Always a joy to come to the Bedford, even more so for an album launch with an extremely well assembled and talented bill.
The evening presented a welcome chance to finally catch up with Ilona, a full three years after her C2C 2016 appearance. Her back catalogue has always been impeccable and live dressed in black with her trademark hat she really showed what it was that we had been missing. With a band consisting of Tony Moore on guitar, keyboards and electronic wizardry to provide percussion, and bassist KT Parker, quite possibly part flamingo, she spends much of the set balanced on one leg in a myriad of positions to extract notes from her guitar, this was an exemplary set.
Opening with "When It Comes To You", with Tony providing a gentle piece of guitar over a pulsing drum beat giving a great base for Ilona to sing over. Her voice rich and soulful on the chorus, this was a great way to kick things off. Following up with her 2017 single, "Safety Net", another song with a soulful feel, with Tony, & KT adding their vocals to make the performance something special. Ilona has many strings to her bow though, "Back To You" being something of a 80's rocker driven by Tony's guitar intro, which saw her leaning out over the front of the stage while holding the microphone stand.
Tony moved to the piano for the next song, a heartfelt heartbreak ballad with something of an unusual back story, "Best Day Of My Life" was a response to the events of that story. With it's "Going back to Vegas" chorus this was highly impressive stuff. The highlight of a hugely enjoyable set came with a song that was 7 years in the making, "Double Meaning", even though it was actually the second song that Ilona had started to write. With Tony providing a big piano intro the only thing that this song was missing was a James Bond film in the background for it to be played over. It is going to be Ilona's next single and may well turn into one of the singles of the year - even on first listen it was jaw droppingly good with an unforgettably powerful chorus.
A song co written with Lost Hollow was next and saw things head off in another direction, as Tony kicked things off with a big guitar intro into "Rewind" which saw Ilona take on something of an 80's style power pop delivery, a style to which she adapted to with some aplomb. The next song saw us leap forward a decade for the almost Brit pop of "I'm Back" with another highly addictive chorus that you could not help but like. There's no denying that Ilona is an outstanding performer and the final song "Lost In a Dark Place" saw her give her all, even at one point dropping to her knees to maximum effect in a song that came with its own dramatic pause.
It may have taken three years to catch up with her but she more than delivered and we certainly won't be leaving it that long again!!
While the audience digested what they had just seen, there was a major stage overhaul for the arrival of Lost Hollow, Tony and KT stayed on playing guitar and bass but they were to be joined by a drummer, fiddle player Charlie Cole who had diverted his planned journey so that he couple appear tonight, and as well as Tommy and Lorrie, there was an an additional Harden on stage tonight in the the shape of Lily on acoustic guitar and backing vocals.
Tonights album launch was for their latest release "Looking For Happy", a full three years in the making, it is a sublime mix of styles across the Americana spectrum, always with the focus on a great tune. A testimony of their faith in the new record is displayed by the fact that the majority of the set will solely come from it, and testimony as to how good the tunes are will come from the enthusiastic audience reception it will receive.
Having flown in from Nashville only a day or so earlier, and with minimal rehearsal time this was also to prove just how good the assembled musicians were as it passed faultlessly.
The drum and guitar intro got things started and immediately we were into "When I Get Home" one of the few already released songs from the Lost Hollow catalogue to get an airing. It's uptempo country rock sound being a good introduction to the Lost Hollow sound and to the impressive fiddle playing of Charlie Cole and also allowing a chance to have an early piece of audience participation.
From there on we ploughed headlong into the new record starting with the title track which saw Tommy switch to ukelele and potential mustache grabbing harmonica. It's delightfully upbeat sounding song which Lorrie and Tommy performed in some style.
The heartbreaking story behind "Shine On" was revealed by Lorrie, a quite sublime piece of music, it had a variety of backing vocals on the incessantly catchy chorus which all added to the overall effect. The song was special and brought something positive to a very sad situation.
The joy of watching Lost Hollow is that they have a great rapport with UK audiences and seem so naturally at home. It was Lorrie who stole the vocal duties for "Oh Heart" though once again the fiddle playing was exquisite and the family vocals were something to behold,
The new material is instantly likeable, "Burn Em Down" sees Tommy and Lorrie glancing at each other touchingly as they sing. There was a live debut for "This Better Be Good", something of an epic ballad and for a first attempt it set the bar pretty high for future versions.
Most of the band were given one song off, as Tommy, Lorrie & Lily performed "Landslides", with Lorrie holding the mic and Lily providing additional backing vocals on this lovely harmonic version.
The next moment saw a break in the set list and a glimpse into the future talent that will be Lily Horden. Throughout the set she had been doing her thing with minimal fuss to maximum effect but for this song "I Don't Know" she was given her own slot in front of her onlooking proud parents. With some expressive guitar and delicately effective vocals, she'll soon be going into the studio to make her debut recordings - it will be something to look out for when it surfaces.
This was an hour that just flew by at such a rate,that we seemed to be at the final songs only seconds after we had started, The final songs a spectacularly crowd rousing "We Are One" and the eloping party closer "Runaway" brought a quite fantastic set to a close and the album could be considered to have been well and truly launched.
For Jake Morell it was never going to be an easy job following two bands as just a solo performer, though he did give it a shot and there was still plenty to enjoy in his set. With songs like the opener "Wire & Thorns" and "Long Way Round" there was certainly an attempt to generate some noise and atmosphere.
He did get some some audience participation for "Kindness" and a new song, the Sue McMillan co written "This House", managed to capture the impact of his parents selling off what had always been the family home, by peppering it with little observations and childhood memories. A closing few songs , the ever reliable "Englishman", and the single from earlier in the year "Home", brought the end to a quite remarkable evening - all the more remarkable for the evening being completely free!!