- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 18, 2005

It’s a musical mystery why some British bands make it big in the United States while others strive to be the next Beatles and just don’t make it.

Although talent surely helped groups such as the Rolling Stones and Coldplay gain American fans, there are plenty of talented musicians who are big in the United Kingdom but unknown to Yanks across the pond.

Local music fans have the chance to evaluate this themselves this week when two such bands play separate dates at the 9:30 Club.

On two previous albums, the Manchester trio Doves created epic guitar-driven rock that was beautiful and melancholy, anchored by the tender voice of singer Jimi Goodwin. While British music fans were quick to embrace the sound, Americans have been a little slower in warming up to the band.

That could all change with “Some Cities,” the band’s third album and probably its most accessible. Doves plays the 9:30 Club Monday in support of the record.

Coming off their last tour, behind sophomore album “The Last Broadcast,” the trio of Mr. Goodwin and twin brothers Jez and Andy Williams was feeling unsure about what to do next.

“That was our biggest problem, really, was trying to find our feet again,” says guitarist Jez Williams. “We wanted to change our methods. We just wanted to do something that was kind of different.”

Although many Doves songs typically last more than five minutes and have layers upon layers of sound, the band wanted this album to be more compact, Mr. Williams says. They began working with a new producer and decided to abandon traditional recording studios in favor of several home studios.

“We wanted to leave it quite open, let it happen naturally,” he explains.

“Set up the gear in a room and see what came out.”

The trio has never been shy to try out new things musically. They formed the dance group Sub Sub in the early ‘90s and came together again as Doves in 1998 with music that was much better for pondering than for dancing.

Doves remain a thinking-person’s band. “Some Cities” is a loose concept record about change that took root as the trio noticed the changes that occurred in their native Manchester while they were busy touring the world.

“Some Cities,” the title track, is blunt with its criticism and wistful nostalgia. “Too much history coming down/Another building brought to ground,” Mr. Goodwin sings, even as the music stays uptempo and jubilant behind him.

Capturing emotions more fully was one of the goals of the new record. Listening to the album now, Mr. Williams says the band did exactly what he hoped they would.

The lead single “Black and White Town,” which Mr. Williams describes as “kind of a stomper,” sets the tone for the record. It has a driving drum beat, repeating three-chord refrain and catchy chorus, making it one of the most upbeat Doves songs.

Though Mr. Goodwin’s voice is still dour-sounding, the band sounds like it’s having fun, and according to Mr. Williams, it was.

“It pretty much captures the feeling we had,” he says. “The whole sound of the album is kind of spontaneous.”

Having been Doves for about seven years and played professionally together for more than a decade, the trio works so closely together that each member knows what the other is thinking. “We don’t need to discuss so much anymore,” Mr. Williams says.

“Some Cities” debuted at No. 1 on the British charts and is gaining more notice in the U.S. than either of the band’s other albums. All of which is a big relief, Mr. Williams says.

“When you go away for three years, you can never take anything for granted,” he says.

The American tour was delayed slightly because Mr. Goodwin suffered a throat ailment, but he’s back to normal now and the group is looking forward to playing a country Mr. Williams describes as “mind-bogglingly big.”

It’s easier to be a big fish in the smaller British pond, but Mr. Williams is not worried about being outside the mainstream culture of America, he says.

“The fans are very loyal and dedicated there,” he says. “We’ll hopefully convert a few more along the way.”

• • •

Equally loved at home and equally as overlooked here is the Welsh band Stereophonics, which plays the 9:30 Club tonight.

Lead singer, songwriter and guitarist Kelly Jones has one of the most distinctive voices in rock. His scratchy-throat vocals manage to sound like a growl, even when he’s singing a sweet ballad.

His unique ability to spin a yarn made the band’s 1997 debut, “Word Gets Around,” less of an album than a collection of short stories, including the stellar “A Thousand Trees,” about the effect of a scandal on a small town.

On the band’s fifth album, “Language. Sex. Violence. Other?” the group throws off the blues rock that dominated its last record in favor of hard rock and pop that sounds unlike anything else in the Stereophonics catalog.

In concert, Mr. Jones is as comfortable sitting alone with an acoustic guitar as he is screaming at the top of his lungs while the full band rips through one of its faster numbers.

The first single, “Dakota,” ends with Mr. Jones repeating “Take a look at me now” over and over. Perhaps it’s time American music fans took him up on his offer.

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