Sunday
Apr092017

Samantha Crain @ Whelan’s - April 7th 2017

Tonight, sees the welcome return of Samantha to Ireland for a short tour, which includes dates in Dublin, Kilkenny and Cork. It has been a fast rise to prominence among her peers for this gifted song-writer and musician who has released 5 albums over an 8-year period, culminating in the current offering, You Had Me At Goodbye.

Her new release is strongly featured, as expected, with the first half of the show taken up with the live performance of the entire project, ten songs in all, played with a band that has been assembled for the tour. This is all the more remarkable when you consider the relatively short rehearsal time that the musicians must have had to get to know these songs and to add their individual touch to the overall arrangements. Credit Samantha in that she appears to be a very generous band leader who allows each player the space to play and stretch the songs into understated and complete performances.

Her previous catalogue has fallen into the reflective song-writer category often exploring the fracture of relationships, the failings of individuals to do the right thing and the broken-hearts that must mend as a result of so much chaos. She is an advocate for the underdog and often writes from a personal viewpoint but dressed in character songs.

The new release seems much more upbeat with bright arrangements and a strong sense of letting the songs go where they will go. One song, Red Sky, Blue Mountain is written in Choctaw, her native language, and the overall impression is of a musician who is wholly comfortable with her muse and delivering songs of a mature nature to augment her growing body of work.

Emma Gatrill plays oboe and delivers a performance that is very impressive as she swoops around the melodies and colours the arrangements with subtle touches that fit perfectly. Equally Mike Siddell on violin displays a virtuoso performance of embellishing the song structures with understated playing lines that harmonise perfectly with the oboe parts and lift the songs to increasingly interesting places. Ben Rubenstein on bass is a very steady player who keeps things simple but is always driving the songs forward with lyrical playing. Sebastian Hankins is a fine drummer who never overplays and tucks-in very neatly behind the acoustic playing of Samantha with little touches of class on percussion when not anchoring the beat for the more up-tempo songs.    

The attentive audience is treated to stories of self-absorbed asshole friends; Airport-naming in Oklahoma and a tribute to the wife of the legendary Will Rogers; name checks for Richard Thompson and the late Jason Molina; her best friend honoured in a song and her first cover of a song from Will D. Cobbe, When the Roses Bloom Again.

Samantha is very relaxed on stage and her fine voice and guitar style signpost the real depth that lies within this gentle soul who displays a persona of wanting to have fun onstage above all else. Finishing her show with a number of older songs, Outside The Pale, Santa Fe, Kathleen, Somewhere All The Time and encores of Elk City (solo) and For The Miner, we are left with the feeling that the only way is up for this gifted and intelligent artist who continues to win over more admirers as she grows into the years ahead and continues to produce work of real insight and meaning

Review and photograph by Paul McGee

Thursday
Apr062017

Jim White @ Whelan’s - 4th April 2017

With the room still echoing from applause for the opening set of gravely blues and stunning slide and acoustic guitar picking by Clive Barnes, Jim White is already perched centre stage and eager to get down to business. "Are we ready to start yet," he asks, "because I’ve a lot to say." It’s a welcomed return to Dublin for the rare talent that is Jim White, singer, songwriter, raconteur and overall entertainer. He possesses a genre all of his own, probably yet to be defined and has been visiting Ireland for many years to audiences that ‘get him’. "First time I played Whelan’s I had five songs, no more. Audience said that’s cool just keep playing them over and over again." Promoted by Rollercoaster Records, tonight is the first night of a six date Irish tour and it’s heartening to see a great turn out.

Decked out in western shirt and Levi’s, the former male model, taxi driver, comedian and surfer proceeds to deliver a set that lasts an hour and three quarters yet seems to pass by in a flash. In customary fashion, each of White’s songs is preceded by a story (often taking longer than the song itself!) and the set list includes a trawl through his extensive back catalogue together with material from his latest album, due for release later this year. Accustomed to more than often playing solo these days with only his drum machine ("my trusty Japanese drummer") for company, the contribution of Clive Barnes on guitar brings the experience to another level entirely, more than recreating the studio atmosphere so integral to White’s work, no mean achievement considering the pair had only rehearsed for a few hours the previous day. The relaxed chemistry and interaction generated by both artists certainly would suggest otherwise. "The promoter told me this guy would drive me around and maybe play a bit of guitar as well, Jesus he is awesome, loves his music too! Joy to be on stage with him, I’d almost do it for nothing ... I said almost!"

Alabama Chrome, given a slightly varied treatment than the studio version, opens the set followed by The Wound That Never Heals ("a great lady serial killer song, too many man serial killer songs, had to set that right") before continuing the dark country noir theme with the first of a number of songs from his latest work titled Wash Away The World. Next up is his "one big hit" Handcuffed To A Fence in Mississippi which introduces his Japanese drummer and some powerful chunky guitar work by Barnes. Burn The River Dry follows with an accompanying tale of how the song was conceived while working as a taxi driver in New York, being jilted by a girlfriend and left stranded having blagged his way into renting accommodation for them both in Brooklyn, way beyond his financial means.

An account of tripping on LSD in his younger days as a surfer on a beach in California with a friend explains the origins and is the lead in to A Perfect Day To Chase Tornadoes, before a flawless version of Jailbird , one of the many highlights of the night.

Weighing in at a lengthy six minutes and thirty-four seconds Still Waters is introduced as his ‘bathroom song’ as White articulates how a Louisville Radio Station was playing the song regularly, to his surprise, when it was released. So much so that he was encouraged to visit the station to offer his appreciation. The reaction of the lady DJ when he proudly owned up as the writer of the song was "wow awesome, its six minutes thirty-four seconds long, I can get to the bathroom and back when its playing.’’

Hilarious tales are also recounted of upsetting, to put it mildly, some seriously right wing conservative Canadian bluegrass players and American rockabilly player Sleepy La Beef by performing God Was Drunk When He Made Me on stage in their company at a festival. If Jesus Drove A Motorhome and A Bar Is Just A Church Where They Serve Beer follow on a similar irreverent path before encores of the intoxicating Girl From Brownsville Texas and a moving new song written for his daughter, with a tear in his eye, called Sweet Bird Of Mystery.  

It’s a joy to witness Jim White in such good form and at the top of his game. Hats off to promoter Willie Meighan for having the foresight to arrange the tour and introduce him to Clive Barnes. Hopefully this won’t be the last time these two appear on stage together in Dublin. 

Review and photography by Declan Culliton

Wednesday
Apr052017

Rhiannon Giddens @ Whelan’s - 3rd April 2017

With the show sold out not long after it was announced it is not surprising that the venue is packed to the rafters for the welcomed return of Ireland’s adopted daughter Rhiannon Giddens, whose last appearance in Dublin was at the same venue in July 2015. Giddens and her band have marginally more elbow room on a stage that also accommodates a mandolin, two banjos, three acoustic guitars, two electric guitars, two fiddles, drum kit, upright bass, keyboards, a Cajun accordion and bones. Not that the lack of space concerns Giddens in the least who adds "it’s great to play at Whelan’s again so close to you all and my band. The stages at some of the venues we play in these days are that large that I can hardly see my band and they become more like an ensemble!" It’s a pointer towards the splendid form that Giddens and her band are in on the last night of their tour of Europe before heading to Australia the following day.

The Grammy Award winning artist has for many years been adored for her exceptional vocal range and technical musical ability but since her last appearance in Dublin she has also revealed an excellence as a song writer on her  recent release Freedom Highway, possibly the most potent political protest album for many years.

Once every so often gig attendees are fortunate to witness an artist or band when they are particularly on fire, whether it be in support of a career best album, the last night of a tour or a special occasion. Tonight, is without doubt one of those magical event, with a performance that has the audience totally engaged from the opener Spanish Mary to the couple of Scottish Gaelic reels that conclude the evening some ninety minutes later. The audience’s mood rises and dips from pin drop silence, to hand clapping and singing along, as Giddens delivers a set combining material from her recently release Freedom Highway as well as revisiting her extensive back catalogue.

Her band are made up of three members who appeared on her last visit to Dublin, Carolina Chocolate Drop colleague Hubby Jenkins on guitar, mandolin, banjo and bones, Jason Sypher on bass and James Dick on drums. Giddens on her earlier albums had engaged producers such as Joe Henry, Buddy Millar and T. Bone Burnett but decided to co-produce Freedom Highway and sought out the services of multi-instrumentalist Dirk Powell. Powell’s presence on stage this evening playing keyboards, electric guitar, fiddle, accordion and adding backing vocals, is the catalyst that brings the performance to a higher level. Giddens is on record insisting that the band she wanted touring the album would also be the musicians who recorded it and their timing, chemistry and comradery certainly reinforce this.

Following on from Spanish Mary Giddens performs four tracks in succession from Freedom Highway, the upbeat The Love We Almost Had, the instrumental Following The North Star, the gorgeous ballad We Could Fly performed by Giddens and Powell as a duo and the particularly moving At The Purchaser’s Option. Giddens explains the history behind the song which was motivated by a newspaper cutting she came across while researching African American history, advertising a twenty-two-year-old slave girl for sale with her nine-month-old daughter available also "at the Purchasers Option". Her vocal delivery as you would expect is exquisite, soaring and dipping throughout the set and the passion, most notable on the material from the current album, is there for all to witness, most particularly on Birmingham Sunday ("a song we should not still be singing") and Julie, the first song she wrote for the album. Giddens explains that the banjo she is playing on Julie is in fact an 1858 replica that she acquired which sounds exactly as it would have back then.

The delivery is painfully moving on many songs also, particularly her current material, but there is also no end of humour. Giddens arriving on stage stylishly attired but not realising that a large price tag is dangling from her skirt which raises a giggle as much by herself as her audience. Her good-natured anecdote is also well received when telling the audience that her two children attend Gael Scoil in Limerick. "Thanks for not laughing when I mentioned Limerick, everyone else does."

 The set list also includes the crowd pleaser Waterboy, the Patsy Cline favourite She’s Got You ("my all-time favourite weepin’ in the beer song"), Powell taking centre stage playing some foot tapping Cajon dance waltzes on his accordion and Hubby Jenkins singing and ripping some electric blues on the African-American bible song Children Go.

The first encore is a rousing version of The Staple Sisters 60’s rally song Freedom Highway with UK artist and support artist Jordan Mackampa invited on stage to perform backing vocals. The final encore is a medley of Lonesome Road and Up Above My Head followed by a couple of Scottish reels with Giddens declaring ("I can’t sing another note, I’ve sung my brains out") before leaving the stage to rapturous applause.

For those who were fortunate to attend the show and witness Giddens and her superb band in such fine form it’s an occasion that will remain in the memory bank for quite a while. For those who did not the good news is she is back in Ireland in November. 

Review and photography by Declan Culliton

Wednesday
Apr052017

Over the Rhine @ Utrecht and Dublin – March 2017.

There is a synchronicity that runs through life at times and can lead to moments of magic; unexplained and all the more precious for their arrival. Lonesome Highway discover the chance to witness live concerts from Over the Rhine in both Utrecht and Dublin, both within the space of 10 days, and for this writer who has admired their talents for many years, it is too good an opportunity to miss.

Indeed, had our timing worked out better there would have been the opportunity to chat with Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiller before both shows. Unfortunately said synchronicity does not extend to meeting-up as rental car delays and late arrival by this scribe, coupled with soundcheck commitments conspired against Utrecht and by the time Dublin came around, both artists are suffering from a debilitating bug that has them resting at every available moment prior to the actual performance.

However, a brief hello after both shows leads to the promise of an interview by e-mail (check the site over the coming weeks ...).

From Utrecht and the beautifully modern venue of Tivoli Vredenburg, built in 2014, with its innovative architecture and design - plenty of open space between the various floors and performance rooms; to the ancient Church setting in Dublin of the Unitarian Church built in 1861- the contrast in venues could not be more pronounced.

Both shows are very intimate affairs and filled with a quality of performance that underlines the rich talents of this husband & wife duo who have been producing sublime music for the last 25 years. This is roots music in all its splendid colours where influences of blues, country, folk and gospel are blended together into a cocktail mix that is delivered with such soulful expression.

Starting each show with Meet Me At The Edge Of The World, the title from the latest studio release, both musicians dove-tail around the melody with sensitive guitar interplay and the seamless vocal harmonies borne of playing together for so long. Karin has a voice that is quite beautiful in both quiet restraint and emotive delivery and when she opens her full range then the effect is quite something to witness.

The latest release features regularly during the show, as one would expect, and performances of Sacred Ground, Gonna Let My Soul Catch My Body, Earthbound Love Song, Favourite Time Of Light and I’d Want You are included from this double album. Many older songs are in the hearts and wishes of the attentive audience but it is impossible to cover everybody’s favourite song in one show.

Their extensive back-catalogue is featured with Born, Trouble and Ploughkeepsie all displaying the vocal dexterity of Karin as she occasionally bends words to suit the mood of the song with a delivery that is always compelling and full of emotion. The wonderful piano playing of Linford is always a highlight and he dazzles with subtle interpretation, gentle touch and free form exploration on melody lines in support of each song.

When I Go is a soulful prayer with some jazz-like piano parts while Latter Days is a song that reflects upon common themes with its musing on the disillusionment of life and separation.

All My Favourite People from The Long Surrender (2001) and If A Song Could Be President, from The Trumpet Child, are two songs that fit very well together as the shows reach a climax and both are greeted with great enthusiasm.

In Utrecht, we are given the wonderful Suitcase, from the Ohio double album; while in Dublin, a rare performance of Jesus In New Orleans seems somewhat apt given the Church venue. There is also a beautifully delivered version of Drunkard’s Prayer, the title track from the 2005 album and the closing song on both nights is a fan-favourite, All I Need Is Everything.

Over the Rhine are completely comfortable onstage and the conversations and stories shared between Karin and Linford are a key component to the overall feel of each performance. Each location enjoys a different ambience and atmosphere and the performances are delivered with a subtle grace that is quite wistful and evocative of the human journey we all undertake; the frailty of life with its successes and failures, balanced against the lessons learned and the stumbles and progress born of experience.

The fact that they have managed to endure in this cut-throat industry on an independent basis for the last 25 years is tribute indeed to the countless artists like them who exist outside the media radar and who rely on word-of-mouth to keep their music alive and vibrant. Judging by the show of hands to ‘market-research’ carried out by Karin and Lindford there are quite a number of new fans who are seeing them play for the first time on this tour. Encouraging signs indeed.

Karin speaks of the artist’s role in comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable and this really sums up the joy of their astute song-writing and impressive musicianship, which is of the highest quality. The standing ovation received on both nights is proof positive that both Karin and Linford have an enduring place in the hearts and minds of so many music lovers across the distances.

Comparison is the thief of joy, as a very philosophical Karin states towards the end of the Dublin show and far be it from me to compare the unique talent that makes this compelling duo one of the greatest secrets of modern American music. Make sure you catch Over the Rhine the next time they tour in your country.

Review and photograph by Paul McGee

Wednesday
Mar222017

C2C Festival @ Dublin 2017

The Lonesome Highway team share some thoughts on the 2017 C2C Festival


C2C is a yearly event and getting stronger every year. It is probably the occasion that totally unites Ireland north and south under the banner of country music. I would say that 80% of the audience were from anywhere above a line drawn from Dublin to Galway. The 3 Arena was jammed from the start while the Sunday World pop up stage provided an opportunity for local talent to showcase under the watchful eye of country guru Eddie Rowley. Saturdays singer Una Healy strutted her stuff as a solo act and did a fine job of it. The one drawback was the occasional performer singing to a backing track which had an unfortunate whiff of karaoke.

Friday night Maren Morris was the opening act, a five foot nothing ball of energy who leaned closer to Taylor Swift than Tammy Wynette in her music, but the crowd were with her all the way. On the other hand the second act was Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives who ticked every box for me and even a few that I hadn’t expected. I got a buzz seeing Marty keeping the spirit of Clarence White alive with the famous B-Bender that I got to hold backstage when Marty played the Helix a few years back. Check out Steve’s accompanying review of a superlative performance.

The main act of the evening was the Zac Brown Band, an amazing unique outfit, all tattoos and assorted hats with an audience-electrifying set that had the crowd bouncing all over the hall until an ill thought out backdrop of the Union Jack to their cover of The Who’s Baba O’Riley brought boos and a slow handclap from part of the audience. I was too taken with a set that was a lot more to my taste and softer than on their last visit to be bothered by this lapse in an American grasp of European geography. No disappointments there for real Zac Brown fans and even a totally unexpected Bohemian Rhapsody cover had the crowd screaming for more.

Saturday opened with another newbie to me, Cam, a bubbly blonde in rhinestoned ripped jeans and a bright yellow top looking for all then world like a young Dolly Parton. She is a very appealing stage presence from California whose songwriting career and fine voice will ensure her place in the country-pop field for a long time. Cam was a fine opener for the next performer whom I managed to interview before the show.

Jennifer Nettles is back to her solo singing career with last year’s release of her second solo album Playing with Fire after film work and a stint on Broadway in the musical Chicago. She jumped straight in and worked the full stage, constantly interacting with the audience. Her set list that covered her full musical history so far, with songs from her magical time with Sugarland, her last two solo albums and a smattering of new stuff which kept me well pleased for her hour on stage. She is a seasoned performer who is fully confident in her good looks and musical ability and hopefully will grace our stages for many a year to come. 

Next came the songwriting powerhouse that is Chris Young. With a full band behind him, he dominated the stage and seemed genuinely pleased with the singalong performance from the crowd. Young’s songs have the ability to hit the same nerves that that any great honky tonk heartache song from Nashville ever did. I enjoyed his sincerity and melody which, like most of the experienced acts this time, was a lot more acoustic and less electric that previous visits. 

Then a white-hatted and Telecaster carrying Brad Paisley burst on stage with a set of tunes that had his now familiar guitar breaks which added to the album versions of his hits. I have seen Brad almost every time since I first saw him supporting Reba in (the then) Point Depot  back when God was a boy and he looks as young now as he did then. His performance was supported by the most engaging graphic backdrops of the weekend and boy, did he do his homework properly, right down to a Google Maps zoom in to the 3 Arena saying "We Are Here" and his joint USA/Irish Tricolour backdrop hit exactly the right note with the audience. He was joined on stage for a selfie-taking interlude by Chris Young while duetting on I’m Still a Guy. He had previously stunned the crowd by taking the guitar he had just played, signed it, added a little shamrock and then handed it to one shell shocked audience member. It’s very hard to comment on a Brad Paisley concert as he is country when he’s country and then the demon guitar slinger inside takes him off on a tangent. I’d prefer if he stuck to my style of country but that might be bloody boring and we would have nothing to crib about. Let’s just say the Brad Paisley is unique and an absolute gentleman who deserves to be allowed to tote his guitar in whatever way he like as long as he keeps coming back and blowing the crowds away.

Day three started with for me with Dan + Shay an act who belong on a pop, not country stage. They rapped their way through a set of unremarkable songs that left me hugely unimpressed. They were followed by Hunter Hayes, who somehow reminded me of Marty McFly in Back To The Future as he followed his guitar all across the stage like a young Chuck Berry. His undoubted instrumental skill and positive songwriting performance leaned towards Brad Paisley but without much country pedigree, but he finished his set with a heartfelt thanks to the world of country music which he said had given him the home that he had been unable to find in any other genre. This young fella is a handsome and talented lad who I think will mature into a Chris Young/Eric Church type singer songwriter as he moves ahead.

Darius Rucker is the former Hootie and the Blowfish frontman who has settled comfortably into country. He had the audience eating out of his hand from the first note as he chatted more to the audience than any previous acts. I was moving around too much as a photographer to manage to jot down the setlist but as Darius said what does it matter when a song is either good or bad? “Everybody loves a good song” he said “and this is a really good song” as he launched in Friends in Low Places to thunderous reaction from the crowd. Maybe his monitors weren’t too great but once or twice was a little off key. But the crowd just didn’t care as the standing ovation at the end showed. I reckon he can come back as often as he likes and will fill any venue in town. His set covered pop, funk, and country, and just like his most enjoyable Christmas album, he was a treat for my mature easy listening ears.

If you are a country fan in the true traditional sense of the word then to have C2C wind up with country royalty like Reba McEntire was a treat well worth waiting for. She came on stage in very tasteful boots, black leggings and a shimmery sequinned navy blue top and took us on a guided and chronological tour of her life from her earliest times with a doting cowboy dad right through to her current and very listenable twin CD set of gospel songs. Each song got a full down home intro as though she was having a one to one chat beside the fireside back home. There were plenty of visual back drops to support her performance. and the audience knew all the songs. The highlight for me was a duet with Jennifer Wrinkle, the multi-talented multi-instrumentalist on the huge hit Reba originally recorded with Linda Davis, Does He Love You, which just about tore the house down. Reba might have hit a bump in the road when she suggested a life-style change for the audience with her current single Back To God

Her set ran for well over an hour and she left the stage to an audience on its feet screaming for more. Just when it looked as if an encore was not forthcoming, the house lights dimmed and the screen lit up with the opening scene from one of her very early videos and at that stage on strode Reba as Fancy in a red mini, all rhinestones and tassels and a super look that sent most of the male hearts in the crowd heading to the cardiac critical zone. Reba certainly knows how to wow an audience and while she played as traditional as she needed to, her more recent offerings had soaring guitar breaks that were the equal of any of the earlier bands on the bill. A truly fitting finish to a strong festival. I fully enjoyed a weekend where the highs outweighed the lows; the increase in the number of acoustic instruments might signal a revival of more traditional country.

Review by Ronnie Norton

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This weekend of all things country is a very positive and progressive step in the country music calendar and has been running in Dublin since 2014. Blending the old with the new is always a worthy concept, even if it runs the risk of not pleasing everybody. Everyone will have certain favourites among artists due to play over such a weekend and the joy of it all is that over 72 hours, between London, Glasgow and Dublin each artist is given a wide exposure to big crowds and potential new fans.

Friday night in Dublin kicked off with Maren Morris, an up and coming new talent, who has been releasing music since she was barely a teenager. Her major label debut, Hero, was released last year to wide acclaim and she operates in the area of country-pop, with a nod to some hip hop/soul influence as well. She can certainly sing, as she displays in the quieter moments of a set that unfortunately drowned out much of her vocals with overly loud and booming beats and heavy bass. She plays her hits for the younger members of the audience who respond with great energy and sing along to I Could Use a Love Song, My Church (with Beyonce sample of Halo), Drunk Girls Don’t Cry, I Wish I Was, How It’s Done and Sugar which all serve to start C2C with a bang.

Next up is the wonderful Marty Stuart and his band, the Fabulous Superlatives comprised of top notch players Chris Scruggs on bass, Harry Stinson on drums and Kenny Vaughn on guitar. They proceed to tear up the venue with a set of tunes that display real premiership quality and musicianship of the highest order - a real band in other words! No gimmicks and no flash, just honest playing and talent. 

Miss Me When I’m Gone and The Whiskey Ain’t Workin’ Anymore kick off with the virtuoso guitar licks of Vaughan, a real highlight as he lifts the performance levels ever higher. I’m Tempted is followed by the old standard El Paso and Woody Guthrie’s Pretty Boy Floyd gets a special airing with the excellent vocals of drummer Harry Stinson. The Special, by Irvine T Rouse, is played on solo mandolin by Marty before he gives a terrific rendition of the Johnny Cash written 40 Shades of Green. Hillbilly Rock and Time Don’t Wait For Nobody close the set in real driving style with plenty of twanging Telecasters  mixed with a rhythm that calls to mind a mixture of Tom Petty meeting the Beatles. Marty Stuart has been around since the 1970s and has played with Johnny Cash as well as others in a long career that includes playing traditional country, bluegrass and rockabilly. He is country music royalty and worthy of greater attention.

Friday night finished with the Zac Brown Band who played an impressive 20-song set that includes a number of cover versions such as Baba O’Reilly and Bohemian Rhapsody. Both are performed with great confidence and are proof of the excellent musicianship among the band members. Whether these songs were included to highlight the wide scale of the band’s influences is not known, but they do take away from the focus on the band’s own songs and only served to disrupt the set.

Brown sings with a clear and strong voice that impresses the cheering crowd, who just can’t get enough. Chicken Fried, Homegrown, Free (which includes a tribute to Van Morrison with a section of Into The Mystic), Sweet Annie and Colder Weather are highlights of a long set as well as two new songs My Old Man and Real Thing. Zac Brown straddles a number of musical styles and includes some reggae-tinged tunes that add to the celebratory atmosphere of the night.

Sunday night Dan + Shay kicked off proceedings with a set that included plenty of energy and full-on country-pop. The two lead vocalists are easy to like with their boundless enthusiasm and smiling demeanours as they brought the Dublin crowd with them through a number of songs the younger audience members are happy to sing along with. 19 You & Me and Obsessed are two of the bigger hits and were received warmly. Shay is a strong singer with a soulful delivery and the singers also incorporated an element of rap into some songs. They were high energy, approaching lift off, as all band members bounded around the stage.

They are followed by music virtuoso Hunter Hayes who plays multiple instruments and has been on something of a fast-track for a number of years now. His band is very loud and the initial songs were drowned out by the distorted sound. On some of the quieter numbers he gets the chance to show that he really can hold a tune and is impressive with the quiet confidence of a  musician who knows what he is doing and where his career is going. I Want Crazy, Amen, Light Me Up and Yesterday’s Song are all well received and this set goes down very well.

Darius Rucker took to the stage with a quiet confidence born of years as a headliner and within minutes he has the crowd completely behind him as he glides across the stage, working his performance and urging his superb 6-piece band to perform at increasingly high levels. Multi-talented and playing a range of instruments, the band members all impress with their playing and dynamic support for what are excellent songs. The setlist of 17 songs is taken from his four solo releases, together with a few selections from a new release due later this year; plus some old Hootie & the Blowfish material, mixed with a couple of cover versions. Friends in Low Places and No Diggity are included plus a fine version of Purple Rain in tribute to all the music artists who died in 2016. It is old favourites such as Only Wanna Be With You, It Won’t Be Like This For Long, Lighter Up and True Believers that receive most attention as this talented performer brings home a show that had something to please just about everyone.

Reba McEntire has been releasing quality country music records since the 1970s and her status as the queen of country music can only be challenged by the likes of Dolly Parton. At this stage of her career she has more than justified her reputation as a performer of great confidence and her back-catalogue of work stands the test of time. She delves into her past decades of recording across a set of some 20 songs that include many fan favourites such as The Greatest Man I Never Knew, Whoever’s In New England, Little Rock, Is There Life Out There and many more.

Being a traditionalist Reba keeps the performance simple as she moves easily around the stage engaging with her 7-piece band and bringing fine performances from all. Her duet with band member and fiddle/mandolin/guitar player Jennifer Wrinkle on Does He Love You is a real moment where things soar; as is the cover version of the Kelly Clarkson song Because Of You. Her voice is still sweetly strong and full of powerful restraint as she glides through a medley of old songs like You’re No Good/ The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter/ Walk On/ I’d Rather Ride Around With You.

Her encore is the Bobbie Gentry penned Fancy and Reba re-appears in a resplendent red dress which has the crowd cheering for more, long after the stage has been vacated by this legendary artist. The weekend has been another success for the organisers and the artists involved have no doubt all made new friends as well as reacquainting themselves with many old ones too. The feast of music is something to just dive into as normal lives and routines are put on hold over 72 hours. The old mixed with the new; the tried and tested wrestled with the fresh and a look into the future of where country music might just be going. 

Like one of those old, legendary trains of past country songs, the carriages are full and the route is there for all to enjoy. Time can be a speeding bullet train or a slow ride to a familiar destination. Either way, the journey lies ahead and we all benefit from the experience. 

Review by Paul McGee

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Marty Stuart C2C Friday 

The undoubted highlight for me looking at the 2107 C2C bill was the inclusion of Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives. This year’s line-up was again slanted towards the big names and upcoming chart chasers from the major labels. This makes a lot of sense in commercial terms, but it could also mean a lost opportunity if there is no move to introduce both broader and more traditional aspects of the music.

Stuart and his band - Kenny Vaughan, Harry Stinson and Chris Scruggs - were both superlative and indeed fabulous. Dressed to impress in tailored black Manuel for Marty and pale blue rhinestone suits for the band, they cut fine figures on stage. “Good evening good people of Dublin” was Stuart’s introduction to a set that included old favourites, songs and instrumentals from their new Way Out West album and some essential covers.

What was immediately apparent from the get-go was the tightness and ease with which this quartet played. The musicianship and harmonies were a delight and the sound was crystal clear, thanks to long time sound person Mick Conley manning the desk. Conley not only does the band’s live sound but also records, mixes and masters their studio recordings, and here he gave the audience the best sound of the weekend.

Aside from the songs there were Marty’s stories, which range from playing with Johnny Cash and (separately) Lester Flatt to meeting Ervin T Rouse, the man who wrote Orange Blossom Special, a song Rouse just called “The Special,” Stuart then gave a solo mandolin masterclass on his rendition of the song. All of the Fabulous Superlatives are steeped in the tradition and history of country music, but they also take it to new and exciting places. The 12 string Rickenbacker Vaughan used on the final song, Time Don’t Wait, proved that they could as easily reference the Byrds as they could the sounds of Bakersfield or Nashville. Stuart told us that Dublin was the surf music capital of the world - not so sure about that - but at that moment their guitar instrumental Mojave made it true. 

“I’ve come here to have some fun” Stuart told us, adding ruefully as he took a swig from a bottle, he was only “drinking water.” Fun was indeed had by all, including all three members of the band who got individual showcases; “Cousin Kenny” Vaughan played and sang Country Music Got A Hold On Me and Hot Like That, while “Handsome Harry” Stinson’s version of Woodie Guthrie’s Pretty Boy Floyd - with an amazingly long held note on the word Oklahoma - brought him a round of applause and “Professor of Cool” Chris Scruggs sang Dark Bird

The songs that immediately hit home for long-time fans were Hillbilly Rock, The Whiskey Ain’t Working and Tempted, all given a fresh lease of life by the new line-up and sounding as good as ever. The covers included El Paso which Stuart said they’d agreed to do as a tribute when session hero Grady Martin, who played on the original, was being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, before realising that it was not such an easy song to perform with 468 words and myriad chord changes. Nothing to worry about here as they did indeed do the song justice. 

Their Johnny Cash song choice for Ireland was an appropriate 40 Shades Of Green, a song that can sound cheesy in cabaret hands but here they got the spirit of the song just right. On different numbers they switched between acoustic instruments and twin Telecasters. Stuart played the legendary Clarence White’s guitar, illustrating that it couldn’t be in better hands. It is eight years since Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives played the Helix in Dublin and it can only be hoped that there will be less of a gap between this and their next visit, and that the audience, who responded enthusiastically to the music, will be there in force. 

Review by Stephen Rapid

C2C Live photography by Ronnie Norton

Lonesome Highway would like to thank PR James Cunningham who made everything easy, MCD’s front of house staff who were both accommodating and helpful and record labels Hump Head, Sony and Universal Music who facilitated us all with interviews.