Friday, 30 May 2008

2008 Music Chart - May

New albums from Death Cab For Cutie, The Ting Tings, Elliot Minor and Portishead this month plus Gemma Hayes and another release this year from Nine Inch Nails. Also added the new Charlatans album You Cross My Path, now out after free download.
  1. Ghosts I-IV - Nine Inch Nails
  2. I Want You To Know That There Is Always Hope - I Was A Cub Scout
  3. Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
  4. Seventh Tree - Goldfrapp
  5. Third - Portishead
  6. Consolers Of The Lonely - The Raconteurs
  7. Accelerate - R.E.M.
  8. We Started Nothing - The Ting Tings
  9. Narrow Stairs - Death Cab For Cutie
  10. The Age Of The Understatement - The Last Shadow Puppets
  11. In Rainbows - Radiohead
  12. Alas, I Cannot Swim - Laura Marling
  13. Do You Like Rock Music - British Sea Power
  14. Midnight Boom - The Kills
  15. Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings - Counting Crows
  16. Elliot Minor - Elliot Minor
  17. You Cross My Path - The Charlatans
  18. The Slip - Nine Inch Nails
  19. The Hollow Of Morning - Gemma Hayes
  20. Saturnalia - The Gutter Twins
  21. Neptune - The Duke Spirit
  22. This Gift - Sons & Daughters

Monday, 26 May 2008

LATER...with Jools Holland (23/05/2008 - Series 32, Show 8)

The last show in the series and a real disappointment because it should have ended on a high. Ultimately it was rather dull musically, made up for by some good and relevant interviews.

Tuesday 20/5
  • Paul Weller - 22 Dreams
  • Martha Wainwright - You Cheated Me
  • Jimmy Cliff (Chat with JH)
  • Tricky - C’mon Baby
  • Jimmy Cliff - Many Rivers To Cross
  • Paul Weller (Chat with JH)
  • White Lies - Unfinished Business
  • Martha Wainwright - Bleeding All Over You
  • Paul Weller - Push It Along
Friday 23/5
  • Paul Weller - Have You Made Up Your Mind
  • Martha Wainwright - You Cheated Me
  • Tricky - Council Estate
  • Jimmy Cliff (Chat with JH)
  • White Lies - Unfinished Business
  • Jimmy Cliff - Many Rivers To Cross
  • Paul Weller - Invisible
  • Martha Wainwright - So Many Friends
  • Paul Weller (Chat with JH)
  • Yoav - Club Thing
  • Tricky - Puppy Toy
  • Martha Wainwright (Chat with JH)
  • White Lies - Death
  • Martha Wainwright - Bleeding All Over You
  • Paul Weller - Push It Along
Whether you like him, love him or loathe him you cannot deny that Paul Weller is an incredible talent and institution. That is no reason alone to love his music at the moment which fails to hit the heights of his previous incarnations in The Jam, Style Council and solo highlight of Wild Wood and Changing Man. For now his music just is not very good. Weller opened and closed both shows, performed four songs and enduring two interviews (basically the same). Recent single Have You Made Up Your Mind is good, as is 22 Dreams but the piano led Invisible sounded like a SC rejected b-side and rockier number Push It Along is terrible. He also makes an uncomfortable interviewee, nervous and fidgeting constantly.

Martha Wainwright is always a great performer and her material is better live than recorded. Like Weller she had two songs on the Tuesday, repeated on Friday in addition to All My Friends. Her vocals are excellent as are her band (including new husband ‘the bass player’) but it was all a bit predictable. And you know she is showcasing the best songs on the album which isn’t a great advert. She also got to talk to Jools and was a mad but engaging subject, genuinely emotional seeing footage of her mother performing.

A surprise this week is Tricky. He has been away for years and it showed, although his vocal delivery is still engaging. Accompanied on the weak C’mon Baby and the bitter Puppy Toy by female singer Alex, it was compelling but essentially difficult to take in. The manic Council Estate attempted to make a statement and shake things up but if you look at the new material from fellow stalwarts Portishead, there is no comparison.

Jools’ special guest was Jimmy Cliff, talking about the new musical version of The Harder They Come - the only thing he seems to be known for these days, and performed Many Rivers To Cross with Jools on the piano. This voice is suffering slightly in his advanced years but it was still a good rendition.

Of the remaining two acts, White Lies did a passable impression of Editors - all drama and no tune. Sadly the best artist on the show and the most interesting musician, Yoav, only got to perform one song on the Friday show. He was amazing. A one man band, playing every part of the guitar, reaching every vocal range and changing the backing program with his bare feet via peddles. Excellent stuff that left me wanting more.

So not a great finale but a decent show. Jools consistently gets great guests, a mix of the old and the new, the relevant and the interesting. Without competition it frequently gets self-indulgent but we can bear this as long as there is great music. More more more.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

New Nine Inch Nails Album! (Yes, another one!)

Trent Reznor has been busy making a new album. Not content with the massive instrumental Ghosts out a few months ago, he now gives us The Slip. And again it's free from

Let the downloading commence...

Monday, 19 May 2008

LATER...with Jools Holland (16/05/2008 - Series 32, Show 7)

A really good Friday show this week which saw the return of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds and a great set from The Raconteurs.

Tuesday 13/5
  • Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Dig, Lazarus, Dig!
  • Sharleen Spiteri - All The Times I Cried
  • The Raconteurs - Salute Your Solution
  • Mary Wilson (Chat with JH)
  • Chatham County Line - Country Boy City Boy
  • Mick Hucknall (Chat with JH)
  • Glasvegas - Geraldine
  • Mick Hucknall with Jools - Farther Up The Road
  • Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Today’s Lesson
Friday 16/5
  • Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Dig, Lazarus, Dig!
  • The Raconteurs - Consoler Of The Lonely
  • Sharleen Spiteri - All The Times I Cried
  • Mary Wilson (Chat with JH)
  • Glasvegas - Geraldine
  • Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Jesus Of The Moon
  • Bon Iver - Skinny Love
  • The Raconteurs - Old Enough
  • Sharleen Spiteri (Chat with JH)
  • Chatham County Line - The Carolinian
  • Mick Hucknall (Chat with JH)
  • Glasvegas - Daddy’s Gone
  • Mick Hucknall with Jools - Farther Up The Road
  • The Raconteurs - Salute Your Solution
  • Sharleen Spiteri - It Was You
  • Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Midnight Man
A strange line-up this week with an extra chat and only two acts performing at least three songs and lots of repetition from the live Tuesday show. The big artist was definitely Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds who played four songs from the latest album Dig, Lazarus, Dig! Kicking off both days with the title track. The ‘live’ version was much more rough and ready and Cave seemed to rise to the occasion much more. It was much calmer and controlled on the Friday, as was the gorgeous Jesus Of The Moon and closer Midnight Man. Cave’s voice is even more commanding when he is in ‘ballad’ mode. They closed Tuesday with the more provocative Today’s Lesson. Excellent stuff.

Also excellent are The Raconteurs. Jack White and Brendan Benson have created a wonderful musical machine in this band and their new stuff is better than the debut album. The intense Salute Your Solution lead by White and his guitar was the high point. As was Consoler Of The Lonely with Benson taking lead vocals before JW mixes it up. They also performed the weaker but equally engaging Old Enough with a great vocal arrangement at the end.

Sharleen Spiteri, still of Texas (we are informed on the show) but solo currently, had a chat with Jools about rediscovering being scared and wanting to make her fantasy album. Influenced by Nancy Sinatra, you can hear what she is trying to do and good luck to her. In the days of prominent female singers like Winehouse, Duffy and Adele, the timing is not good and the competition is as strong as ever. She performs the soulful All The Times I Tried and the more seductive It Was You, complete with brass section. It sort of works if you like her voice.

A great new band continued the Scottish influence, Glasvegas. They performed Geraldine (both shows) and Daddy’s Gone, new tracks from their debut album. The sound the band produce is amazing, augmented by simple drums and wall-of-sound guitars, and very distinct vocals.

Jools’ special guest this week was Mary Wilson from The Supremes, just in for a chat and to tell us about a new exhibition. They even played some Supremes songs and got the audience to sing along. Instead we are treated to Mick Hucknall (of Simply Red fame) who is on a one man mission to tell the world about Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland. Ok, it’s easy to be cynical here but I think he has genuine affection for the music and good intentions, even if he is plugging an album (like everyone else who appears). Farther Up The Road was typical Jools and guest fare but entertaining enough.

The remaining two spaces were taken up by bluegrass quartet Chatham County Line and the little known Bon Iver. Chatham County Line, playing and singing around a single microphone, are very good even if they lack excitement. They got a song on each show, the old-worldly Country Boy City Boy and The Carolinian. It was great watching them as they moved back and forth to get the right sound. Bon Iver was less than impressive with his falsetto bog-standard Skinny Love. It was nothing new.

So a good show but again an interview which had nothing to do with the music. It was good to hear from Spiteri and Hucknall. There is still too much repetition across the two shows - not the music, you expect that, but the stuff in-between. Anyway the music was great and that is the main thing…

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Death Cab For Cutie - Narrow Stairs Album Review (2008)

What does a cult band do when they have major commercial success with an album and are danger of revealing their secret to the masses? They come back with something different of course. Not quite but Death Cab For Cutie have got to that R.E.M. stage which could see them playing their unique blend of emo and indie rock in huge stadia around the world. But success is what you make it. The band’s last album Plans got them noticed and before that, the wonderful Transatlanticism was lauded by fans and critics as a huge leap forward from the promising doldrums of the first few albums. But ultimately Plans was a bit of let down. It is a great album but at times it settles into a cruising gear and goes through the motions. Death Cab For Cutie are in danger of getting boring. Narrow Stairs avoids this premonition by fusing trademark lyrics and vocals, typical melody and depth, with a subtly different approach.

Opener Bixby Canyon Bridge has all the elements of a great DCFC song. A soft quiet start brings in Ben Gibbard’s statesmanlike vocals, an instrument in its own right. Followed by a simple guitar loop melody, there are echoes of Marching Bands Of Manhattan but the song gets heavier, the vocals more distorted. It is clear from this that the music will take a different approach. At nearly three minutes the song disintegrates completely into a repetitive mess of fuzzy guitars and crashing drums. This fills the remaining two minutes and is clearly overlong self-indulgence. The last thirty seconds, with Gibbard back for an encore, is horrible.

After a dodgy start, something very interesting happens. At eight and a half minutes I Will Possess Your Heart starts with a massive instrumental. Talk about alienating your audience. Lead by delicious bass, the piano and guitars echo each other as if starting a conversation, the music building into a wondrous atmospheric soundtrack. Four and a half minutes in and Gibbard appears, clear and direct: ’How I wish you could see the potential, the potential of you and me. It’s like a book elegantly bound but in a language that you can’t read. You gotta spend some time, love. You gotta spend some time with me. And I know that you’ll find love. I will possess your heart’. Like all great DCFC songs - and this is right up there with the best - it sounds effortless and simple, as piano and guitar blend with Gibbard’s vocals. What makes it so effecting is the lack of defined verse-verse-chorus structure. The effect is horribly uneasy, part devoted lover and part creepy stalker homing in on the prey. It is important to note that there are two versions of I Will Possess Your Heart, one with and one without the instrumental start. This makes sense as eight minute songs rarely get played on radio, but you can help feeling cynical. The single version feels a lot more like a complete song and not just a concept but the effect is the same.

No Sunlight is equally dark (metaphorically not literally) in tone but musically upbeat - more of formulaic pop song. Again Gibbard is magnificent, but the music has immense depth. Consistently you get the impression that everything DCFC create is finely crafted and arranged and this is no exception. Gibbard’s lyrics are sparse as he talks about the innocent and naivety of youth, but goes on to shatter the illusion: ‘And it disappeared at the same speed. As the idealistic things I believed. When the optimist died inside of me’. It then gets vague and contrived: ‘With a man who hides from all that binds in a mess of fading lines. With a tangled thread inside his head with nothing on either end’. Unlike the music, it sounds like any old lyric has been thrown in.

Cath… recounts the story of a women succumbing to an ill-fated marriage, driven along by lifting guitars and Gibbard’s voice, softening for. ‘But you said your vows and you closed the door . On so many men who would’ve loved you more’. But the line: ‘When your heart was dying fast and you didn’t know what to do’ is a bit of a mouthful, not quite fitting into the musical gap. Talking Bird is desperately slow, a plodding dirge empty of any discernable melody. But the words make the song: ‘It’s hard to see your way out when you live in a house in a house. ‘Cause you don’t realize that the windows were open the whole time’ and ‘And it’s all here for you as long as you chose to stay. It’s all here for you as long as you don’t fly away’ are genius. You Can Do Better Than Me has a bizarre musical arrangement but in a brief two minutes, is a very recognisable DCFC song. There are some neat touches like the harmonies at the end of ’And I have to face the truth that no one could ever look at me like you do. Like I’m something worth holding on to’. The very end puts an interesting twist on the song title: ‘…you can do better than me but I can’t do better than you’. Again the effect is a bit creepy.

This leads quickly into Grapevine Fires, another great song, with some wonderful harmonies, about a very specific moment in time and how it effects specific people. It is another song of contrast - sweet delicate music and vocals but a harsh subject. The line: ‘The news reports on the radio said it was getting worse as the ocean air fanned the flames. But I couldn't think of anywhere I would have rather been to watch it all burn away’ is dripping with arrogance and selfishness. It ends in shocking style with ‘The firemen worked in double shifts with prayers for rain on their lips and they knew it was only a matter if time’ as the story never gets fully resolved.

One thing that DCFC can do is transform a melodrama into an epic story, usually around a single object or person. This might be dissecting things a bit to much but it works for Fountains Of Wayne, albeit from a different angle. Your New Twin Sized Bed is simply brilliant. The way that pictures form as Gibbard recalls the desperate abandonment of a double bed for a smaller one as, in his words, ‘I guess you decided that that old queen was more space than you would need’ and ‘….what’s the point of holding on to what never gets used’ and then graphically ‘Other than a sick desire for self abuse‘. The end of the song doesn’t really fit with the rest but makes it more personal.

Long Division attempts to glide along with fast guitars but it could be accused of being a bit too much of the formula that washed through much of Plans. Unlike the start of the album, this is a bit too safe and polished. But there is a catchy well sung chorus - of just one word and a great last minute. Pity And Fear is completely different, an opening of tribal drums and sinister guitars. Gibbard does some surprising things with his voice but it never lifts the mood. This is weak and empty. Again like Bixby Canyon Bridge there is a stupidly long outro which, this time, ends suddenly - the band bored enough to pull the plug.

The album closes with The Ice Is Getting Thinner. It pushes all the music buttons but again Gibbard’s usually reliable voice veers off at times. The lyrics are also uninspired: ‘We buried our love in a wintry grave. A lump in the snow was all that remained’ continues the ‘cold’ metaphor but is not up there with the best. A soft guitar solo breaks the tedium.

Narrow Stairs is a very inconsistent album. On one hand it tries to do what Transatlanticism and then Plans did very well - there are some brilliantly crafted songs, but whether the band is striving for individuality or deliberately trying to alienate the hangers on, only they will know. Gibbard is, as always, brilliant, with few stumbles and the entire band sound coherent and proficient. Plans expanded the DCFC audience and had the potential to propel the band into major high-profile success and those people joining them for the first time will be sorely disappointed. There is enough on Narrow Stairs to keep hardened fans happy, including some of their best work, and maybe that is what the band want. No more fans please, we’re a huge secret and we want to stay that way…
-- CS

Monday, 12 May 2008

LATER...with Jools Holland (09/05/2008 - Series 32, Show 6)

A very good show (or shows) this week with some real legends of music performing.

Tuesday 6/5
  • Robert Plant and Alison Krauss - Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On)
  • The Fratellis - Mistress Mabel
  • Santogold - Les Artiste
  • Robert Plant and Alison Krauss (Chat with JH)
  • Emmylou Harris - Gold
  • Chris Difford (Chat with JH)
  • Spiritualized - Soul On Fire
  • The Fratellis - My Friend John
  • Robert Plant and Alison Krauss - One Woman Man
Friday 9/5
  • Robert Plant and Alison Krauss - Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On)
  • The Fratellis - Mistress Mabel
  • Spiritualized - Soul On Fire
  • Robert Plant and Alison Krauss with T-Bone Burnett (Chat with JH)
  • Chris Difford - Battersea Boys
  • Robert Plant and Alison Krauss - Killing The Blues
  • Santogold - Les Artiste
  • Spiritualized - Sweet Talk
  • Emmylou Harris (Chat with JH)
  • The Fratellis - A Heady Tale
  • Emmylou Harris with Buddy Miller - How She Could Sing The Wildwood Flower
  • Spiritualized - You Cheat You Lie
  • Robert Plant and Alison Krauss - Rich Women
  • The Fratellis - My Friend John
A deceptive Tuesday show which implied a three song set from Santogold. Thankfully this did not happen on Friday, the mighty Spiritualized performing three songs instead. But the headline act, and rightfully so, is Robert Plant and Alison Krauss with their ‘Raiding Sand’ band including musician/producer T-Bone Burnett. They performed the bluesy rock of Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On), the bluesy Killing The Blues and the…er…bluesy Rich Women. They closed the Friday show with One Woman Man which was a bit too country. Both Krauss and Plant were superb and the vocal balance was perfect. The Tuesday interview about touring and the chemistry between them was repeated on Friday when the duo was joined by T-Bone Burnett. He got to talk about touring and then Plant, who did not seem interested in anything about Led Zeppelin, professed that the duo are in fact a band and there is a lot of history in their music. Plant did reveal that the only instrument he plays LZ songs on now is the handcuffs. Hmmm.

The Fratellis are a great live band even if they do lack decent song writing ability. They previewed three new tracks from their new album, the best being Mistress Mabel. The energy and dynamic they create from a live show is incredible. Even more engaging are Spiritualized - Jay Spaceman and friends, including two other guitarists, a string quartet and four piece gospel choir, are back with a new album and doing the rounds on just about everything. It all sounds great including the messy guitar ending of the noisy You Cheat You Lie. Soul On Fire and Sweet Talk bring together the trail vocals and huge orchestra sound JS is well known for.

So Santogold only had one song, performed on each show. Les Artist seems to be the only decent song showcased at the moment. It would have been good to see more of her but in a show were even Emmylou Harris only got to perform two songs, the competition was tough. Alos relegated to the sidelines was Chris Difford. He is such an engaging storyteller who continues to write amazing songs but there is clearly still some tension between him and ex-Squeeze band member JH, who now has the upper hand.

Some great music this week. Not much variation in the music with too much guitar on show but much better performances than last week.

Portishead - Third Album Review (2008)

Portishead once defined the sound of a generation. In 1994 Bristol was the epicentre of the trip-hop electronic sound. Contemporaries Massive Attack had released Blues Lines and in the same year that gave the world Protection, which saw Tricky break from the band to go solo, Portishead made Dummy. It still is a spectacularly good album. The self-titled follow-up, after a three year gap, was a subtly different sound, expelling the thick electronic sampling and opting for a more organic sound. A year later Massive Attack’s Mezzanine arguably defined the end of the genre and Portishead disappeared. As the 1990s came to a close, a new chapter of music was beginning. It has taken nearly ten years for Portishead to make a third album. Imaginatively called Third, it is the result of three years work, of soul searching and of trying to rediscover a sound that has moved on like the world around it.

Third starts in very atypical style with Silence - a sampled voice (in Portuguese talking about ’the rules of the three’) leads into a very out-of-time collection of beats. It is only when strings emerge that the whole things starts to hold together. The most defining part of Porishead is Beth Gibbons. Her ghostly vocals appear after the two minute intro like a frail wounded animal trying to find a safe place to hide. The lyrics are suitably vague and melancholy: ’Empty in our hearts. Crying out in silence. Wandered out of reach’ etc, summing up the band lost in a vast wilderness for nearly a decade. Beyond this, the beats and strings trudge on and then stop suddenly.

Hunter sounds like the Portishead of old, with echoing vocals and ambient-industrial music, light and uplifting one minute then harsh and weird, like being thrust into a dark empty forest, the next. In essence it is a love song: ’I stand on the edge of a broken sky. And I will come down; don’t know why. And if I should fall, would you hold me? Would you pass me by?’. Gibbons’ vocals are sublime but Barrow and Utley add some perverse backing which breaks the joyous flow.

Nylon Smile follows with more of the same, this time with a more consistent musical flow. When Gibbons sings ‘Cos I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve you’ and then ‘And I don’t know what I’ll do without you‘, it sounds as if she has never been away. There is a wonderful interlude of strange guitars and tribal drums, the space before filled with soft eerie waling. As the music stops, Gibbons has the last word: ‘I never had the chance to explain exactly what I meant‘.

The Rip is probably the first sign that Portishead still has something really great to offer. Gibbons is accompanied by simple looped guitar and sparse bass, allowing her voice to tell the story. Then the layered electronics take over and she is drowned out, all except for the waling again, by heavy fuzzy keyboards. When she returns, it is a different sound but equally great.

Plastic, like Hunter, is annoyingly disjointed and fragmented, turning dramatic and overblown. The helicopter-esque programming and drums create an uneasy backdrop so a song trying to emerge. Despite Gibbon’s best efforts, it never really does. A shame as the lyrics are frank and revealing as she talks about isolation and control: ‘On your stage a show that you create all by yourself. I am nowhere. You never notice. You are so sure’.

We Carry On is another master class. Unlike The Rip, the music is harder and takes the forefront over Gibbons’ echo. After the first verse, bells then drums appear - again fragments but more effective. The line: ‘oh can't you see? Holding on to my heart, I plead the taste of life’ is a real high point as the music comes back. This leads to even more dramatic looped guitars. When Gibbons returns she sounds even more determined for what is a subtly different reworking of the first verse and chorus. The effect is just as chilling and wonderful.

Deep Water provides a respite. It is absurdly different, like the band are sitting around a campfire someone in Arizona with nothing better to do. Again the lyrics, especially ‘Alone with my self-doubting, again’ could be a metaphor for the difficulties the band had getting to this point but it is all lost in the comedic delivery, particularly the backing vocals.

Fortunately this leads to one of the best tracks on the album. Machine Gun is another perfect example of the exploded genre, the pieces laid out and then reassembled. Barrow and Utley, this time, deliver a backing of electronic drums and guitars - another simple but effective arrangement with subtle depth, while Gibbons takes centre stage to assume a character. ’Here in my reflecting, what more can I say? For I am guilty for the voice that I obey. Too scared to sacrifice a choice, chosen for me’. Nothing sums up the futility of war and the current times better. In the second half of the song, the musical tone changes completely: the drums harder, more distorted leading to a short burst of Brad Fiedel soundtrack-esque keyboards.

Small does very little in its six and a half minutes. Two and a half of those minutes are taken up by light ambient gothic reminiscing ‘If I remember the night that we met. Tasted a wine that I’ll never forget’. The vocals are fragile and haunting with several voices at once, slightly out of time. Then the tone changes into some interesting old-worldly instrumental electronica. It is a bizarrely underwhelming five minutes. Even when Gibbons returns before the final dramatic minute of pounding keyboards and drums, it never quite works.

Magic Doors is another familiar sounding song. It has great structure and Gibbons shows incredible range in her vocals. Dramatic piano leads into the sublime ‘All the muse in myself
My desire I can't hide’. After a very promising opening, someone decides to add in a tuneless trumpet, again, breaking the flow.

Third closes with Threads, another haunting vocal performance and some great music but all a bit too flat and listless. The song descends into a series of over layered howling vocals, wonderfully atmospheric but very unnerving. The last minute of instrumentation is a strange series of echoing foghorns. Not quite the big finish.

Portishead has created its own unique brand of uneasy listening. The high points of the album are among the best songs the band has created and it is clear that Gibbons, Barrow and Utley are as determined and as interested in music as ever. There is real craft at work on this album. Occasionally the flow of a song is broken but some strange instrumentation or things get a little predictable, but at least the sound has moved on - an album full of rehashed sampling and scratching was not what anyone needed. The overall result is more like the eponymous second album. At times, this new form of modern electronic new-goth starts to drag but Gibbons delivers consistently great vocals through obscure retrospective lyrics that give the songs character and depth. Trip hop may be dead by Portishead lives on.
-- CS

Monday, 5 May 2008

LATER...with Jools Holland (02/05/2008 - Series 32, Show 5)

Not sure about this week. A real mixed bag of the great and the not so great with some awful vocals at times. I’m not sure if the mix was all wrong for some of the bands. Anyway here goes:

Tuesday live
  • James - Waterfall
  • Pentangle - Let No Man Steal Your Thyme
  • Operator Please - Just A Song About Ping Pong
  • Eddie Grant (Chat with JH)
  • Melody Gardot - Worrisome Heart
  • Humphrey Lyttelton tribute
  • The Gutter Twins - Idle Hands
  • Mable John with Jools - No Matter How She Done It
  • James - Laid
  • James - Hey Ma
  • Operator Please - Get What You Want
  • Pentangle - Light Flight
  • Mable John (Chat with JH)
  • The Gutter Twins - Idle Hands
  • Mable John with Jools - No Matter How She Done It
  • Liam Finn - Second Chance
  • James - Upside
  • Laurie Anderson (Chat with JH)
  • Melody Gardot - Sweet Memory
  • Operator Please - Just A Song About Ping Pong
  • Eddie Grant (Chat with JH)
  • Pentangle - I’ve Got A Feeling
  • The Gutter Twins - God’s Children
  • James - Waterfall
This week belongs to James. In every way the band was the best thing on both shows and rightfully got top billing. Tim Booth may look different, now with shaven head and beard but his vocals are still there. The band, even if they are the same who scaled Britpop in the early 1990s, are also brilliant. Three new tracks plus a spirited rendition of Laid to end the Tuesday show. Only Upside was a bit too long.

An exciting prospect was Operator Please, a new young band from Australia. They looked, and played, like kids too. The Tuesday version of Just A Song About Ping Pong is a glorious mess with the violinist way out of tune. They seemed to hold it together though and the Friday version was much better. The wonderful Get What You Want started badly, again the violinist sounding off but she pulled it back and the last half was good. They are a great prospect and are obviously having fun.

In contrast, 1960s folk outfit Pentangle have reformed. They are all accomplished musicians and yes the vocalist is a bit shaky these days but it was all sooooo dull. I’m a huge folk fan and whereas I don’t want to hear sexed up new-wave folk-pop, I like good songs. Let No Man Steal Your Thyme was a strain and classic Light Flight sounded far too outdated after Operator Please on Friday. As for I’ve Got A Feeling, it is horrible folk-jazz with agonisingly bad vocals.

Speaking of bad vocals, I was really looking forward to The Gutter Twins. The band were too loud on Idle Hands and Lanegan’s trustworthy growl sounded strained and flat. On God’s Children everything was a mess - Dulli was ok in parts but the harmonies didn’t work and by the end Lanegan, who never smiles anyway, did not look happy. There looked like some real tension between them a the end. Maybe it was just me?

Jools’ special guest this week, in a repeat of the Eartha Kitt format, was Mable John. They had a chat about a new film she is in and then the duo performed No Matter How She Done It. Like the Kitt performance, Tuesday was spontaneous and fun and a bit shambolic in the middle. Friday was better timing but not as good, like a rework. Again, the same as before.

The other interviews, again were not will performers. For some reason Eddie Grant was on to plug his ‘best of’, upcoming tour and Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday in Hyde Park. I suppose that is worth talking about but I wanted to hear from James and Operator Please. What made this worse was JH showed Top Of The Tops footage of Grant obviously miming. Not a great advert for live shows. Jools also talked to Laurie Anderson - again I don’t know why other than she was in town doing some show and she’s recently married Lou Reed.

The last two acts were actually quite good - Melody Gardot (that has to be a stage name, right?), a kind of smoky jazz singer, performed Worrisome Heart on Tuesday and Sweet Memory on Friday. Liam Finn was a real talking point. The first half of Second Chance was horrible falsetto and his female singing partner provided nothing. Then it all goes a bit insane, he stops singing and she bangs some blocks for a bit, then he gets onto a drum kit, perversely while the guitars still play from somewhere and she wails like a banshee. At the end it looked like they were both going to collapse. Stunning.

On the Tuesday live show, Jools paid tribute to Humphrey Lyttelton which was a nice touch. He showed some archive footage of Humph playing with Big Joe Turner. He really was a great trumpet player.

So, some good, some bad. The Gutter Twins were a real disappointment - the live sound just wasn’t good. Operator Please are exciting but need some polish. I’m sure JH meant well getting Pentangle in but it all seemed a bit pointless. Only James proved that sometimes it is worth trying again…