LIVE REVIEW: Madonna, NIA (Birmingham), 20/07/2012

In the eyes of the press Madonna is the devil’s spawn. Having dominated the headlines since the mid 80s it seems that the press have a message which they want her to receive loud and clear – MOVE ON! However, as the sold out NIA proves, Madonna still boasts a dedicated following who hang on her every word and are unwilling to write her off as past it. In amongst them am I, a Madonna latecomer. Not old enough to remember Madonna in her ‘hey-day’, I really discovered Madonna circa “Ray Of Light” and only then fell in love with her diverse back catalogue. With her latest release “MDNA” proving her least accomplished to date, if the reviews are the be believed, the excited audience anticipate how Madonna will structure the evening’s setlist.

As the hungry fans await The Queen of Reinvention, they are treated to the worst opening act ever witnessed. There is no denying that Swedish DJ Alesso is able to mix, but his lack of presence, unimaginative song selection and sheer nonchalance ensure that barely a shoulder is shrugged during his everlasting 45 minute set. Unimpressed many of the crowd opt for the bar, giving the NIA a distinctly empty feel.

Disappointed as Madonna’s choice of support, an unease sets through the patient punters, who opt for an inevitable Mexican Wave as they await the Queen of Pop. In true Madonna style, the set starts 45 minutes late, but as the impressive set is unveiled, a chant of Madonna results in euphoria as Madonna launches into recent single “Girl Gone Wild”, accompanied by sensational choreography, that immediately proves Madonna is far from the fuddy duddy of recent press reports.

Cleverly mixing “MDNA” material with her classic hits, Madonna ticks all the boxes. This is no “Greatest Hits” tour, but fans wanting the classics are far from disappointed. While “One More Chance” is a little shaky, and the over performed, sexually charged ballad version of “Like A Virgin” provide the set lowlight, “Vogue” and “Hung Up”  are performed with clear relish, while “Express Yourself” is fused with Lady Gaga’s copycat track “Born This Way”.

Though the classics provide the clear set highlights, “MDNA” also proves its worth. The Oscar nominated “Masterpiece” is a tender addition to Madonna’s ballads, while the riotous “I Don’t Give A *” prompts chants and applause. Most reminiscent of her sadly overlooked “American Life” phase, “I Don’t Give A *” is an overlooked anthem that warrants celebration. But it is the psychedelic “I’m A Sinner” that easily levels with Madonna’s bigger hits.

With flawless production values, Madonna ensures her audience leave on a high. Stunning set, sensational routines and an energetic star centre stage, Madonna effortlessly silences the critics and wows those that really matter-the fans. Madonna may not be as young as she once was, but who can name one young upstart who can deliver live vocals, dance moves and sheer entertainment in Madonna’s league?

Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Jeremy Williams

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ALBUM REVIEW: Geva Alon “In The Morning Light”

Geva Alon may not be a name we recognise in the UK, but in Israel he is a household name. Having broken through as part of the rock trio The Flying Baby in 2000, Alon came to the fore of the Tel Aviv based folk scene in 2006 when he unleashed his country-tinged debut solo effort “Days Of Hunger”. Five years may have flown by since then, but Alon has barely looked back. Having conquered America with 2009’s “Get Closer”, Alon is hoping that album 4, “In The Morning Light” will hit the mark in Europe.

With comparisons to Neil Young, REM and Tom Rush being thrown about left, right and centre, it has to be noted that there is also a hint of Bob Dylan and Shawn Phillips to “In The Morning Light”. A breezy effort, Alon’s vocals take centre stage.

A storyteller to the core, Alon has composed a record that works on so many levels. While at face value “In The Morning Light” is a tender take on love, a closer look at the lyrical content unveils an ode to his home country – and an ability to see both sides of the story. Peaceful in its delivery, Alon’s message is crystal clear.

“In The Morning Light” has no stand out tracks. This is not a criticism. The album is blissfully, beautifully even.

Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Jeremy Williams

ALBUM REVIEW: Hilary Hahn & Hauschka “Silfra”

Acclaimed German prepared-pianist Volker Bertelmann (better known professionally as Hauschka) first met Grammy Award winning American violinist Hilary Hahn through the celebrated American singer/songwriter Tom Brousseau back in 2009, but a recorded professional collaboration has taken its time to reach fruition. However, some three years later, Hahn and Hauschka have finally unleashed the truly incredible “Silfra. Far from being just another piano meets violin record, Hahn and Hauschka have managed to collaborate without impeding on their own instrumental experimentation.

The resulting improvised twelve track LP is cohesive effort created under the guidance of Björk’s producer Valgeir Sigurõsson. Journeying through a mixture of emotions, the clarity of the melodies reflects Hauschka’s earlier improvisations, notably “Morgenrot”, which charts a colourful journey through its emotional peaks and troughs. Within three short numbers, Hahn and Hauschka have introduced their listener to their diverse combined approach.

For her part, Hahn, who has been celebrated for her exploration of lesser known compositions-from Schoenberg’s concertos to Ives’ sonatas-fully embraces the improvised form, often leaning towards a  tender contrast to Hauschka’s heavier piano. Yet for all his clunks and tumbles, it is the scratches in Hahn’s otherwise songbird styled violin that make the emotional impact.

“Silfra” is both soothing and alarming, with the record undergoing a fill spectrum of emotions. Engaging and entertaining, Hahn and Hauschka make a strong case with “Silfra” for the collaboration to continue. Though the meeting offers echoes of their earlier outings, their combined presence is powerful enough to leave its own mark.

Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jeremy Williams

ALBUM REVIEW: Lianne La Havas “Is Your Love Big Enough?”

An appearance on the Jools Holland show is rarely a bad career move, but seldom does it really bolster an artist to the next level. However, when 22 year old South Londoner Lianne La Havas appeared on the show last October, her tender, thought-provoking rendition of “Age” became the talk of the music world for her stirring delivery and unforgettable vocal. Any music journo worth their salt knew that La Havas was a star in the making, and unsurprisingly she went on to appear in a wealth of Tips for Top 2012 lists. So with so many eyes watching her, the question on many a tongue this week is can La Havas overcome the external pressures and deliver on her highly anticipated debut “Is Your Love Big Enough?”

Thankfully the answer is a resounding YES! “Is Your Love Big Enough?” may be a little ballad heavy, but La Havas’ silky smooth tones and subtle compositions are beautiful to the core. “Is Your Love Big Enough?” truly showcases La Havas’ ability to really channel her emotions without ever overblowing the sentiment puts her in a similar league to effortless chanteuses Erykah Badu, Ane Brun, Ayo and Asa.

La Havas is at her finest when she is at the extreme of a spectrum. Album standouts are the effortless beauty of the stirring introspective “Lost & Found” and the fresh bite of break-up anthem “Forget”.

“Is Your Love Big Enough?” is so intrinsically beautiful that it is night on impossible to criticise. From the reflective pondering of the heartbroken – “Is Your Love Big Enough?” to the nonchalant sass – “”Don’t Wake Me Up”, La Havas engages her listener with her insightful musings and toe tapping numbers.

La Havas is unlike many of the artists who show early promise, top polls and the disappear, she has managed to followed through with a gracefully impressive debut and if there is any justice in the world, she will reap the rewards of her consistently superlative efforts. Without any doubt La Havas is the true star of 2012.

Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Jeremy Williams

ALBUM REVIEW: Jesca Hoop “The House That Jack Built”

Three years is a long time in terms of musical trends, and many an artist returns to the fold after time out to find that their sound is deemed no longer relevant. However, Californian born, Manchester based singer/songwriter Jesca Hoop is an act that defies trends. While her sound has a distinct folk-pop base, it easily surfs between genres and is all the more relevant for its diversity.

As Hoop returns with “The House That Jack Built”, her third album and the follow-up to 2009’s “Hunting My Dress”, it is clear that Hoop has a bit more bite in her belly as she mixes attitude and openness in equal measure. The delicate “Pack Animal” epitomises the mix, with a pretty melody matched by strong, forthright lyrics.

While her earlier releases more than showcased Hoop’s abilities to pen a pretty ditty, “The House That Jack Built” suggests that Hoop has been paying attention the some of Scandinavia’s finest, with Bjork’s eccentricity channelled for the romp “Peacemaker”, Kate Havnevik’s verve for “Hospital (Win Your Love)”, Ane Brun’s heartfelt storytelling for “The House That Jack Built” and Olof Arnald’s ponderings on “D.N.R”. All these points of reference are delivered with panache and individuality, those comparisons can be drawn, Hoop is in a league of her very own.

While all the aforementioned help to form the near perfect ten track “The House That Jack Built”, Hoop really shines on the more playful numbers. While “Ode To Banksy” is a proper earworm, its sugary sweet delivery never nears the irritating. Equally noteworthy is the soulfully direct “Dig This Record”, which should it ever be released to radio, would be a strong contendor for the number 1 spot.

“The House That Jack Built” may not be Hoop’s most original effort, but that is far from a detracting factor. A tender, touching beautiful record which mixes colours to paint a perfect picture. Hoop is hot property right now, and if “The House That Jack Built” is a taster of what is still to come from Miss Hoop, then album number 4 excites me already…

Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jeremy Williams

ALBUM REVIEW Jack Savoretti “Before The Storm”

Jack Savoretti is often compared to Bob Dylan, but though both troubadours wear their hearts on their sleeve to speak their mind, Savoretti’s wine-soaked vocals are distinctly reminiscent of the sorrowful songsman Ray LaMontagne as he declares “I am not worthy” as he opens third album “Before The Storm”. Launching with album’s highlight “Not Worthy” is a big blunder on Savoretti’s behalf, but he need not worry as he happily treads the line between Paolo Nutini and the aforementioned LaMontagne throughout the album’s blissful and beautiful thirteen strong tracks.

Savoretti is far from a newcomer at the music game, having unleashed his debut “Between The Minds” back in 2007, but his latest effort is arguably his most commercially viable release. With the singer/songwriter once again firmly on the musical map, it is easy to see how the rich vocals of the passionate Savoretti will see him rise to the top of the musical map.

While the aforementioned “Not Worthy” is a firm favourite, it has strong competition as the album draws to a close with the Imelda May-esque rockabilly of “Knock Knock”. A surefire singalong, “Knock Knock” will have the toes tapping and shoulders shaking instantly. While the lush “For The Last Time” closes proceedings with a suitably understated dramatic flair

It would be a lie to say that “Before The Storm” was without flaw, given than many of the down-tempo middle moments verge on the forgettable, but with so many solid moments of pure musical magic contained within his latest release, Savoretti is sure to finally receive the  just rewards of his hard work and be praised with more than just critical acclaim. Expect Savoretti to be one of the acts that make your 2012 listening experience worth the while.

Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jeremy Williams

LIVE REVIEW: Erykah Badu, Hammersmith Apollo (London), 27.06.2012

Lianne La Havas is even more excited than the ecstatuc audience at the impending arrival of r’n’b legend Erykah Badu to the sold out Hammersmith Apollo. With songs from her impending debut album, the hotley tipped La Havas screams Badu’s name out frantically during her set, yet keeps her cool as she hypnotises her audience with her tasty tracks. With echoes of everyone from India Arie to Badu herself, La Havas is a class act who will soon be as respected as her idol.

With an extended break between sets, the audience’s excited anticipation results in a chain of screams before Badu’s calming arrival. A divine presence, Badu oozes cool as she launches into het unforgettable set.

As she meanders through material old and new, Badu redefines what it means to captivate an audience. Unlike many of her contemporaries, Badu pulls no stunts, simply singing her way into the hearts if those around her.

In what feels more like an intimate jam session with her close pals, Badu entrances the packed house into a shoulder swaying, hand punching, singalong. Blissful, calming, exciting and charming, it is little surprise that the roof is nearly roared off as Badu closes her hour and a half long set in what feels like less than a blink of an eye.

With both La Havas and Badu proving their dexterity effortlessly the evening is beyond even words for perfect. This is an occasion where wow will have to suffice.

Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Jeremy Williams

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