- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 12, 2004

“It’s a brilliant time for rock and roll,” says Stereophonics bassist Richard Jones. He’s alluding to the popularity of past stage mates like the White Stripes and the Strokes.

“Over here at least,” he says from his London home, “there were a lot of pop idol bands happening, and [the scene] needed that input from guitar bands.”

Stereophonics’ latest “input” is V2 Records’ “You Gotta Go There To Come Back,” a massive hit in the United Kingdom but not yet here: “You need to get some radio and MTV in the U.S.,” Mr. Jones says.

The group from Cwmaman, in south Wales, plays the Patriot Center with David Bowie on Sunday.

Most of the group’s new album deals with the end of singer-guitarist Kelly Jones’ 12-year relationship with his childhood sweetheart. He frequently sounds besotted here, though not with her. Kelly Jones (no relation to Richard Jones) sets the tone early, on “Help Me (She’s Out of Her Mind),” with a low, evil chuckle, then switches to his trademark Rod Stewart rasp for lines like “You wanna shoot her/wanna love her.”

Even with some creepy self-backing vocals, he can’t quite keep up the swagger for seven minutes, though “Help Me” is still a good sludgy helping of psychedelic retro-blues grit. No flashy Jack White moves here, just power chords and some heavy drumming from Stuart Cable.

Mr. Cable left the group last September, in what was reported as a not-too-amicable breakup. For this live tour Richard and Kelly Jones are bringing along Steve Gorman on drums, Tony Kirkham on keyboards and Scott James on guitar.

“Maybe Tomorrow” is a sea change — reflective pop-soul with a hypnotic melody, wah-wah guitar, and backing vocals straight out of a 1970 Stax recording. There are even some contented lyrics like “Think I’ll walk me outside/And buy a rainbow smile.”

“You Stole My Money Honey” gives its anger a solid Britpop, even music-hall, feel, while “Madame Helga” pays homage to Led Zeppelin both musically and lyrically (via the line “livin’ lovin’ woman”).

“On the previous three albums we restricted ourselves” to what could be played live, says Richard Jones. “But on this album it was like ‘Let’s just do the songs, and whatever the songs need we put on them, and worry about playing them live after.’ ”

Thus we get gospel singers and other experiments on tracks like “Jealousy.”

The catchy “Getaway” wistfully remembers that “when we were angels/before we stole cars.”

“I think we did get into a certain amount of trouble growing up, out of boredom basically,” says Richard Jones, citing an incident involving the local church’s van. He and Kelly Jones knew it could be started with a Popsicle stick, Richard says, so “when everybody was in the church we used to steal the van and drive her up and down the road. Stupid things like that.”

And now? “Now we’re pretty good. The only time we get in trouble is if we drink too much and shoot our mouths off.”

• • •

Toby Lightman strikes a Joni Mitchell pose in one photo from her just-released debut CD, but you’re more likely to hear an R&B; sound coming from the 25-year-old tonight at the 9:30 Club.

“I wrote everything on acoustic guitar, so [live] it’s pretty much down to the roots, very raw,” she explains. It will be Miss Lightman on rhythm, and another person on lead acoustic, in contrast to “Little Things” (Lava), which is heavy with lush self-backing vocals though over-reliant on synth beats.

Given its hip-hop beat, strong-woman lyrics, and snarlingly soulful vocal delivery, the current MTV hit “Devils and Angels” could make Miss Lightman the Generation Y Meredith Brooks. And there’s that unique intro: How many pop songs use a sitar?

Another potential single is “Leave It Inside” with its Latin percussion rhythm, Shakira-like vocals, and great neo-soul yeh-yeh background cooing. The scat-song “Little Thing” ends up as an homage to her idol Ella Fitzgerald. “Little Thing” also makes a nice bridge between the album’s pop/hip-hop first half and the (better) jazzy second half.

Many of the songs here (especially the “is this love right” songs) are framed as debates with herself.

“Yeah, well, that’s me,” Miss Lightman says, laughing. “Maybe on the next album I’ll come to terms with a lot of stuff.”

“Front Row” is a clever bit about a fan trying to connect with the singer, and the singer debating whether to return the attention. “That does happen, but for me it’s something that I would never act on,” she says.

“Don’t Wanna Know” flips it around, with the fan telling the star she’s not interested in his personal life, just in his music. (In her case, the star would be her favorite, Stevie Wonder). “I didn’t even plan it, it just started becoming a fan chasing after a performer,” she exclaims. “It just kind of took on a life of its own, as does every song.”

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