SXSW Friday Review: Joss Stone, The BoDeans, Trish Murphy

A buzz is building in America over the talents of this young girl from England, who stumbled into a music career after trying out for a talent show. Just shy of her 17th birthday, Stone possesses a preternaturally-seasoned voice of remarkable facility and expression, perfectly suited to the soul-flavored material on her debut album. Legend has it that her management team wisely issued early advances of the CD to radio programmers with no photo on the cover to keep non-pop programmers from drawing quick conclusions about what kind of music a cute, 16-year-old kid from the UK can make.

The early steps in Stone’s career have gone well, focusing on college radio and NPR attention and recently getting some MTV and pop music notice over her playfully funky re-working of The White Stripes’ “Fell in Love with a Girl,” re-cast as “Fell in Love with a Boy” and arranged by The Roots. It was probably the MTV play that prompted organizers to have Stone close a multi-act set in a large open-air park rather than in the more controlled environment of a club, and that’s a little unfortunate.

While Stone has wonderful singing abilities and an ease performing on stage that’s almost surprising for the limited amount of live experience under her belt, she seemed uncomfortable acknowledging the audience when the music stopped. In other words, while the set was impressive, it would have been amazing in a smaller venue that had better control over the sound (like adding more bottom-end punch to her excellent rhythm section) and a more intimate sense of presentation. That said, Stone shows early signs of growth into a solid concert performer, notably incorporating enthusiastic band introductions like a pro.

The nearly hour-long set focused on material from Stone’s “Soul Sessions,” but worked in a few self-penned selections (ostensibly from her next album project), which seemed unusual, since a few strong tracks from the current album were bumped in the process.

Stone’s vocal performance remained strong throughout, with her stage demeanor thankfully avoiding the vocal and physical gymnastics of several of her pop-music contemporaries. Instead, Stone’s dance moves seem more in the mode of the earthy sensuality of a Joan Osborne, just moving naturally to a tight band playing a good groove. A budding talent worth keeping an eye on.

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The BoDeans at Austin Music Hall
The BoDeans emerged in the ’80s with a rather organic blend of Everly Brothers-esque harmonies and catchy pop hooks against a framework of heartland mid-tempo rock structures. Not a lot of pop gems in the catalog, but easily listenable radio rock nonetheless.

Therein lies the rub: With few exceptions, The BoDeans produce pleasant but generic toe-tappers. During Friday night’s set, they previewed material from a new album due this spring. If what we heard Friday night is any indication, the guys are making their longtime fans happy, but they’re unlikely to attract many more working the same well-worn musical path they’ve worked for the past two decades.

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Trish Murphy at the Crowne Plaza Hotel
Austin-based singer-songwriter Trish Murphy has turned out several albums showcasing a knack for combining clever musical turns with a terrific dry wit and everywoman perspective. In a more just musical landscape, she’d see some of the success that Sheryl Crow has had traversing occasionally similar musical roads.

Particularly noteworthy on Friday was a song called “The Eternal Dream,” which Murphy said she heard in a dream where she saw Lucinda Williams singing it while passing by on a float in a parade. A bittersweet song that flows like the traditional “Unclouded Day” and manages to stick around a listener’s head for awhile. Murphy’s new album, “Girls Get In Free” will be released on her own label, and, based on her output up to now, could easily find a place in most Americana or roots-friendly music collections or AAA radio playlists if people can find it (samples are available at www.trishmurphy.com).

Published by Richard Tafoya

Richard Tafoya is a music journalist, photographer and web developer living in Los Angeles. This site is a mix of original posts and unedited versions of material created for other publications.