Thursday
Dec272018

I Draw Slow @ The Grand Social - Dublin, Fri 21st Dec 2018 

It was 2010 when a debut release arrived on the local scene, spawned by a fledgling group of Irish musicians who wanted to find a place at the table in the music industry. Interesting that in the 8 years that have passed, this ensemble has gone from strength to strength, built a very strong fan base, not only around Ireland, but also in America where much of their current activity takes them on a regular basis. The original members are all still present and the definition of musical family could not be more apt when experiencing the obvious bond that these 5 musicians have on stage together. It also results in the impressively tight playing evident throughout and the craft that is brought to each song by such talented players.

When we first heard that debut release, the hope was that this band could endure and be able to support themselves in the stormy seas of the ever- changing music business. So, it is not only to celebrate their success story that everyone gathers tonight for their annual Christmas concert, but also to show ongoing support for their journey that has taken them forward as one of Ireland’s premier acts on the international stage. 

That debut release is also revisited tonight with the tracks, Little Switzerland, Lighthouse Daughter and That Boy’s Not Fair giving every indication that the passing of the years has not dampened down the vibrancy and celebratory tone of their performance and delivery. Much loved favourites, Goldmine and Valentine, are given full vent as the capacity crowd become more and more energised by the onstage performance. 

However, it is the latest release, Turn Your Face To The Sun, that rightly gets most focus with seven songs featured and each one a winner… Apocalypso kicked off the set and renditions of Maria, Alveregna, Same Old Dress Will Do, Twin Sisters and the excellent My Portion are all played with enthusiasm and gusto. New songs are also tried out, Grand Canyon and Queen Of The Wasteland, both received well, as are the tunes Pig Pen and Don’t Kiss In My Kitchen

Dave and Louise Holden have always been at the core of the band’s creative centre with their song writing skills and focus on maintaining a performance quality that continues to improve and match expectations. Dave is a very fine guitar player and his vocals blend seamlessly with sister Louise who continues to provide the focal point and energy of their impressive live performances. She dances with a gay abandon that seems to spur the players to even greater heights of interplay and her vocal delivery is very strong and nuanced. With Konrad Liddy providing the fine rhythmic anchor on upright bass, the sparkling runs of Adrian Hart on fiddle are given full flight with Colin Derham on banjo a willing accomplice as the music builds to the joyful tempos that many of the songs contain.

Special mention was made by Louise of the recent death of our beloved Sandy Harsch. Sandy played a part in helping I Draw Slow achieve media recognition early in their career and the generous applause that greeted Louise’s words was both heart-warming and poignant.

The set finishes with Goldmine with the band returning for an encore that includes Garage Flowers and two superb fiddle tunes that bring the night to a satisfying and thrilling conclusion among the many cheering fans that have turned up to witness what was a special evening of music.

Review by Paul McGee. Photograph by Declan Culliton

Saturday
Nov242018

Dar Williams @ The Workman’s Club - November 22nd 2018.

When it comes to matters of the heart or wry observation on life’s daily struggle, there are few musical artists as cultured and erudite as Dar Williams. Her career, that spans twenty-five years, has brought many accolades for her perceptive writing and musicianship, her collaborations with many seasoned and successful fellow-artists and her penchant for activism and causes in the name of equality and dignity for all.

Folk music has always held a special place in the psyche of the Irish people. It is a music that captures the spirit of the times and is a reflection of the forces within society that drive people to endure. As a mirror held up to assist us in self-reflection Contemporary Folk music is no less diluted as the challenges of these times weigh heavily upon so many of us. Where lies the light?

Dar Williams has always been searching for that light, a path to show the way forward and a solace to those in need of restitution and renewal. Tonight, she plays from her impressive body of work across a set that lasts 80 minutes and covers many of the 9 releases she has to her name.

Her ruminations and tales between the songs are very engaging and somehow, as important as the actual performances on solo guitar. Dar can spin and weave her words into witty and pithy songs of brittle humanity in all its frailty and understated nobility. You cannot help but be enthralled by her craft and communication.

Included in the set tonight are songs from her last release, Emerald. The title track is a look back on a life lived, seen through the memories that are sparked on a car journey. The superb New York Is A Harbour comes later in the set and is filled with imagery of the expectations and broken dreams that are intertwined in the great symbol for hope and the American Dream.

There are also two new songs, Time To Be My Friend and Let The Wind Blow, that sound right at home already and could have been plucked from any period of her discography to date. Old favourites are included such as The Christians & The Pagans, The Babysitter’s Here, The Beauty Of The Rain and the timeless insight of When I Was A Boy.

February and The One Who Knows are wistful ballads and go straight to the heart while the more up-tempo Iowa has the audience joining in on the chorus. Calling The Moon and I Am the One Who Will Remember Everything are also included and the encore, We Learned The Sea, brings everything to a very pleasing end. Always welcome to these shores, Dar Williams has lost none of her ability to engage and inspire in equal measure.

Review and photograph by Paul McGee

Saturday
Nov172018

JP Harris @ Celtic Music Radio & Nice 'N' Sleazy Glasgow 13th Nov '18

Considering he only plays a handful of shows annually in his adopted hometown of Nashville and does not tour regularly, it was a pleasure to have the opportunity to see Lonesome Highway favourite JP Harris & The Tough Choices for the fifth time in three months, when he performed a blistering set at Nice 'N' Sleazy on Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street, preceded by an acoustic set earlier that afternoon at Celtic Music Radio Station at Admiral Street. The previous occasions to witness Harris live were at Americana Fest in Nashville, where he played at 3rd & Lindsley, Robert's Western World and Sunday Coming Down at Gallatin Avenue, East Nashville. The latter was an all-day event organised by JP, featuring a number a artists, a spectacular and fitting end to the festival.

The personnel in The Tough Choices is very much a moving target and his touring band on this current trip around Europe are entirely different, but no less talented, than the musicians he had backing him in Nashville. The afternoon acoustic set was a pre-recorded interview and performance for Mike Ritchie’s weekly Sunday afternoon radio show on Celtic Music Radio. The set found Harris joined by his touring guitarist and they performed three songs (J.P.’s Florida Blues #1, Long Ways Back and When I Quit Drinking), all from his recently released album Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing.

Mike Ritchie’s interview with the engaging and extremely articulate Harris, included him revisiting his teenage years, his life experience since relocating in Nashville, his continuing support for female artists in the industry – he consistently includes female artists in his band, on this tour Nashville neighbour Miss Tess plays bass in his band together with preforming as an opening act - and an in-depth insight into the recording of his latest album. Harris explained that the album was produced by Old Crow Medicine Show’s Morgan Jahnig and the production was quite unorthodox by Nashville standards. The selected musicians to perform on the album came into the studio, having been given the skeleton of the tracks to consider a few days previously, with the instruction not to confer or discuss them with each other before recording. It's fair to say that the methods adopted were a qualified success and the six songs selected from the album to perform later that evening at Nice 'N' Sleazy sounded splendid in the live setting.

With a five-piece band of pedal steel (and occasional keys), bass, drums and guitars, Harris and his buddies took advantage of the excellent sound, lighting and indeed smoke machine at Nice N Sleazy, to deliver a killer seventeen song set. Kicking off and closing with the only two covers on the set list - the opener was David Allan Coe’s California Turnarounds and the encore a rousing version of Jerry Reed’s Freeborn Man– Harris and his cohorts raced through a free-flowing catalogue of songs that never lost steam. Sparks flew for up-tempo numbers Two For The Road, Gear Jammin’ Daddy, JP’s Florida Blues #1 and Hard Road, complimented by some equally impressive country ballads such as Maria, I Only Drink Alone, Lady In The Spotlight and Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing, the slower numbers all performed to pin drop silence. The road tight band were a joy to behold, with note perfect bass, drums and lead guitar, together with cracking pedal steel, supporting JP’s luxurious lead baritone vocals. 

In a market overflowing with plastic and industry manufactured acts masquerading as country artists, it’s a thrill to witness a genuine artist playing real country music with such a talented bunch of musicians and noticeably enjoying himself on stage as much as we were offstage. Make no mistake, Harris is the real deal and if you get the opportunity to catch him and his Tough Choices on the road, don’t pass it up. 

Thumbs up also to support act Miss Tess who, together with her band mate and co-producer Thomas Bryan Eaton, played a storming opening set featuring material from her album Baby, We All Know, before they both reappeared on stage as members of The Tough Choices.

Review and photographs by Declan Culliton

Wednesday
Nov142018

The Mulligan Brothers @ Naas Presbyterian Church - November 12th 2018.

This band is a breath of fresh air and seeing them play live again after a few years is such a joyful experience on a cold Monday night at a relatively new venue in Naas. 

The Presbyterian Church is a very intimate and small space, with the audience taking up the seating in the pews for an evening of highly entertaining music and song from this 3-piece who hail from Mobile, Alabama. This is their third tour of Ireland and the original touring 4-piece has now been reduced for the current dates and includes a female influence for the first time in the engaging presence of Melody Duncan on fiddle and vocals. 

Existing members, Ben Leininger on upright bass and lead singer/songwriter Ross Newell bring a warmth and finely crafted talent to the experience and the superb vocal tone of Newell is without doubt one of the finest live voices I have heard in some time.

Together the three-part harmony vocals are a complete pleasure throughout their generous set that touched on all three of their releases to date. The songs are based on personal observations in many cases but are also rooted in story songs that unfurl a narrative as they weave around the sweet melodies that are crafted from the tight playing on display.

Songs included Cecelia, Thrift Store Suitcase, Oh Susanna, Lay Here and the live favourite, Mama Gets My Soul. The new release, Songs For The Living And Otherwise, is given a good exposure with songs like Roseanne, a nicely crafted story that contains a clever twist, Possession In Gm, I Know That Man, and Great Grandaddy’s War, a song that reflects on the enduring divisions that were caused in the civil war and still resonate in the southern states of America. An evening of uplifting, infectious melodies and vocal harmonies that see this trio really hit the mark. 

The Mulligan Brothers may well have to consider a name change as they are well beyond ‘second chances’ at this point in their career and when you have heavy hitters such as Steve Berlin and Trina Shoemaker producing your records, then you know that you are already headed in the right direction!  

The support act was a local artist, Sina Theil, originally from Germany and now living here. She has a confident presence and a fine vocal that carries her strong set with conviction. Her backing band of three musicians all play a role with fiddle, lead guitar and bass joining together to fill out the guitar and voice of Sina. 

Definitely one to watch out for on the local circuit and already making inroads into the listening public with her debut album Under Cover charting at Number 1 in the Irish Country Download Charts and Number 5 in the Overall Irish Download Album Charts. Her version of Travelin’ Soldier (Bruce Robison), blended with the traditional Irish song, The Minstrel Boy, was a highlight of her set.

Review and photograph by Paul McGee

Wednesday
Nov142018

Deertick @ Whelan’s - 10th November 2018

Minus the Keyboards and Saxophone of Rob Crowell, Deertick have embarked on their current European tour and this stop in Dublin with the 4-piece comprising of John McCauley (guitars, vocals), Chris Ryan (bass, vocals), Dennis Ryan (drums, percussion, vocals) and Ian O'Neil (guitars, vocals), turn in a stellar performance in front of a capacity crowd on a Saturday night that has plenty of competition in other acts visiting the city this weekend.

Despite the fact that the band are playing across much of Europe over a 4-week period, the crowd tonight is dotted with fans who have travelled some distances from other countries to see the Dublin gig. They sing along to every song and their command of each line and lyric is very impressive to witness among the many smiles. Perhaps the fact that the gig was put in jeopardy by a major power cut, just after the support act had performed, only added to the unique atmosphere of the occasion. 

As the stage area fell into darkness, many thought that this was no more than a clever ploy to build up the anticipation and excitement before Deertick took to the stage. Not the case however, as the outage lasted almost 60 minutes before power was restored. The band had appeared to say that they wanted to play and that the gig would go ahead, but the longer the delay unfolded, the more people worried that the whole night might fall flat.

Once the difficulties were overcome, Deertick launched into their set (see photo) with an energy, intensity and power that suggested that they were on a mission to blaze through as many songs as possible before the curfew. They need not have worried as the venue is nothing if not a very relaxed place to enjoy live music and the staff were in no hurry to ask the band to leave the stage. Big applause to the patient crowd who remained good humoured throughout the power failure, even those who had travelled from abroad, as rumours circled that it was the U2 concert at the 3 Arena that had blown up the electricity grid in the city…!

 

Included on the night were tracks, Don't Hurt, Dream in the Ditch, Clownin' Around, The Bump, Easy, Me And My Man, Card House, Hope Is Big and the guitar heavy rhythms were cathartic as the superbly resigned vocal style of McCauley fought for room in the heady mix of sound and sweat. 

A cover version of the Pogues, White City, was especially well received by the crowd, while songs like Sea Of Clouds, Baltimore Blues No. 1 and Look How Clean I Am ensured that the pace never dropped as the ridiculously tight band twisted and turned driving rhythm into breaks of melody and quieter moments such as, These Old Shoes, Ashamed, Mange and Twenty Miles, ensuring that all seven of their releases to date were featured across the impressive set list. 

The final encore of You Are So Beautiful (Billy Preston/Bruce Fisher) was a fitting conclusion to a night of drama and intensity, not only on the stage and among the audience, but also in the unique circumstances that framed this exciting show.

A word also for the support act, Joanna Barbera, who played solo and was very well received with her easy stage manner and some interesting songs that no doubt had her supply of merchandise take a popular hit after the show. 

Thanks also to my new friends from Italy who were very welcome to Dublin for the show and who generously allowed me to take a photo of the set list, just for completion purposes, but also for any of you collectors out there who seek out such souvenirs!

Review and photographs by Paul McGee