Sunday
May042014

Beth Nielsen Chapman@The Venue, Rathoath. 30th April 2014

 

We are blessed this evening to be in the presence of one of the great female songwriters. The show is a real joy and filled with many happy moments, plenty of laughter, poignant storytelling and above all, wonderful music.

Beth Nielsen Chapman is a true survivor, both in life and in the music business. Having faced the death of her first husband in 1994 as a young mother, she herself has tackled breast cancer and a brain tumour in more recent years. Not that she looks for any form of sympathy as she displays a gregarious confidence and comes out swinging on all fronts.

We are treated to a number of songs from her new release Uncovered which claims back songs she had written for other artists, but never recorded herself. Some of these artists are spoken of, without any hint of name dropping, but simply relaying the facts of the background stories. We get to meet Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Duane Eddy, Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris, Bete Midler, Elton John, Faith Hill, Trisha Yearwood, Don Williams, Crystal Gayle and many more...

Honourable mention is also given to co-writers on some songs and Annie Roboff, Rodney Crowell, Darrell Scott and Mary Chapin Carpenter are included in the procession of top drawer talent that has worked with this special artist.

Beth has a beautiful voice that is full of personality and warmth and her playing is both confident and impressive on guitar and keyboards. Her Irish roots also betray her natural talent as a raconteur and she communicates with her audience in a relaxed and easy style. Her musings and stories, both funny and poignant, are shared with a sense of conspiratorial glee in this intimate venue.

We hear many fine songs from the new release tonight, including Simple Things, This Kiss, Meet Me Halfway, Almost Home and Maybe That’s All It Takes.1990 saw the release of her first recording and tonight she turns back time and plays Years from it, to close the first half of the show in a beautifully controlled and powerful, reflective  delivery. The second part of the show includes All I Have, from that same original release and a song that many have used in their wedding music over the years. However, it is the encore, Sand and Water that continues to define her as a talent of rare insight into the human condition and the reflective acceptance of bereavement, central to this song, has never been more beautifully stated.

Throughout the evening, Belfast musician Ruth Trimble supports Beth on keyboards, bass guitar and percussion, displaying her fine talent as a new Irish artist of real note. Her opening set was very well received by an audience that listened intently and clapped and cheered with appreciation as she played her beautiful songs with a quiet intensity and a maturity that was impressive.

The Venue in Rathoath is a very pleasant experience and comes highly recommended for future shows. The sound in the room is perfect for acoustic sessions and the presence of a singer-songwriter like Beth Nielsen Chapman can only help grow the reputation of this hidden gem into the future. Beth returns to Ireland later in the year for a more extensive tour and I strongly urge you to catch her show. 

Review and photography by Paul McGee

Saturday
Apr262014

Jace Everett @ Whelans, Dublin 23rd April 2014

“These are the songs, this is the show” so begins tonight’s performance with Jace Everett thanking the enthusiastic audience for coming out to see him and Dan Cohen deliver a compelling show. Cohen’s electric guitar adds both grit and textural depth behind Everett’s rhythm guitar and strong vocal presence. The songs came from the new album Terra Rosa with a couple of selections from Red Revelations and the somewhat inevitable Bad Things. Everett explained Bad Things had been on his first album and he’d fought for it to be released as a single only to find that the powers that be at radio were not duly impressed. It was not until HBO came knocking and it was chosen as the theme for True Blood that it found an appreciative audience.

Throughout the show there was some playful banter with the audience. After playing  No Place to Hide he asked if anyone understood what the song was about. “Having No Place to Hide” came the reply. To which Jace responded that it was like doing stand-up in Letterkenny! One front row member was celebrating his birthday and on being asked his age said “22”. ‘You look like shit then’ said Jace to the obviously somewhat older man. "Mind you I’m 24 and I look shit too" the over forty Everett joked.

The music, considering there were only two players on stage, had a edge due to both player’s strong delivery. Dan Cohen’s effects pedal and skill allowed him to give many of the songs different settings;  from slide guitar ridden blues to more reflective tones. Though little in the set could be labelled country,  there were elements of that part of Everett’s career in his singing and delivery. One of Them, from Red Revelations, was a particular highpoint. The stripped down songs from Terra Rosa also worked well. from. The songs,  based on Biblical stories and parables,  were far from gospel in attitude but maybe not in spirit. Lloyd’s Summer Vacation, In the Garden and the title song were all highlights in a strong set.

It’s a real shame that many more didn’t get to experience this fine duo. Dan Cohen played two songs acoustically from his new solo album Bluebird; I Want You and Love Is Gone proved to be bitter sweet,  sweet in their delivery but bitter in tone as they were written following a break-up. These two men play music that has life experience, something that the audience appreciated throughout the evening with Everett’s introductions and general good humour. They closed the set with an extended version of Buddy Holly’s Not Fade Away the left the audience with a feeling that tonight’s show would follow that particular song’s title

Review by Stephen Rapid. Photograph by Ronnie Norton

Thursday
Mar272014

Peter Mulvey @ Workman's Club Sunday 23rd March 2014

Playing in an intimate setting can be a challenge to an artist. Something about the audience dynamic and seeing the 'whites of their eyes' has caused many a performer to freeze in the headlights of expectation. Not Peter Mulvey however, who takes the constraints of an upstairs acoustic room and simply moves through the creative gears, until he is cruising at a speed that brings the appreciative audience along for the journey. And what a varied journey it is, drawing from his extensive song writing archive, a few well-chosen covers and a stripped down introduction to his new release, Silver Ladder, which has been getting very positive reviews.

Roadworks tours, as promoter, again get it right with bringing the talents of this fine singer/songwriter to an Irish tour. Working with such artists who are under the commercial radar is not easy, as the need to make everything work financially becomes a big hurdle for all concerned. Kudos then for this independent promoter, who always displays a positive attitude, in bringing such quality artists to our shores.

Peter Mulvey plays with elegance and a passion that gives his live performances quite an edge. In addition, he is a natural storyteller and his observations of life and tales from the road are engaging, humorous and sprinkled with a wisdom and perspective gained from years of touring and playing live.

The new release is featured heavily, as you would expect, with tracks like Trempealeau, Remember the Milkman, Landfall, If You Shoot At a King, You Must Kill Him and You Don't Have to Tell Me, providing strong proof that the creative muse burns brightly within the characters and vignettes of these songs.

Knuckleball Suite and Shirt get an airing from previous releases and an off mike version of the Beatles I Will is delivered with understated understanding of the song and its universal message of love.

Support act Kate O'Callaghan and Seamus Devenny also feature, with Kate singing harmony on a few songs and Seamus providing some very interesting violin accompaniment on others. Their opening set was perfectly delivered and contained lots of fine songs which marks them as an act to watch over the coming years. Kate has a beautiful voice and writes interesting song melodies and structures.

However, the night belongs to Peter Mulvey, a generous and talented performer who also gave an earlier workshop on guitar technique and song writing for those lucky enough to catch it. He takes a simple approach to the instrument and tries to break down the barriers that can often stop budding players from progressing their talents.

As part of a song writing group that is in contact every Tuesday, Peter speaks in terms of his 'homework assignment' and the discipline of turning in a song on a regular basis. Well, tonight we are given a beautifully realised example with Are You Listening, a wonderful human insight into the frailties of relationships and the need to forgive and move on. If Peter Mulvey has any message to impart then it is essentially the song for everyman. An entertaining night and what is more, an enriching experience.

Review and photograph by Paul McGee

Sunday
Feb232014

Sturgill Simpson/Laura Cantrell @ Whelans 18th February 2014

On a quiet Tuesday night Whelans has a good turnout to witness Laura Cantrell's return to Dublin to support her current album No Way There From Here (Spit & Polish). It is support artist Sturgill Simpson's first visit to our fair city. Having fronted Sunday Vally and his current road band it is interesting to experience Simpson in solo mode accompanied only by his nylon-stringed guitar (shades of Trigger abound) and his mighty voice. He told us the guitar was meant as a safe tour substitute for his precious Martin but he had grown to love this guitar too so his levels of anxiousness when handing it over at airline check-ins had not been eased.

The bulk of his set was taken from his excellent debut solo album High Top Mountain (Loose Records) and hearing the songs in such a stripped back form, much the way they were written, was revealing. They took on a different dimension in this setting and highlighted his skills as a writer, singer and effective guitar player. All in all a compelling package. Mid-set he said he was going to do some songs that he loved and delivered a credible version of Carter Stanley's Could You Love Me One More Time. A song that showed his long-time affiliation with bluegrass music. HIs also played, "against my better judgement" he said, Neil Diamond's Red, Red Wine. His take on Roy Orbison's Crying was sung from the depths rather than the heights.

After that he returned to his own material with a song he called "uplifting" I'd Have To Be Crazy. After declaring that "we stole your music fair and square" and delivering a traditional song he gave us a "quintessential country and western song" in Lefty Frizzell's I Never Go Round Mirrors. An aching heartbreak song well suited to his voice. Simpson showed throughout with his own writing, the depth of his understanding of country, bluegrass and beyond. He left the stage having made an impression on the audience many whom had not seen him before but would doubtless be back on his return. It is the mark of a striking performer that he can entertain whether fronting a band or playing solo or on his recordings. Look out for his forthcoming album Metamodern Sound In Country Music.

Laura Cantrell is also playing in a stripped back setting as she is accompanied only by guitarist and harmony vocalist Mark Spenser - only may be slightly misleading given Spenser skills and guitar and acoustic lap steel. Spenser has played and toured with Son Volt and had his own alt. country band Blood Oranges in the early 90s. The duo played songs from throughout Cantrell's career from 2000's Not The Tremblin' Kind through to the aforementioned No Way There From Here in a set of nineteen or so songs. 

After a brief "Hello everyone" the duo played a number of songs straight including California Rose and Queen Of The Coast. While Cantrell often includes songs on her albums by writers she admires, her own skills should not be underestimated as was apparent tonight. Her song Kitty Wells' Dresses was played after she told us a little of Wells' story. Other anecdotes including feeling jet lagged on her last European tour only to realise that she was "knocked-up" on her return. The title track of her new album was prefaced by some explanation of its history and source. The novel Death In The Family by James Agee published in the late 50s and inspiration from Franklin Bruno's use of Samuel Barber lyrics were mentioned.

Amy Allison's The Whiskey Makes You Sweeter was another well received song from early on in her career as was Ray Pennington's Yonder Comes A Freight Train. Also touching was her take on Cowboy Jack Clement's Someone I Used To Know and her reminisces on the man's eclectic interests and influence and her obvious affection for him. Something that the audience had for Cantrell in abundance judging by the applause that greeted her at the end of the show. Cantrell live is a rose that needs to bloom again soon.

Review by Stephen Rapid  Photography by Ronnie Norton

Saturday
Feb222014

Dar Williams@Workman’s Club. - Wed 19th Feb 2014

 

The Workman’s Club is a fine venue for acoustic evenings such as this. The warm sound of the room is perfect for an artist like Dar Williams, whose literate and wise observations on the human condition are received with hushed admiration and quiet reflection by all those present.

An enthusiastic visitor to these shores, Dar Williams commands the stage with a confidence borne of years perfecting her craft. She is a fine guitar player and a witty storyteller, but it is her gift of observation that inspires her loyal fan base. Her set tonight is relatively short due to illness in her family on a few days holiday to include this Irish show. However it is all about the quality and not the quantity, so we are left with a warm glow as the single encore ends and she makes her way back to the hotel and nursing duties.

It is a true testament to her enduring talent that Dar Williams celebrates the 20th Anniversary of her debut release, The Honesty Room, a collection that still sounds as fresh as the day it announced her artistry to the world. Tonight it could be argued that the two highlights of the set are taken from this debut with both The Babysitter’s Here and When I Was a Boy beautifully performed and greeted like old friends returned from afar. It is the vocal delivery of the former that absorbed the audience, sung with a sense of the fragility of youth from the perspective of childhood innocence; the latter is quite simply one of the great songs of the last decades, written with a great poignancy but also the ultimate celebration of life and being who you are.

We are treated to other gems from her back catalogue such as ‘As Cool As I Am’ together with a very funny story about an experience with an American Football team who took the chorus to say “ I will not be afraid of winning”, instead of the actual refrain “I will not be afraid of women”.. All told with a wry grin and a wink to the infinite absurdity of life.

Two other songs from the same Mortal City release (1996) are delivered with great emotion and breathing new wisdom into both The Ocean and February seem less about the personal relationships now and more about forgiveness and understanding.

Taken from the latest release, we are given Storm King and I Have Been Around the World both displaying ample proof that the creative flame still burns deep within this sublime artist. It is the however a flawless performance of The One Who Knows which resonates mostly with me and the beauty of her selfless message to her child and the love contained in the words; “I’ll shine the light that guides you down the road you’re walking on” – a beautiful moment captured with grace and gratitude.

Dar Williams is a real treasure, a genuine keeper of the flame and long may it burn brightly for her.

Review and picture by Paul McGee