Portland Arms, Cambridge 26/02/05

Opening this evening was a group of four local folky types more than capable to bring a cosy little atmosphere to the cold and grumpy people calling themselves the audience. Stripping song-writing to it's bra and panties to deliver sweet arrangements about love, loss and Dr. Who, Facing The Sun favour the beautiful combination of a friendly rapport, cello, flute and a guitar player who looked like a school teacher on narcotics. I only say this because he seemed to be speeding up every song. A lot of potential. Just need a bit more practice.

Whilst the same need not be said for Gina Villalobos, who has been around the block and then some. What the faery queen would be if she only dressed in denim and big boots and had cool L.A. hair, she would also sound something like Sheryl Crow at her most raw and determined. Just a girl, a boy, a couple of acoustic guitars and a lot of English tea delivered husky versions of World Party's "Put the message in the box", (which she makes sound like it was her own song), and "Why", lulling me into an almost trance-like state (I'm not kidding!) though I wished that everyone had been as dumbstruck as me. I long to attend an acoustic gig where people don't feel the need to play with their mobiles or laugh loudly to each other about nothing in particular all the way through. Sods.

Because when there are just a few moments of complete silence, it is spine-tingling, bone-jangling simplicity at its best, demonstrated so well during the set by Laura Veirs and her Tortured Souls, who have come all the way from the Pacific Northwest so deserve a bit of hush. And hoorah they did. Not least because tonight they should surely have been known as her Two Hot Men. I know; I'm insatiable, but I strongly feel that the trombone is not used often enough nowadays and anyone that makes it remotely attractive deserves a mention. Add to this the inspiring exploration of a whole host of other instruments, a welcome appearance from the dearly departed Martin from Whiskey Before Breakfast and the trademark storytelling wonder of a strong clear voice that have made songs like the angelic and yearning "Ether sings", "Rapture" and the one everyone wanted to hear most of all, "The cloud room", so much more than your average folk offering, and you have one of the most very special group of artists to have graced the tiny stage at the Portland in many a year. Truly magical.

Anna C.