wasn't expecting. Full of energy and superb musicianship. The vocal harmonies were spellbinding on and the choice of songs the best they could have chosen for these live shows.

It was one of the best gigs I've seen all year.

Would I see them again - you bet your bottom Krona I would.

Come to Wales, ladies. We'd love to see you.

Twitter - @FirstAidKitBand


Monday, 15 September 2014

Albums of 2014: John Fullbright - Songs

'The South Western Jackson Browne'

I hate to compare musicians to other musicians but sometimes it's just inevitable. 

Last year, John Fullbright quietly released one of the albums of the year with 'From The Ground Up'

The young man from Oklahoma produced a debut of sublime songs and played the majority of the instruments himself including guitars, piano & organ. The album garnered much critical acclaim and gained some heavyweight fans including Whispering Bob Harris who featured many of the songs from the album on his radio shows. And it resulted in a Grammy nomination.

So, I was as surprised as the rest of the music fraternity when John announced he had album number 2 ready to go midway through 2014. Was it a case of having too many songs from the Ground album or was he riding the surge of creativity? Thankfully, it's the latter.

I've made the comparison with Jackson Browne and I think it's a good one. If you look at Jackson's first few album, you have the same kind of wistful observations - a young man so cynical and seemingly downtrodden but always with hope in his eyes and his soul. It's captured perfectly with the song The One That Lives Too Far. Close your eyes and you can almost hear Jackson Browne singing it.

Having toured both the US and Europe extensively in support of his debut album, it's evident that John has honed his skills and his voice is even stronger on this album.

John keeps to the same template of using the acoustic guitar and piano to build his songs.

The production keeps the album simple and lets the songs breathe. When the song requires just a guitar or piano, that's exactly what it gets. When it requires a broader palette, then John expands his sound with electric guitar, organ and keyboards.

photo courtesy of The Standard

The album's second track, When You're Here is an almost gospel tinged piano ballad that would not seem out of place on a Jackson Browne, Neil Young or even Elton John album. The piano rises and falls and is joined by some beautiful Wurlitzer and subtle electric guitar. It really IS that good. It proves that John is not just a troubled troubadour peddling his wares - there is depth to this man.

photo courtesy of

There are two longer songs on the album which sum up the whole approach and strength of this sophomore album from John. The first is All That You Know. It's just John and a rather lovely electric piano motif, the song is almost Hymnic. If you heard it in a church service, you wouldn't be surprised but it has such a quiet strength and power it just captivates right from the start.

photo courtesy of MPR/ Nate Ryan

The other blockbuster track on the album is the 7.33 minute High Road. It's John at his absolute best singing about love and redemption - it's Springsteenesque in it's intensity and highlight's John's pleading, almost breaking vocals. It's probably the best vocal performance on the whole album. 

The album finishes with just John on his piano.

I don't want to give too much away to take away from the joys of this album. Suffice to say that if you bought From The Ground Up then you've probably already got this album but if you haven't, then go out now and invest in one of the best talents to come out from America for a long time.

Twitter - @johnrfullbright

Monday, 1 September 2014

The Archivist: ABBA - Arrival

I know what you're thinking? Why is an Americana, Folk, Prog loving roughneck picking an album by those Swedish Mega Purveyors of Pop to grace The Archivist section of my blog?

Simple - next to The Beatles, ABBA are probably the best writers of a perfect pop song.

Back in 1976, the teenage Macwood was already a fan of the Super Swedes.

They had already released 3 hit albums and had 5 hit singles in the UK before Arrival really sealed the deal.

The album opens with the non-single and now very non pc 'When I Kissed The Teacher' - and it's a killer track.

As with most ABBA albums, there is a mixture of awful bubblegum pop and some of the best songwriting ever to be released on an adoring public.

Arrival contains some of ABBA's best singles. Back when ABBA were starting to get huge - the release of EVERY single was an event. You had to be there at the time to realise what a big deal it was - the radio built up the release for months before the event - playing snippets from the song.

It was from this album that indications of the boys Bjorn & Benny's musical future really started to blossom. They were born to write musicals and it is an enigma that they haven't done more work in this field. Songs such as My Love, My Life can easily be the stuff of musicals. 

It also contains an instrumental title track. Covered by Mike Oldfield, no less.

And, it contains one of the more identifiable songs ever released. A song which has grown to be almost as big as the band. And I dare you not to sing along. The staple of every Wedding Disco since 1976.

So, go out and get a copy - don't feel the shame - just accept the fact that it is probably one of the most imperfect pop albums ever to hit the turntable.