Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Alice Russell: KOKO - 01/10/09

Alice Russell: KOKO 01/10/09 (
Alice Russell: KOKO 01/10/09 ( Alice Russell: KOKO 01/10/09 ( Alice Russell: KOKO 01/10/09 ( Alice Russell: KOKO 01/10/09 ( Alice Russell & Band: KOKO 01/10/09 ( Alice Russell: KOKO 01/10/09 ( Alice Russell: KOKO 01/10/09 ( Alice Russell: KOKO 01/10/09 ( Alice Russell: KOKO 01/10/09 ( Alice Russell: KOKO 01/10/09 ( Alice Russell's 'Band On The Run': KOKO 01/10/09 ( Alice Russell's 'Band On The Run': KOKO 01/10/09 ( Alice Russell & Band 'No Sweat Boys': KOKO 01/10/09 ( Alice Russell - Crowd: KOKO 01/10/09 (

Let us coin a new musical sub-genre: 'Earl Gray Soul'. One can identify a singer belonging to this genre by observing the following two traits occuring in sequence. First, they will belt out a tune as if their lungs were trying to escape up out by the esophagus. Then, once having finished the song, the singer will offer the audience members a nice cup of tea.

This is the very endearing, very English, egoless Alice Russell to a tee (pun intended). She and her 11 piece band played for over one hundred minutes on Thursday night at KOKO to a packed, enthusiastic room. Her songs, even the slower ones, are sung at maximum intensity and then once she finishes she looks around and laughs with her band, almost embarrassed of the effect she's had. Once the fuss has died down, she'll announce the next tune "here's one about..." which unfortunately undermines some the energy that she built up during the last song.

Russell is diminuitive, but in height only. Her amazing voice and style carries all the way to the back of the venue. Surrounded by her band, which looked suspiciously mad in all white, she and her two female backup singers came out wearing bright sequins; Russell in green with purple leggings. Halfway through the gig there was costume change into a black number surrounded with feathers.

Also mentioned should be the wonderful supports in the form of the moody minor key soul of Andreya Triana and the most righteous breaks of DJ Shepdog. Both really set the mood high.

The setlist was comprised of her songs, songs written with others, songs that she sings on other people's albums and other people's songs. Included were the upbeat soul of 'Two Steps' and 'Turn and Run'. The very funky 'Got the Hunger' in which the guitar line alone is enough to get you dancing. She took it back to the Eighties with the suggestive 'Big Shiny Laser'. Though her vocal ability is unquestionable, toward the end of the night you get the sense, particularly on her own songs, there is a lack of melodic variation.

Well received were her covers of Gnarls Barkley's 'Crazy' (slower, intense and nailing the sentiment perfectly) and The White Stripes '7 Nation Army' (funky and bombastic). There was also a short take on Beyonce's 'Single Ladies' which, although the mastered by the band, didn't seem to suit her personality. During the costume change the band played 'Want to be Startin' Something' with Russell returning to contribute the "Mama-say mama-sahs.." The final number was from another collaboration, a song written with the Jack Baker Trio, a roof raiser called 'Spread it On' - the perfect punchy way to end the night.

One band member that's particularly worth mentioning is the soul behemoth, Mike Simmonds, Russell's prime backup singer, violinist and her foil. His gravity not just due to his physical presence but also of how he interacts with the band, Russell and the songs themselves - singing, fiddling and dancing with a passion as if it were his last night on Earth. This is nothing to take away anything from the rest of the band. The drummer and bassist sit in the pocket, constantly taking cues from each other, the skillful but wild keyboardist plays like a kid let out of school. The brass section, dubbed the Killer Horns, don't just stand around when they're not playing. They too will dance and sing, obviously enjoying themselves. This all contributes to the feeling you're at show, not just a gig.

During one of the encores ('Dressed to Impress'), everyone on stage (and even some off) donned headbands and during a instrumental break ran all around the stage. It was a bit dippy, but this showed another side of Russell's ebullience. At times, she might be well served to try on a James Brown swagger, to take things to the next level. But what she does do well is start a party and make everyone feel involved. Cup of funky soul, anyone?

All photos c/o Simon Pollock. For more visit
Words Rob Grundel

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