Tuesday
May152018

Ten Stand Out Performances and Songs @ Kilkenny Roots 2018 

Rachel Baiman & Molly Tuttle Wicked Spell (1)

Perfection personified both vocally and instrumentally by these exceptional young artists. Wicked Spell from Baiman’s Shame album was one of many peaks but anything from their setlist could have been highlighted. Faultless!

Birds of Chicago Love In Wartime (2)

The title track from their recently released album that will certainly feature in our Best of 2018. Gorgeous vocals courtesy of  Allie and J.T. and the first act to sell out both their shows at Roots. For anyone that missed their Kilkenny gigs the good news is they are back in Ireland in July for more of the same!

The Blasters One Bad Stud (3)

Anyone even thinking for one minute that these guys would be only going through the motions were left in no doubt for the word go. Vocally Phil Alvin sounded no different than decades back, rhythm section of bassist Jon Bazz and drummer Bill Bateman set down a killer groove throughout and Keith Wyatt got the Lonesome Highway nod as guitarist of the festival with his blistering solo on their closing number One Bad Stud! 

(left to right 1,2,3)

The Sleepwalkers Wichita Lineman (4)

It felt like being transported from Kytelers in Kilkenny to Robert’s Western World on Broadway in Nashville for this master class in Western Swing and Country Classics by our very own recently formed supergroup of David Murphy, Clare Sands, Kevin O’Shea, Cian Heffernan and Declan O’Shea.  A rendition of the classic Jimmy Webb song that Glen Campbell would have been proud of.

Mary Gauthier Soldiering On (5)

A performance that even surpassed her normal excellence with songs and tales that both moved and enthralled and appeared to be savoured equally by the artist and audience. Material from her recent album Rifles & Rosary Beads was outstanding, in particular this opening track from that album.

Bennett Wilson Poole Ask Me Anything (6)

A performance that fully lived up to expectations from these three amigos with the collective adroitness to create lyrically astute songs with hooks and rhythm that catch and reel you in on first listen, all enriched by killer jingle jangle Rickenbacker playing by the most senior of the trio. This particular song has been on Lonesome Highway’s playlist since the release of the album and they delivered it to perfection.

(left to right 4,5,6)

Prinz Grizzley and his Beargaroos Wide Open Country (7)

Austria may be better renowned for classical rather that country music but it has struck gold with these honky tonkers. One of the busiest acts of the weekend playing three sets including a double helping at the ‘wind down’ friends and promoters afternoon session at Billy Byrnes. Also voted best looking band of the festival by the large female contingent by all accounts! 

Seamus Fogarty Carlow Town (8)

Festival opener Fogarty has suddenly become a cult hero with his witty and poetic song writing. The opening act of the festival and an act much loved and encouraged by our great friend Willie Meighan. His live shows more than justify his growing fan club and his yarn of an overnight in Carlow Town with its jocular lyrics and electronic loops and beats brought the house down.

Whitney Rose You Don’t Own Me (9)

Melting heat and melting hearts at Billy Byrne’s for Whitney Rose’s first Irish dates. A throwback to late 50’s and early 60’s Nashville sound when the use of the two words pop and country in the same sentence did not send you scrambling for the pause button. Her extended version of the Lesley Gore hit from the early 60’s was stunning.

Peter Oren Throw Down (10)

The perfect lunchtime set from the affable and articulate young man with the dreamy baritone vocals and equally engaging stories and songs to match. Shades of Bill Callahan in his low fi set list that not surprisingly included most of his excellent recent album Anthropocene. Throw Downjust about shaded Canary in a Mineas the highlight of his set.

(left to right 7,8,9, 10)

Special Achievement Award

The festival offered so many musical highlights but the highpoint of the weekend was without doubt Del Day, Con Crean, Alan Treacy and Sinead Fitzgerald arriving at Cleere’s on Friday afternoon after their epic and €10,000 + fund raising cycle. Extraordinarily they did not encounter a single rain drop on their eight-day adventure.  No doubt Willie Meighan was still working his magic and looking after them. Heroes one and all and testament of how the festival has in the past - and continues to – create friendships, bonds and camaraderie way beyond our collective love of music. 



Review and photography by Declan Culliton

Wednesday
May092018

The Legendary Shack Shakers @ Grand Social - Dublin - Friday 3rd May 2018

JD Wilkes led his Legendary Shack Shakers onto to the stage before a healthy gathering of the faithful to deliver another exhilarating show. They opened in acoustic mode with Wiles on banjo, new guitarist Gary Siperko on acoustic guitar, upright bassist Fuller Condon and Preston Corn on percussion complete the line-up. The later pair appear on the band’s latest album After You’ve Gone and have both toured with the band previously while Siperko has replaced the departed Rod Hamdallah. He immediately makes his presence felt from the start with some fast and furious guitar breaks that bring comment from Wilkes who plays up the guitarist’s skill with mock jealousy. 

The material played on the evening came from all parts of the their career to date including the most recent album After You’ve Gone and the solo JD Wilkes album Fire Dream as well as traditional songs and blues covers. Sugar Baby was a Dock Boggs song. Others included Silm Harpo’s Hip Shake which was an extended showcase for Siperko, one that allowed all the band to stretch out. As with many of the best live bands these songs take on a whole different persona when performed in front of an audience. Songs came from the debut album Cockadoodlerdon’t which was released back in 2003 (Devil’s Night Auction, Hip Shake), through The Southern Surreal (Mud), Swampland (Old Spur Line), Pandelirium (Jipsy Valentine) as well as from the Dirt Daubers’ album Wake Up Sinners. All given, with this current line-up, a new lease of life and a different musical patina.

Without losing their edge these songs were somewhat less visceral than of yore - a fact that Wilkes noted when asking the audience to come closer to the stage front stating that their drinks would be safe from sprayed bodily fluids that were a feature of the band’s shows over the last 20 years. Since founding in 1995 there can be no doubt that the intensity and sheer volume of the stage show has changed since that time but the performance still retains that exciting edge that sees Wilkes remain one of the most underrated frontmen of recent times. He is compulsive, a can’t take your eyes of him, band leader. He is continually throwing shapes, pulling faces and making contact with his audience while giving those onstage with him space to deliver their end of the bargain. No less so than when Siperko switches to a big red Gretch for the main part of the show and displays a speed and fluidity of playing that perfectly matches Wilkes hi-energy delivery. 

Wilkes is a top notch harmonica player and the smallest of instruments again showed how it can be, in the hands of a master, a sonic match for any other instrument. His first instrument he told us came from his Grand-father and he wondered how many other mouths had it been in before he got it! He is also a collector of vintage harmonicas and brings out one from his collection that has mini-horns attached to increase it’s volume pre amplification! He also plays the banjo on a number of songs. At one point he summons a young lady friend up to play banjo and add backing vocals for a couple of numbers. 

The Legendary Shack Shakers lived up to their reputation and delivered a set of blues and roots songs that displayed an evolving entity and testament to an other worldliness, steeped in regional musical history where entertainment and story telling were a fundamental element of a live performance. This they achieved with style, and in Wilkes’ case, no little sweat and toil, creating a performance that demanded the audience forget their day-to-day worries and lose themselves in the time that stood before the stage. 

Set list in JD's hand writing.

 

Review by Stephen Rapid  Photography by Kaethe Burt O'Dea


Wednesday
May022018

Nashville Cast @ 3 Arena, Dublin

The TV series, Nashville, has proven to be a great success ever since it first hit our screens back in 2012. Now, as the sixth series plays out, the decision has been taken to pack up all the guitars and head off into the sunset. There is something quite poignant about a show ending when it is still very popular but perhaps that is the best time to end the love affair in order to retain the happy memories?

Returning to Dublin, just 10 months since their last appearance, Charles Esten (Deacon Claybourne), Sam Palladio (Gunnar Scott), Chris Carmack (Will Lexington), Clare Bowen (Scarlett O’Connor) and Jonathan Jackson (Avery Barkley) continue to bring the WOW factor and this was a night that left everyone feeling like they were a part of one big happy family. 

The very enthusiastic crowd are fully invested in each of the performers and cheer along every song and story shared over three hours in what proved to be a really enjoyable night. Given that the cast who make the trip are the same as last year, the risk of repeating the same lines is always a concern, but happily no such thoughts could be further away as the attitude of these actors/artists is fully focused and they turn in enthusiastic and honest performances that display impressive talents throughout.

Each performer takes the stage in a solo capacity for a few songs, before being joined by another of the principal actors, either to sing together or to take over for the next section of the show. This formula works very well and the smooth handovers add greatly to the momentum of the show which never flags as we build towards the end of the evening. The live set stretches to 28 songs with plenty of new material in order to keep the fans guessing and there were less than 10 songs repeated from the last time the entourage played here. 

Of course, there are the key favourites like Hand To Hold, where Charles Esten & Clare Bowen leave the stage and walk through the crowd before returning to relative safety (Esten remarks that "Irish women are a lot stronger than they look"). He is the most charismatic of performers and holds the attention of the female population with passionate performances of songs like Sideshow, Good Rain Or Jesus, Sanctuary and He Ain’t Me.

There are great combinations with Sam Palladio and Chris Camack on guitars playing Right Where You Want Me, Goin’ Electric (a new song yet to be screened) and Don’t Come Easy, which features Palladio behind the drumkit.

Jonathan Jackson hints at where his future focus might lie with wonderful vocal gymnastics during his cameo and songs like Keep Asking Why and A Shock To The System display his guitar skills, while a cover version of the Simple Minds tune, Belfast Child, is superbly delivered and most affecting. But it is the killer version of Unchained Melody (the Righteous Brothers classic) that really brings the venue to its feet in a standing ovation, as Jackson puts everything into a quite compelling performance.

There are The Exes from the TV show performing Borrow My Heart (Palladio, Bowen & Jackson), Fade Into You (Palladio & Bowen), Wake Me Up In Nashville and Adios Old Friend (Palladio solo), that have the crowd singing along, but the really spine-tingling highlights are captured by Bowen performing When The Right One Comes Along, which has an intro of the Irish traditional song She Moved Through The Fair; Jonathan Jackson paying tribute to Dolores O’Riordan with her song No Need To Argue; Esten speaking of the faith, hope and redemption that carries us through hard times as he dedicated the song Sanctuary to his Father.

The music of the show will endure and the fellowship of community is the abiding message as all the principal performers take to the stage for the final encore, I’ve Got A Life That’s Good. It is a very appropriate message to leave with Dublin on a night where a lot of emotions were on display and a lot of joy was shared between lovers of good music and what felt like old friends.   

Review by Paul McGee   Photography by Ronnie Norton

Tuesday
Apr242018

Courtney Marie Andrews @ Whelan’s - 20th April 2018

It only seems like yesterday since Courtney Marie Andrews played last at Whelan’s, one of the final dates of her 2017 tour on the back of Honest Life, the album that finally got the prolific young artist from Phoenix Arizona much deserved industry recognition. Touring since the age of sixteen as a busker, guitarist in Damien Jurado's band, a solo artist and more recently with her band, Andrews freely admits to having no fixed abode and often using the services of Airbnb for accommodation on the few periods that she is not on the road. That previous show in Whelan’s, which included material from the about to be recorded album, was actually August 2017, when she announced that she was heading directly to Los Angeles to record a new album after she performed at the Americana Music Festival in Nashville in September and would be back in Dublin shortly. True to her word, her return show and only gig in Ireland, is to promote that album titled Let Your Kindness Remain, recorded in a week with mainly first takes featuring material and themes quite unlike its predecessor. Honest Life, as the title suggests, was personal and soul searching with Andrews unlocking the door to her inner feelings and frailties. Her latest album is entirely wider lens and reflective, dealing with political issues, mental illness and a plea for empathy in these turbulent times. The material was written while Andrews, a self-confessed eavesdropper and people watcher, toured the States observing the dismantling of middle class America and the trail of destruction left in its wake.

She opens her set this evening with two low key and sombre tracks from the album, the beguiling Long Road Back To You and I've Hurt Worse, a sarcastic view on a loveless relationship. Her band members Dillon Warnek (guitar) and Greg Diarra (keyboards), together with her long-time rhythm section of Alex Sabel (bass) and William Mapp (drums) are note perfect, the material honed to precision by the hectic touring schedule prior to recording the album. Andrews - an accomplished musician in her own right -  switches between acoustic, electric guitar and keyboards. A prolific songwriter - she wrote three tracks for Honest Life in one day - her setlist this evening taps strongly into the material from the latest album which finds her departing somewhat from the more folky and acoustic leanings of her earlier work, to a more soulful and fuller sound. Gospel singer C.C. White features strongly on the album and her inclusion appears to have motivated Andrews to challenge herself vocally and the outcome this evening is quite spectacular. The rockier songs Two Nights In Buffalo and Kindness Of Strangers find her powerfully hitting and stretching notes that she may not have attempted a year back. Material from Honest Life also features with the hypnotic Table For One, Let The Good One Go and How Quickly Your Heart Mends all performed. Two songs - Near You and Sea Town - that were included as bonus tracks on the coloured vinyl release of Honest Life are also welcomed inclusions, further evidence of the substantial body of songs that she's written in recent years. The attention to detail by both Andrews and her band is a joy to behold, every lyric and note rehearsed and performed meticulously. Letting the music do the talking we are three quarter way through her set before she pauses to enter into gentle banter with the audience, reminding us how Whelan’s is one of her favourite venues.  

With hardly a pause from ending the main set she's back on stage for a three song encore. A stunning delivery of Honest Life, accompanied by only Warnek on guitar, is followed by a return to the stage by her band for the rousing crowd pleaser Irene. Tailing off with a cover of Little Feat’s Willin’, it’s hardly a coincidence that the same song featured in many of Linda Ronstadt’s live concerts at the height of her career.

Minutes later Andrews is at the merchandise desk, meeting, greeting, posing for photos and signing albums. Based on the length of the queue it's fair to say that a large percentage of the gathering were also buying her albums, with both Kindness and her recent re-release No One’s Slate Is Clean priced at a modest ten euro. A wonderful evening by an artist that connects with the music of past decades - early 70’s particularly - and who would undoubtedly have been a household name in those days when a cash rich industry rewarded the artist as well as record label executives. Given that Andrews in still only in her late-twenties let’s hope she continues to blossom and gains the recognition she richly deserves. Some folks just have it all!

Review and photograph by Declan Culliton

Tuesday
Apr032018

Jess Klein@ Whelan’s Upstairs - Sat 3rd March 2018

The Easter Bank Holiday weekend is perhaps not the best time to try and draw an audience out to listen to live music, when so much is planned around taking a trip out of Dublin and/or family time. However, tonight there is a very healthy turnout for Jess Klein, an excellent American artist who has played here a number of times in the past and is always a welcome returnee.

The support act of Beki Hemingway and husband, Randy Kerkman, on guitar open the show and for many in the room this is an introduction to Beki’s superb vocals, confident stage presence and impressive song writing. Beki took her moment to confirm just how talented she is with songs like Two More Hills, My World Is Out There, Not Excused, highlighting her impressive vocal range and tone, coupled with her soulful delivery. A new song, We’re Not Going Anywhere, feels right at home with the older songs and the gentle, Because, written for Randy, together with the lovely Thank You For The Rain are further evidence of an artist comfortable in her creative space and moving forward.

Jess Klein is blessed with musical gifts that become so apparent and immediate in a live setting as she plays a set on solo guitar that runs some 80-odd minutes and showcases her insightful lyrics and superb vocal talent. The audience remain fully concentrated on her performance throughout, despite the fact that the upstairs venue is currently undergoing a make-over to give it a new lease of life and the lack of heat in the room has some reaching for their jackets and coats to remain warm. However, this does not take away to any great extent from the glow of the evening as this consummate performer delivers a set that is balanced between new songs from her upcoming record and old favourites from her extensive back catalogue.

The new material is very strong with Mammal, In Dreams, Kid (a song written to her younger self), A New Thanksgiving Feast (a commentary of our times), For The Girls and Tougher Than I Seem (dedicated to Emma Gonzales, the young student and survivor of the Parkland, Florida, who spoke at the March For Our Lives event recently) really sounding fresh and vibrant.

Her ability to dissect the human clay that holds us together is one that gives her songs an enduring quality. Jess performs a spoken word poem titled Chicken Soup which is a beautiful tribute to her grandmother and the generations of immigrants that went before her in risking life to seek better opportunity elsewhere. It is a moving and poignant piece delivered with utter conviction and passion and also deals with the mindless vandalism and racism that is all too prevalent in the divided United States these recent times.

The set is nicely varied between these serious issues, affairs of the heart and the levity of songs taken from her impressive body of work. The sultry, sexy performance of Soda Water is balanced against the road song spirit of Travellin’ Woman, while Ireland and Riverview are performed with great skill and measure. In a nice touch, Jess performs Shonalee with support act Beki Hemingway on harmony vocal and Randy on second guitar. It is a fine performance that sums up the generosity of this artist and a typical example of the kinship felt in the room. 

The set ends with fan favourite, Little White Dove, before an encore of Beautiful Child brings everything to a very satisfying conclusion, greeted with warm applause from the appreciative audience.

It was a great night to sit back and enjoy the craft of these superb artists, spent among people who were there to listen and enjoy the thrill of live music.  

Review by Paul McGee  Photography by Paul Dolan