Alison Moyet: part opera diva, part checkout woman

At full pelt, Moyet's voice can cause physical pain; ROCK

THE Artist Formerly Known as Alf has careered from the Vandals to the Vicars to the Screaming Abdabs to Yazoo. And even after giving up bands with terrible names, and ditching her own masculine sobriquet in favour of Alison Moyet, she has never stopped exploring. On her recent chart-topping compilation album, Singles (Sony), her hefty voice calls in at every genre on the map, has a look around, and moves on.

Accommodating all these styles in one concert was never going to be easy. At the Cambridge Corn Exchange on Monday, Moyet attempted to twist every song to fit a semi-acoustic band. Unfortunately, some of them snapped in the process. MTV Unplugged has a lot to answer for. Nowadays, no serious pop musician can resist the lure of a double bass, a harmonica, and a percussion instrument made by nailing bottle caps to a stick; but songs like "Whispering Your Name" prove that if you cross disco-pop and badly amplified folky-acoustic guitar, you end up with a clatter that doesn't sound much like either.

The only songs which were at home in the unplugged setting were those which didn't try to rock'n'roll. "All Cried Out" and "Love Letters" were enigmatic and smoky, and the No 2 hit "That Ole Devil Called Love" was as it should be: brushes swishing on the drums, a nudging electric piano, a slip-slidey jazz bass. More importantly, Moyet's vocals were subdued to their husky, lazy best (at full pelt, that voice - part opera diva, part supermarket check-out woman - can cause physical pain). She can explore all she likes, but jazz ballads are where she belongs.

Sonya Madan of Echobelly is a graduate of the Smashy & Nicey school of patter. "This is a song for all you great things. It's called 'Great Things'," was bad enough, without being followed by, "This is a song called 'Natural Animals' for all you natural animals out there." The only consolation was that she didn't preface "Worms and Angels" or "Four Letter Word" in the same way.

Still, at the Cambridge Junction, the songs themselves were livelier than their intros. Those from the new album, On (Rhythm King), are still wrapped in imitation Suede, but they're less fussy than on its predecessor, and the band is no longer in danger of being arrested for recording while under the influence of the Smiths.

But Echobelly never seem entirely engaged with their material. Madan's limpid soprano is certainly distinctive, but only because she over-enunciates every word, a habit which gets very irritating very quickly: whatever the lyric, she looks and sounds as if she's a twinkle-eyed teacher reading a story to a class of five-year-olds. For all the emotion in her voice, the sexual exploration song "Pantyhose and Roses" might as well have been "The Sun Has Got His Hat On".

The music doesn't quite vary its tone enough either: the guitarists operate on a never mind the nuances, hear the volume basis. So while Echobelly are well-meaning and intelligent, they're just not all that involving. On has proved that they can be gutsy. Now they need more heart.

The density of Thursday's crowd at Dingwalls, a log cabin in north London that doubles as a comedy club, must have approached the fire-safety limit. Not a cause for concern under normal circumstances, but tonight there was a real possibility that Keziah Jones would set his guitar ablaze at the end of his set. Yes, it's the New Hendrix tag. Not in the sense that Lenny Kravitz (a Jones fan) is the New Hendrix, where "the New" really means "an unconvincing impersonator of". Jones, a Nigerian-born Londoner, deserves the title simply because he is head and shoulders and chest and navel above other guitarists.

He came on stage with a battered black acoustic guitar and proceeded to batter it further. He slapped its body, he thumb-strummed zig-zag, bristling, funk-rock riffs (he's also the New Prince and the New George Clinton, by the way) with dashes of hyperactive flamenco and some exhilarating ethnic rhythms. It was the gig of the year even before he switched to a two-string guitar, and proved to be just as nimble on that.

For the audience, it was difficult to keep up, which made it all the more impressive that the bassist and drummer could manage to do so so superbly. And it wasn't until the encore that you had time to notice the psychedelic light show, or that lithe, soulful voice.

Jones' new album, African Space Craft (Virgin), is out tomorrow. It's only half as good as the master craftsman's live show, which makes it an essential purchase.

Alison Moyet: Wolverhampton Civic Hall, 01902 312030, tonight; Liverpool Phil, 0151 709 3789, Tues; Glasgow RCH, 0141 227 5511, Wed; Manchester Apollo, 0161 242 2560, Fri; Sheffield City Hall, 0114 2735295, Sat; and touring. Echobelly: Sheffield Univ, 0114 275 3300, Mon; Warwick Univ, 01203 690916, Tues.

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