Friday
Sep212018

Ed Romanoff @Whelans, Dublin - Wed 19th Sept 2018


Ed Romanoff was pleased to be in Dublin, or maybe just to be on solid ground after a short flight from Amsterdam turned into something a marathon journey that included a quick visit to Shannon. All due to the breathy interjections of Hurricane Ally. However he was genuinely pleased to be in Ireland for a number of dates to help him embrace his Irishness.Throughout the tour he is being ably supported by the esteemed Clive Barnes whose guitar playing adds much to the overall enjoyment of the songs played. It was clear to see why Mr Barnes is in such demand as a sideman and why he is a compelling artist in his own right.

The songs were mostly from his recent and rewarding album The Orphan King. As is his want Romanoff prefaced each of the songs with a story or reflection on the origin of the song.The Night Is A Woman was his approach to a Van Morrison style romantic ballad, he informed us, while noting that most people hadn’t a clue as to what it was about. Much more definite was the inspiration behind The Orphan King. A song co-written with Mary Gauthier who Romanoff took a DNA test with and discovered he was essentially Irish, his birth father being 100% Irish. As he was adopted into a loving Russian family, he set about trying to contact his Irish father once he discovered his existance. This included the hiring of a number of prover detectives to try and find him, however they never discovered any trace.

Many of his other songs are based on real characters, and his research into their backgrounds and histories often formed the basis of his writing for this fact based material. Elephant Man is about Joseph Merrick who he imagined finding a female companion to share his life. The Ballad Of Willie Sutton concerns the bank robber who died in 1980. He was an Irish American who became a bank robber of repute (Making number 11 on the inaugural Ten Most Wanted FBI list). It recounts the part of his life and times preceding his release from Attica State prison on parole on Christmas Eve 1969. Romanoff incorporates much of this detail in his incisive writing. He writes both solo and with a co-writer. Many on the most recent album are written with Crit Harmon.

Romanoff also tells the audience that he only really started to become a writer after the age of 40 and never really thought of himself as a singer, recalling that his (adoption) father was tone deaf and he considered himself the same. He humorously noted that he was advised that it might be best if he mouthed the words of the songs, by the leader of his school choir. However Romanoff is a much improved singer now and able to deliver his songs with a certain conviction. He would never consider himself a great vocalist but, similar to singers like John Prine, one who is able to deliver the song despite any limitation of his vocal range.


Playing acoustic guitar and sometimes adding a beat with a foot pedal he blends this with the atmospheric guitar of Barnes to create something that is effective and entertaining. Barnes played a couple of full on solos that enhanced the dynamic of the offering. Humour is ever present despite his noting that many of these songs hit the down elevator in terms of mood, but do so within the realm of optimism. Luan Parle joined the duo onstage, adding her exquisite vocals to several songs including a version of Springsteen’s I’m On Fire sung by Clive. For a couple of numbers Romanoff also calls folk-singer Peter Doran to the stage and they all join in on Blue Boulevard (Na Na Na)

Romanoff was called back by the small but attentive audience for a two song encore. The first solo then he was joined by Barnes on his big silver Gretch for the final songs which also saw Parle and Dorian returning on the stage to end a satisfying night.

Review by Stephen Rapid   Photography by Kaethe Burt O'Dea

 

Tuesday
Sep182018

UAFP 27th Annual Bluegrass Festival @ Omagh - 2018

The stages have been dismantled and the sound equipment packed away after another exciting music festival in the Ulster American Folk Park, outside Omagh in N Ireland (31/08 - 02/09/18). Once again we were treated to a world class lineup of not just bluegrass acts but also old time, folk and cajun bands from the US, Europe and Ireland.

Lonesome Highway sent their two intrepid reporters along - myself and photographer/broadcaster Ronnie Norton as always, to report back on proceedings. We certainly were not disappointed.

Worthy headliners were the Darin & Brooke Aldridge Band from N Carolina, who were on their first visit to the country. Both are multiple IBMA & SPGBMA nominated - Darin for his guitar flat picking and Brooke for her vocals, and they showed us exactly why! They are interpreters of both bluegrass and country standards and more modern songs from other genres - all of which are given their own twist while remaining true to their bluegrass roots. Among the stellar musicians in their band was the impressive 21 year old fiddle player Carley Arrowood, also IBMA awarded.

Despite their youth, the band are quite obviously road veterans and they tear into their sets with no time wasted. Songs like Neil Young’s Powderfinger and pop covers are interspersed with old country classics and a yodelling song which the punters were encouraged to join in on, with varying degrees of success. Carley Arrowood showed that she’s not just a phenomenal fiddle player by taking the lead vocals on one of her own compositions. There are many gospel songs included in the sets, one of the highlights being Darin’s rendition of their friend Vince Gill’s Go Rest High. Darin and Brooke demonstrated their gorgeous vocals on several country duets, including the moving Corn, and the Everlys’ Let It Be Me. Darin’s long guitar intro into Wayfaring Stranger is truly psychedelic (a nod to his former life with Acoustic Syndicate, perhaps) and their rendition of this oft covered classic is one of the best versions I’ve ever heard. The whole band were quite clearly delighted to be here and endeared themselves to the large audiences at each of their three sets throughout the weekend.

Mike Compton & Joe Newberry entertained, moved and educated their eager audiences in equal measure throughout all their many sets during the festival. Those who are particularly interested in the roots of the music had the opportunity to attend the informal McInterview, hosted by the indefatigable festival MC Frank Galligan, where we enjoyed anecdotes from the legendary duo’s early lives in Mississippi and Missouri, and their subsequent musical journeys. Mike (mandolin) has played with Bill Monroe, John Hartford and later the Nashville Bluegrass Band. They treated us to songs from Gaither Carlton, Doc Watson, Big Mon and the Mississippi Sheiks.

Such is their vast repertoire that very few of their songs and stories were repeated over the course of their performances. 

Midnight Skyracer are an exciting new band made up of five young women from N Ireland, England and Scotland. They have just been nominated for two IBMA Momentum Awards and after this, their first Irish appearance, they will be hot footing it to Raleigh in NC for the awards ceremony. Impressively, apart from their instrumental prowess across the board, most of their set is comprised of original songs, written by all five members. And they can all sing, to boot!

Natural band leader is Leanne Thorose, with her lightning fast mandolin playing and powerful gutsy voice. Eleanor Wilkie is impressive on bass, and when she takes the lead vocals on her own composition High and Dry. Our own Armagh banjo player Tabitha Agnew needed no introduction to the home crowd, but her banjo playing has amazingly continued to go from strength to strength. Then there are the twin Carrivick sisters: Laura is equally at home both on fiddle and dobro, while Charlotte wowed us on guitar. Their set is dynamic and fun, and their multiple harmonies are close and sweet. Carrie Hassler’s I’m Going On The Next Train was one of the highlights of their sets for this reviewer.

The Allen Family Reunion were a revelation on their first and hopefully not last trip to N Ireland, home to some of their ancestors. Comprised of two generations of this Ontario family, they entertained and amused their audiences with their musical chops, their warmth and their humour. Mandolinist/fiddle player John P Allen is well known in their native Canada and further afield as a member of the country band Prairie Oyster, although he doesn’t make a deal about it.

Demolition String Band have been here before and are quite familiar to Irish audiences. This time North Carolina based Elena and Boo were joined by Galwegian upright bass player Sammy Rohan, who did a stalwart job of keeping up! The band specialise in breakneck speed versions of songs as diverse as Madonna’s Like A Prayer (I kid you not) and John Prine’s Paradise (Mr Peabody’s Coal Train). Olabelle Reed and Jim & Jesse covers are introduced to the audience, some of whom may not be familiar with the broad range of country, folk and bluegrass artists that the duo love to evangelise about. They are so well admired that Woody Guthrie’s sister Nora asked them to write music for some of the treasure trove of Woody’s lyrics recently uncovered and they treated us to two of these.

Belgian/US Americana/folk band Old Salt were also making their first appearance at Omagh and it quickly became apparent why they won a European World of Bluegrass award in 2017. Led by American Daniel Wall (clawhammer banjo), they are a whirlwind of bluegrass, folk, jazz and old time influences, all delivered with a dynamism and a respect for the tradition. Ghent musicians Lotte Remmen on fiddle, Lara Rossellini on upright bass and Johannes Wannyn on guitar were able partners in crime in the current collective’s line up - their sets were broad ranging and their musicianship was tight. They performed many traditional songs and tunes, but made them their own and they explained the provenance of most of their choices. Both Lara and Lotte have built on their classical training to produce a lush string sound and the band’s harmonies were flawless. About to release their second album, we hope they will be back soon.

Whiskey Deaf, the old timey duo from Portland, Oregon were welcomed back with open arms after their first visit here in 2015. John Kael (guitar/banjo) and Annie Staninec (fiddle) have a huge repertoire of old time and bluegrass tunes and songs and their quiet enthusiasm for the history of the music was infectious. 

Fellow Pynins (US) performed their delicate blend of folky old timey songs which reflect their deep interest in nature and the land. Perhaps their repertoire just wasn’t big enough to handle the five sets spread over the weekend, but their songs and stories didn’t stand up to repeated listens.

Northern Ireland was well represented with sets from the ever popular Northern Exposure (who have expanded their repertoire with the addition of fiddle player Brendan Henry), Broken String Band, Geordie McAdam and the recently expanded Henry Family Band. While Janet Henry was promoting her well received new album Going Home, she and her dobro playing husband Colin were in danger of being upstaged by their children - James, who is fast becoming a banjo player of note, and Olivia who is possessed of a most wonderful pure voice just made for folk singing!

Eilís Boland

Athy’s Godfather of Bluegrass Tony O’Brien with his legendary Woodbine and local Omagh hot shot superstars the “CoolHand String Band” graced the stage and braved all the elements in the Log Cabin Field to give us a full spectrum coverage of Bluegrass to suit all ages and tastes. Woodbine as expected were a little more rooted in tradition, and much loved for it, while the Cool Hand String Band on their first visit to the Folk Park brought a vibrant and young approach and a clear indication that our choosen music is safe in the hands of the next generation. They even, “Lord Save Us” brought the open air crowd screaming to their feet with a blistering version of Wagon Wheel.
As photographer to the festival for the past "not so few" years I’ve managed to meet most of my Bluegrass heroes in what has to be the most relaxed and crowd friendly athmosphere possible for musical visitors. With seven stages and venues available I certainly got my cardio workout done over the weekend strolling the length and breadth of my favourite venue world wide for a musical festival. I’ve listed all the bands that appeared and are included in these above two collages more or less in the order that I encountered them. My heartfelt thanks goes to all the performers for their tolerance of the lurker with the long lens and all, and I really mean all of the staff at the Ulster American Folk Park for taking me into the family and creating the highlight of each Bluegrass year for me.
The Bands as I met them were Mike Compton and Joe Newberry, Whiskey Deaf, The Demolition String Band, Old Salt, Old Baby Mackerel, Broken String Band, Allen Family Reunion, Northern Exposure, The Henry Family Band, Fellow Pynins, Geordie McAdam, Midnight Skyracer, Eilidh Patterson, The Cool Hand String Band, Darin and Brooke Aldridge, Two Time Polka and Darin and Broke Aldridge, who once again were back for their spine tingling Gospel Concert in the Meeting House to wind up a really memorable weekend.
Roll ON 2019
Ronnie Norton  

Photography by Ronnie Norton

 

Wednesday
Sep122018

Gretchen Peters @ Liberty Hall, Dublin - 7th Sept 2018

In trying to review a concert from such a special talent, what was shared across the 90 minutes will always lead to thoughts of what was left untouched. The problem for Gretchen Peters is having a body of work that includes so many favourites and so little time! I guess it all comes down to the feeling that it’s not what you leave out, but more what you leave in…

What we do get is a beautifully balanced performance with superb musicianship from the talented band that comprises Barry Walsh (accordion, keyboards), Conor McCreanor (Electric & upright bass), Colm McClean (guitars) and Gretchen herself on acoustic guitar. The understated playing is so beautifully realised, always serving the song and adding just enough interplay to allow for the spaces between the notes. Also, the harmony vocals are very strong and augment a vocal performance from Gretchen that shows her voice to be in superb shape, singing from the heart in a honeyed tone that seduces and soars in all the right places...

The set tonight leans heavily towards the latest release, Dancing With The Beast and this is fully justified. It remains one of the best albums of 2018 and the current tour is in support of this release. Eight of the eleven album tracks are featured during the show with Truck Stop Angel, The Boy From Rye, Arguing With Ghosts and Disappearing Act all coming from very different places but connecting so poignantly; from surviving in a male dominated World to the loss of innocence and youth; ageing and Alzheimer’s - all the way through to taking the decision to disappear from it all.

Gretchen speaks of living with these new songs on tour over recent weeks and says that they have become a supporting band of sisters that accompany her on the road. The new album features songs about females in all different guises and situations, whether dealing with abuse or disillusionment or  deciding to take action and control over their own circumstances.

Fragile, yet strong women, some from the margins of society – others the real backbone of middle America in grappling with the reality of trying to rear a family and try to scrape a decent living in a country that has turned mean and spiteful. 

The references to Trump’s America are veiled behind the stories of the characters in these songs and the ability to endure and maintain dignity is captured with razor like precision in the poetic words of Gretchen as she holds a mirror up to daily constraints and compromise.

Say Grace is a key track tonight and the words, ‘the bible on the table says be of good cheer, but the tv in the corner is screaming you’re not welcome here’, resonate as an echo of the malaise within American society right now. Another key line is contained in the words to Lowlands with ‘but a man who lies just for the sake of lying, he will sell you kerosene and call it hope’. 

Such a vital and honest writer and so much on the pulse of everything that is real.

She speaks of the division and suspicion that was instantly present after the General Election result and the caginess of people wondering which side others were now on… All reflected in the song, Lowlands.

The Blackbirds release from 2015 gets 2 songs included, with the title track itself and the excellent When All You Got Is A Hammer. There are a further 4 songs from the 2013 release Hello Cruel World and the audience greet Woman On The Wheel, Five Minutes, The Matador and Idlewild like lost children returned to the fold.

Earlier in the set there is a Tom Russell song, Guadalupe, which was recorded on their co-release from 2009 and which Gretchen reckons is his most beautiful song. She talks about her coming to Ireland since 1997 (or so) and the fact that her visits are forever wrapped up in memory with the song, On A Bus To Saint Cloud, which she duly performs with a flawless melancholy that would melt the heart of the hardest cynic in the room.

The encore is another cover version, this time the Rodney Crowell song Ain’t Living Long Like This. It includes an extended band workout and a duel between Barry Walsh and Colm McClean as they trade licks and runs on their weapons of choice. At one point, Barry even plays the keyboard with his right foot! 

With the audience giving a standing ovation and fully deserved lengthy applause, Gretchen returns and leaves the stage to stand in front of the crowd to sing Love That Makes A Cup Of Tea. A perfect message of comfort and fellowship upon which to end what was a fine evening of all that is good in live music these days. A masterclass from one of the true greats. 

Review by Paul McGee   Photography by Ronnie Norton

Thursday
Sep062018

Brent Cobb @ Whelan’s, Dublin - Tue Sept 4th 2018

Tonight,Cobb returned to play Dublin and this Whelan’s gig was entirely different from his last gig which was at the Bello Bar in May last year. He had his band with him this time around, excluding the keyboard player, who was unable to make the trip. The three band members made an immense contribution to the music throughout the show. Sospecial mention to Mike Harris on guitar, Jay Kott on bass and Olajuwon Jackson on drums. They could be as heavy or light of touch as the song required. Something that distinguished them from other bands whose southern style rock often became heavy metal in the live setting. 

Brent Cobb was an engaging front-man who was full of chat and stories, in fairness something he said he would be from the start. At times it was difficult, for this listener anyway, to catch all of the tale with his Southern Alabama drawl. But enough was deciphered to catch the general drift and to enjoy what was being imparted. For the last few weeks the band had been playing short sets opening for Chris Stapleton and Marty Stuart and the Fabulous Superlatives. So,this show gave them the opportunity to stretch out for the first night of their European tour. The set featured songs from Cobb’s recent Elektra/Low Country Sound albums.

There were two support acts on the night with the first, Sands & Hearn, from Cleveland, playing songs from their debut album that was given a big thumbs up at Lonesome Highway. The duo offered sweet harmonies and insightful songs, including American Mind, Crazy Carl, Bus To Abilene and the title track, Time Is A Line. Given their recent arrival in Dublin and the onset of jet lag, they performed their short set with plenty of energy and spirit.

Zack Logan,a Mississippi based country singer,was next up. He was accompanied by a fiddle player and bassist from London who he had only just met. They had learnt the songs from his debut CD, Raised By Wolves, in advance and they did add to his overall delivery. Logan is not yet totally comfortable on stage or else comes across a little shy and had little in the way of easy stage patter with the audience other than allowing that the beer and shots were good. But he had a strong voice and some good songs, including Annalee, Dogs Chase Cars, I’m Coming Home and the title track, Raised By Wolves. Definitely one to watch.

The same cannot be said of Cobb who showed an engaging character and humour throughout the show. The songs were taken largely from Cobb’s recent releases,(Shine On A Rainy Day and Providence Canyon). Dave Cobb (his cousin) produced both albums. One of the songs, King Of Alabama,was dedicated to the late Wayne Mills who was murdered in tragic circumstances and the song, he related, included a writing credit for Mills' son Jack (aged ten). A gesture that seemed very much in keeping with Cobb’s natural empathy and understanding. There was also a highly energised version of Dwight Yoakam’s Guitars, Cadillacs And Hillbilly Music which worked a treat amid his own material. 

There was an obvious empathy between the players and a sense that they were enjoying themselves as much as the audience. Many of the songs were extended and gave Harris a chance to display his skill on Gibson SG, Telecaster and Stratocaster. Particularly some atmospheric slide guitar. While Jackson and Kott underpinned everything with some weighty and dexterous drums and bass. All in all, this four-piece, with Cobb on effective acoustic rhythm guitar,were firing on all cylinders. Cobb did try an electric guitar for one song but said it wasn’t really his instrument and switched back to his trusty Gibson acoustic.

Although the audience was not big in numbers they enthusiastically responded to what they heard. The band didn’t show any disappointment with the sparse attendance and gave a fully-fledged performance including a reluctant encore at the end as Cobb said he disliked false encores where the best songs are saved for such an ending. Whatever the reason it capped a great night of music that leaves one hoping for a return visit in the near future. C2C perhaps?

Review by Stephen Rapid & Paul McGee  Photography by Kaethe Burt O'Dea

Wednesday
Aug292018

Jim White & Clive Barnes @ Whelan’s Dublin - Sun 26th Aug 2018

An artist that can truly be defined as one of a kind. Jim White has a portfolio of six solo records and a number of collaborations since he first appeared on the radar back in the 1990’s. His wealth of life experience is drawn from stints as a professional surfer, comedian, fashion model, cab driver, boxer, preacher and any variety of other jobs such as dishwasher, landscaper, lifeguard, cook, road builder.

Somewhere along the line, he developed as a self-taught musician and has gone on to produce records and had his songs feature in such TV shows, such as Breaking Bad and Rectify. He also exhibits in art galleries and museums across the US and Europe and writes fiction.

As a singer-songwriter, his observational tales are drawn from real life experiences, insights on the human condition, ruminations on the propensity of mankind for self sabotage and a whole bag of other flights of fancy that find their way into his idiosyncratic view of our attempts to make sense of life on this mortal coil.

His live shows are as much spoken word as they are about the music, with the stories behind each song coloured by his wonderfully incisive wit and penchant for the bizarre in the details of each experience. His life has been lived on the edge and this is reflected in his championing of those fated to live on the margins of society. Ironically, we are left with the inescapable truth that the real bums, thieves and villains are living within the social norms of society and responsible for building up the very walls that keep the disenfranchised and fragile souls on the outside. 

His generosity of spirit is shown in the simple fact that he auctions his performance shirt each night at the shows and gives the proceeds to the ‘doctors without borders’ charity. Tonight, his fine blue shirt made €80 as a member of the audience won the stage-side auction after the gig.

The set list is taken from all his releases with five of the songs featured on the latest release from 2017, Waffles, Triangles & Jesus. The other releases get a few songs each and there are two tracks included that he has yet to record. The topics cover his daughter (Bluebird, Sweet Bird Of Mystery), death/murder (A Perfect Day To Chase Tornados, Objects In The Water, The Wound That Never Heals), gimmick songs (Playing Guitars), lives on the edge (A Felony Report Song, Handcuffed To A Fence In Mississippi), relationships (Epilogue To A Marriage), survival (Here I Am, Chase The Dark Away, Prisoner’s Dilemma) and just being alive in the present (Silver Threads, Wonders Never Cease). These are moments of treasured insight, reflection and just great fun. 

Clive Barnes supports on acoustic and electric guitars and performs to his usual high standard of interpreting the songs and embellishing them with a sensitive and restrained dynamic in his delivery. Clive also sings a song of his own, Down To The Crossroads, with Jim sitting in on harmonica, which he plays on a number of other songs to great atmospheric effect in a ‘less is more’ way.    

Jim describes himself as a Pantheist and whatever about trying to identify God in nature, Jim states that writing songs is like therapy for him and that they should reflect who you are. If a great record results from this process then that is a bonus along the way, but it should not be the reason for writing. This was a warm, wonderful evening of songs born from a unique talent and vision. Intimate setting and inspiring to witness it all.

Review and photograph by Paul McGee