- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 4, 2002

"I love that place," says Julia Fordham of the Birchmere from her home in Santa Monica, Calif. The expat English singer-songwriter shares the love there on Tuesday.
Though most of her tour dates consist of her and a guitar player, she says she has to "reward the good people there" with a full four-piece band. But it will still be tough to duplicate her new album live.
"Concrete Love" (on Vanguard Records) could easily put 2003's Julia Fordham in the same odd category as 2001's Shelby Lynne: a Grammy win for Best New Artist after releasing six albums. And it would be due to India.Arie.
The hypnotic title track perfectly blends Miss Fordham's usual deep, sultry vocals with Miss Arie's classically pretty voice, including some sexy improvised moaning halfway through. Though the song describes "no jelly legs no trembling weak knees" the effect on the listener is considerably different.
"I was a huge fan, and I gave her an advance copy around Christmas," reports Miss Fordham. Miss Arie's reaction, Miss Fordham says, was, "'Girl, that song is my jam!'" After learning it was to be the first single, the two rerecorded the song just before the album's release.
Producer-keyboardist-bassist (and Joni Mitchell ex-husband) Larry Klein came up with the album's "soulful theme" and called in Was (Not Was) for male backing vocals. Soul legend Billy Preston joined on organ after Mr. Klein rang him up, Miss Fordham says.
The album's drums are synths, which frequently lessens Miss Fordham's allure by overlaying the songs with a generic "smooth jazz" feel. The Birchmere show will have live drums and should provide a better platform for her four octaves.
The first four songs (notably "Wake Up With You") explicitly focus on lust and desire, but after that the theme becomes men leaving (as on "Missing Man"). "Yeah, we start off romantic then end with abandonment issues," Miss Fordham jokes.
Actually, she ends with Minnie Riperton. A huge fan of the late "phenomenal singer," Miss Fordham wrote the tribute "Roadside Angel" and tackles the signature "Loving You" in a hidden track. (And, yes, she hits the big high note).
"We literally had 15 minutes at the end of the sessionI just went for it," she says. She'll have more practice before Tuesday's show.

It's homecoming for some former T.C. Williams High students as Virginia Coalition (aka Vaco) plays D.C. Sessions at 8th and G streets NW on Saturday.
"We just travel so much. It's nice to be able to hang around with our friends," says bassist Jarrett Nicolay from his home in Alexandria. He figures they did "something pretty obscene, I think 230 shows, last year."
It's tempting to pigeonhole Vaco as yet another Dave Matthews-inspired frat/jam band prowling the college circuit with sorority groupies in tow. (And to be fair, they've no shortage of female fans.)
But a quick listen to 2000's "Townburg" reveals depth and wit, and the D.C. stamp of putting go-go into the usual Southern rock mix (notably on "Mista Banks"). It helps to have two lead singer-guitarists as well.
Andrew Thunder's songs, such as "Lonely Cowboy," feature a soulful drawling purr easily compared to Mr. Matthews or John Popper of Blues Traveler. But Steve Dawson's "A Song" is nothing less than James Taylor singing an R.E.M. song.
"Oh yeah, he definitely gets that a lot," Mr. Nicolay says. "That's a very fair comparison. Steve and I especially, and [keyboardist Paul Ottinger] really were kind of reared on R.E.M. going into high school." Vaco even got R.E.M. pal Mitch Easter to mix "Townburg."
As for the DMB comparison, Mr. Nicolay thinks, "maybe rhythmically a little bit, but songwise and instrumentation I don't really hear it." "We can play the festivals that are more jam bandy and we could also go play a pop show, even if we have to cater the set a little to one or the other."
The cryptic "E-Song" suggests that Mr. Dawson took singing lessons from Brit pop master Ian Broudie of Lightning Seeds fame. Rhythmically and lyrically it seems a homage to jam band fans who are "verging on the sacred, spinning with the sound." "That's another R.E.M. influence, that lyrics can be used in an abstract fashion," Mr. Nicolay says, though he reveals that the title refers to the song's key.
"Go-Go Tech" is well-titled, and has a bizarre sound bite from physicist Stephen Hawking. "We're very big space nerds. We're all big fans of his," Mr. Nicolay says.
They are recording an album in Springfield while in town. "We're looking forward to [D.C. Sessions] cause we've been so cooped up in the studio," Mr. Nicolay says. "All the stuff is gonna be fresh in our heads" so expect to hear "maybe as much as half the new record.'
Will the new album still have go-go?
"Oh yeah, have to, you know. That's D.C."


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