Louisiana swamp-pop supergroup Lil’ Band o’ Gold, led by Ponderosa Stomp stalwarts Warren Storm and C.C. Adcock, has once again attracted the attention of an international superstar, this time English singer and fashion designer Lily Allen, who hired the band to play her wedding reception June 11. A fitting choice, given swamp pop’s fetishized focus on nuptials, their associated soap operas, and all their lachrymose trappings, from Lil’ Alfred’s “Walking Down the Aisle” to Margo White’s “You Had Your Chance” to the song whose lyrics gave Lil’ Band their name: Clint West’s “Big Blue Diamonds.”
Being not quite our cup of tea musically, Allen won’t be gracing the Stomp lineup anytime soon, but her unabashed ardor for LBOG isn’t the first time the swampy ensemble has mesmerized Brit popsters. Several years ago Led Zeppelin vocal banshee Robert Plant joined LBOG to record two tracks (“It Keeps Rainin’” and “I’ve Been Around”) for the Fats Domino tribute CD “Goin’ Home,” capped by a live performance at Tipitina’s preceded by a storied soundcheck at which the Fat Man himself joined in with a microphone while nursing a few beers at the bar.
Then, in 2010, Elvis Costello took the stage with LBOG for a Bobby Charles tribute performance at the House of Blues’ Parish Room, singing “Big Boys Cry” and “Before I Grow Too Old,” joined on the latter by swamp-pop legend Tommy McLain.
For the pop singer Lily Allen, it was while listening to the mix CDs that her fiancé Sam Cooper made her when they first dated a few summers back. “You can hear the experience they have in their amazing voices,” she says. Allen jokes that they have spent half their budget flying out all eight members of the group to play at their wedding. “It will be worth it,” she says. “They are already classic and it will be a good way of feeling like Tarka [Cordell, Sam’s half-brother and the band’s late producer] is there.”
Indeed, Allen apparently couldn’t contain her groupie-like excitement about the band’s impending arrival, tweeting: “Lil’ Band of Gold are coming to london !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Joined by Tommy McLain, the group made their London debut at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire on June 14, screening their documentary film “The Promised Land: A Swamp-Pop Journey,” followed by a live performance showcasing songs from their newish CD of the same name on the Room 609 label.
How did the thick Cajun musical gumbo go down at the celebrity-filled reception at Allen’s Gloucestershire estate? Allen tweeted June 13: “I had the most amazing wedding, thank you to everyone who went to such extraordinary efforts to make it that way. Lil Band Of Gold were incredible and they’re playing Shepherd’s Bush Empire tomorrow, I urge you all to go go. And watch them.” She even went so far as to post a link so her fans could buy tickets to the London show.
Though we quibble with his mild criticism of “plodding instead of pounding,” writer Rick Pearson of This Is London scrawled this glowing review about LBOG’s performance in a piece titled “Lil’ Band O’ Gold are fabulous company”:
Say what you will about Lily Allen, but she has impeccable taste in wedding bands.
Lil’ Band O’ Gold, an eight-headed swamp-pop monster from deep Louisiana, played at the singer’s wedding on the weekend and last night came to west London for a rare live showing.
Their recent album, “The Promised Land”, is only their second in 11 years, and had you brought a cat with you to a far-from-full O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire, there would easily have been room to swing it.
However, those that were in attendance – mostly men of a certain vintage – were first treated to a film of the band and then a triumphant, two-hour performance.
Songs turned over at a rapid pace, pinballing from raucous rhythm ‘n’ blues (“Teardrops”) to quivering country-rock (“I Don’t Wanna Know”). Vocal duties were shared, although drummer Warren Storm had the best pipes.
And the group were joined by crooner-cum-Catholic minister Tommy McLain, whose gravelly turn on “Jukebox Songs” was almost as striking as his sparkly gold jacket and mighty beard.
Not to be outdone, David Egan channelled his inner Randy Newman on the rambling piano ballad “Dreamer,” before Steve Riley put his accordion through its paces on the 12-bar blues of “Ain’t No Child No More.”
There were too many mid-tempo, momentum-sapping ballads to make this a truly great gig: Lil’ Band Of Gold have a tendency to plod when they should pound.
For the most part, though, they were fabulous company. And let’s hope it doesn’t take another celebrity wedding before they’re back with us again.
Since most of you couldn’t make Allen’s party, come savor some sloppy seconds by attending this year’s 10th annual Ponderosa Stomp Music Festival and Conference at the Howlin’ Wolf in New Orleans on Sept. 15-17. Tickets are on sale now if you want to see swamp-pop and swamp-blues legends like Warren Storm, Lazy Lester, Carol Fran, Classie Ballou, Lil’ Buck Sinegal, James Johnson, Rudy Richard, Roy “Boogie Boy” Perkins, GG Shinn, Jivin’ Gene, Jockey Etienne, and others.
In the meantime, let’s laud Lily Allen for her musical discernment, and “I Hope” her marriage is a super jolly success – one that doesn’t end in any “Lonely, Lonely Nights” for the lovely lassie.