IT'S JO AND DANNY Lank Haired Girl To Bearded Boy (Double Snazzy)
Diverse, my favoured suppliers of all things black and vinylite-like, have developed the endearing habit of sending me albums they think I might like on approval, at the rate of about one a month. Since they have pretty much immaculate tastes (other hits include the Gorky's mini-album reviewed above, which I was intending to purchase eventually anyway, and the Sun Ra, Augustus Pablo and Son House reissues discussed elsewhere) I haven't had to return one of their recommendations yet. One of the first of these surprises was the belated black plastic issue of the debut album from It's Joe And Danny.
This I would keep on the strength of the cover photograph alone. It's a kind of 21st century update of "Bringing It All Back Home", an urban loungescape crammed with vast quantities of records (Bob Dylan's first is on display, naturally, as is "The Velvet Underground & Nico", an NWA album, New Order's "Power, Corruption And Lies" peeks out from behind the sofa and, most eclectically, "The Chieftains 4" is on the rug in the foreground), furniture, wine bottles, a crowded tea tray and a four-track, with two bodies (Danny and Jo, presumably) surveying the wreckage from stage left and right. It's a shame that the image quality looks a bit scratty - either due to being blown up from the CD cover or to the photograph being taken using a low resolution digital camera, I'd guess - because it's truly epoch-making: if your lounge looks anything like theirs you'll be happily shelling out for the album without hearing a note.
And I suspect you wouldn't be disappointed when you get to playing it. As Television Personality Dan Treacy notes in his hand-scrawled liner notes, in a former life Danny Hagen and Jo Bartlett were members of a band called Go! Service, and later Blue Train, whose singles apparently fetch upwards of 30 these days. As It's Jo And Danny they make euphoric, eclectic music that sounds a little like Carter USM and Saint Etienne discussing their favourite albums around the campfire. Which is probably enough to send most people running away screaming in fear, but really, "Lank Haired Girl To Bearded Boy" is as brilliant as its title suggests: acoustic guitars, creaky beatboxes and swirling synths propel marvellous melodies onwards, iced by Jo's gorgeous vocals and the odd outbreak of horse racing commentary. It sounds DIY and incredibly sophisticated at the same time, somehow, and although the songs don't say much to us about our lives the odd snatched observation such as "In the beginning was the music" and "Haight & Ashbury/Nash and Crosby" are more than enough to convince that their hearts are located in a very right place indeed. Let the indie kid in you fall under the spell of It's Jo And Danny's mysterious soul power: this really is very good indeed.IT'S JO AND DANNY/ATLAS Norwegian Church Arts Centre, Cardiff 22 June 2001
Every silver cloud has an ironic lining: having just bashed my long-suffering tiny car whilst attempting to park, I arrived at the Norwegian Church Arts Centre (and yes, it's a genuine Norwegian church) to be presented with a petition for better parking in Cardiff Bay and also with the information that, despite a time of 7:30 being indicated on the ticket, things wouldn't start happening until gone nine. Still, at least it was a fine night for a stroll.
At around 9:40 somebody shuffled up from one of the tables in the venue's coffee shop in front of the world's smallest PA which had been established in the corner. (Shades of Jeff Buckley playing Sin-E, come to think of it). He was one-third of a local band called Atlas (and physically a dead ringer for Neil Young in his "Harvest" period), appearing tonight without drum and bass support, presumably for reasons of space. He spun a few pleasant, obviously worked-upon and fretted-out songs on acoustic guitar, joined by his bandmates on shaker and bass for the final of five numbers. My faulty reference point would be Super Furry Animals should they ever unplug and lay off the psychedelics. Not mind-blowing, but enjoyable and ideally suited to the ambience of the unusual time and space. He ended the set by thanking Jo and Danny "for letting us play", an action that neatly encapsulated the furrowed charm of Atlas' music.
Appearing mere minutes later on the main stage - except there wasn't really a stage, more an area at the front of a small room with seating for around 70 people - were the night's main attraction. On record It's Jo And Danny arrive as a kind of lo-fi interpretation of the early Saint Etienne: dreamy female vocals, strange samples and melodies to die for. Cooped up in this minute performance space, the expanded five-piece It's Jo And Danny managed to replicate the recorded experience surprisingly well. Unfortunately Jo's vocals were somewhat trampled in the mix, in stark contrast to the pindrop clarity of her between-song announcements, but everything else was in place in the opening tumble through "Solar Plexus", all chiming, rushing acoustic wonderment until Jo swapped to electric guitar halfway through and things went supernova. Instead of a light show (I would imagine the options here would be limited to switching the lights on and, uh, off again) the band's visuals guy projected short films on to the band as they played - very Exploding Plastic Inevitable - slow motion footage of birds in flight, aeroplanes, tower blocks (I realise that tower blocks aren't exactly sprightly at the best of times ) and so on. And the erratic array of samples that populate their wonderful debut waxing "Lank Haired Girl To Bearded Boy" were coaxed out to play as well, including bagpipes, the horse racing commentary that powers the magnificent "Arkle" and, after some delay, the seagulls that are all over "Benbecula". There was humour too: as Jo struggled with a barely-tuned guitar another band member (possibly Danny, it was too dark to be sure) inquired whether there was a musician in the house.
Debits: the material exhibited from their new long player "Thugs Lounge" - previously unheard by me due to Sister Ray's leisurely attitude to shipping orders - seems to have reigned in their maverick experimentation for a more traditional indie boy/girl band approach that skulks somewhere in the dead air between The Sundays and early My Bloody Valentine. And their brief 50 minute set missed a few of their bestest tricks from that luminescent debut: "Hippy Thinking" and "The Ones With Open Mouths" would have done, if done as well as the rest of the evening.
But so what? Fine venue (if you park carefully and plan to arrive at least two hours late), wonderful band, and an evening of music as unpretentious and up close and personal as you're likely to find anywhere these days.
IT'S JO AND DANNY Thugs Lounge (Double Snazzy)
I really wanted to like this, the second album from It's Jo And Danny, having been bowled over by the melodic magnificence and rickety homebrew of their DIY debut "Lank Haired Girl To Bearded Boy". But there seems to have been something of a sea-change in the duo's music: far from their roots as a more slapdash, and hence more interesting, version of Saint Etienne, they seem to be aspiring to something more folksier on "Thugs Lounge". The opener "Trip Din, Trip Doubt" contains a bagpipe-blown sample of the traditional tune "The Fair Maid Of Barra" amidst the acoustic guitars and scratching, whilst Jo's vocals on "Driven Away" seem to bounce along the edge of a very Arran, finger-in-the-ear tonality that verges on painful at times. And too many of the tracks seem like fragments of something that might have once been funny, answering machine messages set to music or the sound of the duo repeatedly accusing each other of being pigs. Such skits might be acceptable space fillers on a lengthier work, but at a mere forty minutes "Thugs Lounge" hasn't really got the room for such frippery. And of the proper songs, too many of them seem to sound like a scuzzier lo-fi version of Texas and if you take the gloss and sheen away from Texas' gloopy coffee-table muzak you have to wonder what's left to talk about. In the case if "Thugs Lounge" it would seem just some vaguely pleasant tunes ("Dying Kiss", "In The Here And Now", "Real Thing") that really aren't fit to lace the boots of the duo's previous mighty achievements.
Nevertheless, I'm pleased to report the continuing development of It's Jo And Danny's cover art: having re-enacted the sleeve of "Bringing It All Back Home" in the lounge of a London flat last time around, "Thugs Lounge" is fronted by a pastel reimagination of Van Morrison's "Veedon Fleece", right down to the country house and hounds.