Thursday
Sep282017

Jess Klein @ the DC Club, Dublin - Sept 24th 2017

Sunday night and Dublin city has settled into a weekend wind-down. At the DC Club we are looking forward to the return of the very talented Jess Klein to our shores after a 5-year absence. If you ever need a way to chase away the weekend blues then live music can always provide an answer and in the company of Jess Klein there is no better sanctuary.

Blessed with an emotive and powerful voice, Jess plays a set that includes a number of new songs from her next album, including My Own Beating Heart, Back To My Green, Blair Mountain and Ginny. It is always a risk to include new material that is unfamiliar to an audience but Jess has such a natural stage presence that she has no difficulty integrating the songs into the body of the overall performance.

A very adept guitar player, she displays some lovely touches during old favourites such as Riverview, Travellin’ Woman, Soda Water, Shonalee and Little White Dove. Sadly, the audience is small in number but the honesty and insight of the performance has everyone lapping up each note and nuance. Tougher Than I Seem is another new song and seems to frame the arc of her career across nine excellent and highly recommended releases. The journey of a professional musician is never a smooth road and Jess has seen all sides of an industry that can often be more cruel than kind. However, irrespective of timing and getting the right breaks, talent will always find an outlet and there is a sense of being in the presence of real craft as we witness her many gifts.  

Ireland is an old song that is an obvious inclusion for her only Irish date. There follows a spoken word reading, titled Chicken Soup, that chronicles the life of her Grandmother in her coming to America and raising a family with dignity and pride. The catalyst for this was an attack on a Jewish Cemetery where a number of graves were vandalised, including her grandparents, and the poem is aimed at the perpetrators of such evil actions. It is a really moving performance and honours the struggle that her grandparents had in building a new life and providing a legacy for those who come after.

Mike June joins Jess onstage for the final six numbers and his lead acoustic playing is quite something as he weaves patterns around the fine rhythm playing of Jess. The encore is a poignant version of Beautiful Child, written for her Father and is followed by a real rock-out version of Atlantic City to mark the recent birthday of the Boss.

Jess Klein walks a quiet road when it comes to media recognition. Where others may get the attention and plaudits, she displays an admirable ability to manage her own career and works hard to keep a presence that is away from the shadows and looking into the light. Her wistful delivery and vocal tone blend together with her guitar to capture the listener in acknowledging such an accomplished talent. She is worthy of greater recognition and such artists need to be acknowledged, celebrated and given greater support. Hopefully she can return in the not too distant future when a proper string of Irish dates can be offered to her.

Now married to her fellow travelling musician, Mike June, she joins him on stage during his opening set and sings back-up vocals on a few numbers. Mike played a fine support set of songs from his catalogue, including Election Day, I’ve Got the Darkness, Cotton Fields, Poor Man’s Bible and Hard Times.  He has a confident stage presence and is a fine musician; a perfect foil for Jess and an interesting talent in his own right.    

Review by Paul McGee  Photograph by Paul Dolan

Thursday
Sep282017

The Worry Dolls @ Workman’s Club, Dublin - Mon 25th Sept 2017

This talented duo comprises of Rosie Jones and Zoe Nicol, who originally met at Liverpool University and have been playing together for a number of years, culminating in the release of 2 previous EP’s and their debut album, earlier this year. The ten songs included on Go Get Gone have been receiving widespread acclaim and their decision to uproot to Nashville and record with local musicians has really borne fruit.

So, with an increasing media hum surrounding them, the Worry Dolls come to Ireland for a short tour that sees them play a number of dates around the country. The audience in Dublin is disappointing and indicative of an increasing reluctance to seek out new music that has been all too prevalent in the city over recent months. It is unfortunate, to say the least, as talent like this really deserves a greater platform – hopefully the rest of the tour will see increased numbers coming out to support live music.

The set tonight includes the debut release in its entirety and it is great to hear these songs played in such an intimate setting, stripped down and without studio production and other musicians in the mix. There is a real energy and vibrancy about Rosie and Zoe as they deliver rousing versions of their songs on guitars and banjos, together with some very tasteful harmonica parts from Rosie on certain songs. She also plays a percussion board during the songs that adds a rhythm and tempo to the beautiful harmony vocals and interesting song structures.

Make no mistake, these musicians are going places and have the right attitude and work ethic to get them there. All the songs are written from personal experience and visit such topics of taking chances in life; Train Leavin’ & Endless Road, together with relationships sacrificed; Miss You Already, Don’t Waste Your Heart On Me, and growth through lessons learned; She Don’t Live Here and Passport. Things Always Work Out is something of a mantra for how they approach life on the road and some older songs are also given an airing; Long Gone and Be So Cruel.

We get a sneak-peek at a new song called Tidal Wave, currently in construction, which sounded rather tasty too … The encore is another old number called Drive (Zoe on Ukulele was a treat) and the girls finish up the evening with a smile and a thank you to those who witnessed their first gig in Ireland. Hopefully it will not be their last visit to Dublin and the joy in the performance of these very talented artists is reminiscent of the best in folk & country traditions.   

Review and photograph by Paul McGee

Saturday
Sep232017

Slim Cessna’s Auto Club @Whelan’s, Dublin - 21st Sept 2017

This was the sound of a band firing on all cylinders (to use the auto analogy). Slim Cessna’s Auto Club were making their Irish debut to a less than desireable attendance number. This was a show that should have been packed and no-one who was there will forget the exhilaration of the evening. Despite the small numbers there they gave a show that was worthy of a much bigger audience. Entering the venue and seeing the banjo’s, upright and pedal steel onstage one might expect something very different than what was actually about to occur. If you put country, country blues, blues, gospel, punk, folk, rockabilly and Radiohead into a blender you might get something like this coming from the PA.

Slim Cessna, Munly Munly, Lord Dwight Pentacost, Rebecca Vera, Ian O’Dougherty, Andrew Warner are the current line-up and they are a tight focused set of musicians who deliver a show that is part revival, part tent-show-but full on entertainment. The first three have been consistent members of the band for nearly twenty years and work together as a well oiled machine. Slim is tall and acts as master of ceremonies. Ceremonies that are equally focused on Munly Munly skeletal thin all black, fedora hatted look. His voice ranges from a whisper to a keen falsetto to a gave deep growl. Don’t mistake this for something contrived rather this is the development of some deeply rooted vision of redemption and temptation. 

Throughout the show there are lyrical references to Satan and to Jesus as well as to a way of life that is partly influenced by living in Denver, Colorado  and its environs. Munly Munly is the chief writer in the band and his words give the band their defining outlook on life (and death). While Cessna and Munly share the lead vocal they are joined by Pentecost and Vera on the choruses. Vera plays the pedal steel guitar in a way that makes it something far more sonic than is usual. At different times she uses both a drum stick and violin bow to draw different atmospherics from the strings. She also plays a keyboard to further add to the band’s arsenal of sound. In this she is joined by Pentacost on his trade mark Madonna-imaged twin neck guitar as well as coaxing discordant feedback from his 5 string banjo. However it is, naturally, the two lead singers whose voices and moves that are an essential element to their uniqueness. Their voices assuming a sense of harmony that relates to traditional church shape note singing - even if in a very different context. They also ventured into the audience to shake hands with it’s members and to get us all down on our knees along with them in beer and supplication.

Much of the material is taken from the most recent album The Commandments According to SCAC but some older favourites such as This Is What We Do In The Country and Jesus Is In My Body - My Body Has Let Me Down. In many ways the titles don’t matter this was a complete show from start to finish. And what a finish. After leaving the stage the band returned for a much deserved encore which saw all the band members onstage in a row singing and clapping along to a prerecorded rhythm track. Then then began to pack up their instruments as Slim Cessna sang a karaoke version of For The Good Times. He then thanked us for being there on the night. Slim, the thanks were all ours as this was a night that will rank with the best that live music has to offer.

Review by Steve Rapid  Photography by Kaethe Burt O'Dea

Sunday
Sep172017

Aubrey Sellers and Dylan LeBlanc @ Whelans, Dublin - 14th Sept 2017

 

Expectations, especially when it comes to live gigs are, well, quite often confoundedly the reality of what actually takes place. Having listen to, and enjoyed, the most recent albums by both of the artists playing tonight there was a distinct difference between tonight live shows and those albums. 

First up Aubrey Sellers delivers a set of songs largely taken from her debut album New City Blues She is accompanied by her guitar player (from Nashville) and a  drummer, who she tells us she picked up in London and got him to play country music. Well, from where I was standing, you would be hard pressed to call the sound coming from the trio anything remotely “country.” Not that there was anything wrong with that. The album is an edgy and at times rocky confection with strong vocals and lyrics. Something that she has dubbed “garage country.”

In this context I found both the guitar and her vocals pretty much drowned out by the bombastic drum sound. Sellers is a good singer who can obviously straddle the divide between country and rock with ease. Her version of Gram Parsons’ Luxury Liner (a song that she told us pretty much was the story of her life) showed that her guitar player could embrace twang as well as garage treble. However both played second fiddle to the drumming. A pity overall as Sellers with an acoustic or with the addition of the electric guitar would have been a more effective introduction to her live show and such strong songs like Liar, Liar. Tonight the vocal, electric guitar and drum combination failed to connect.

Equally at odds with the bulk of his recorded work was the powerful set from Dylan LeBlanc who was playing with members of the band The Pollies and celloist Courtney Blackwell. She and guitarist Jay Burgess were fundamental to the sound which was completed by bass, drums and keyboards as well as some energised electric guitar playing from LeBlanc himself. His distinctive, high register soaring vocals were the centrepiece of the show. Even though it was difficult to hear the lyrical content, mainly due to the reverb on his microphone and the volume the band played at. Many of the songs were taken from LeBlanc’s three albums. The latest of those Cautionary Tales was released in 2015 so a new album is due and it is likely to be much more in keeping with the hard rock of tonight’s show.

Mid show there was an extended song that became a cathedral of sound the built to a peak of intensity, control and conscious melody. LeBlanc introduced one song as a new one before adding “ you probably don’t know the old stuff so it doesn’t really matter.” Between songs LeBlanc didn’t chat too much but said his previous visit to these shores had been to a festival in Belfast. This was his Dublin debut and despite the somewhat sparse crowd he gave a great performance that was animated and full of attitude a swell as powerful and compelling music.

He switched to his acoustic guitar for one song mid-set but otherwise he stuck to his black Gretsch and showed that he is as talented a guitar player as he is singer and songwriter. He closed the show after a final encore telling the captivated audience “It’s been great, It’s been Dublin, It’s been fun!” After the show a fellow audience member summed up the general feeling: which was that what she had just heard wasn’t at all she had thought it would be but that it was, in it’s own right. something mighty and memorable. This, then, was a cautionary tale of keeping an open mind and being rewarded (in LeBlanc’s case) by something pretty special.

Review by Stephen Rapid  Photography by Kaethe Burt O'Dea

Sunday
Sep032017

Nadia Reid & Julie Byrne @ Whelans - 30th August 2017

Twenty-four hours after the appearance of Courtney Marie Andrews at the same venue two more young female artists turning industry heads both grace the stage at Whelans. Equally encouraging is the impressive attendance for both evening’s shows, a welcomed reassurance that emerging acts are not going unnoticed.

Tonight’s double act features Nadia Reid and Julie Byrne, both having released albums earlier this year to positive reviews and both signed to the Basin Rock record label. However, the comparability ends there.  Label mates they may be but their music, styles and personalities are from different ends of the scale. In classroom vernacular Byrne might be seated in the front row, attentive and impeccably behaved with visions of an academic career on the horizon. In contrast Reid would most likely be at the back, restless, disruptive and questioning, possibly firing paper bombs at the front row and counting down the days until she could break out and pursue a more challenging and nomadic lifestyle.

Slipping quietly on to the stage Byrnes demeanour in keeping with her song writing is laid back, wistful, somewhat anxious and unhurried, almost as if she would prefer not to be noticed. Seated throughout her set she expresses her delight at playing at ‘the legendary’ venue and adds that her father is Irish before starting her set with Sleepwalker and Follow My Voice, both from her latest album Not Even Happiness. Her vocal is low pitched, disciplined and relaxed, complimenting her delicate guitar playing. Welcoming her close friend Taryn Miller on stage to accompany her on Korg Mini Moog she continues with Melting Grid from the same album before visiting her debut album with the track Prism Song. Towards the end of her set she asks for the house lights to be dimmed and appears more comfortable on the darkened stage introducing Natural Blue. Her final song I Live Now As A Singer is inspired by travel, reflection and self-determination. Byrne possesses the lyrical ability to create dreamy trancelike landscapes even if her material suffers from time to time from possibly being one dimensional.

Nadia Reid’s studio output to date has consisted of her debut album Listen To Formation, Look For Signs, which dealt head on with personal heartbreak and love lost, and her current release Preservation which found Reid growing from her experiences and coming out the other end reconciled, confident and fighting. If Julie Byrne’s set, body language and material could be described as monochrome, Reid’s was in technicolour. With both microphone stands adorned by bunches of pink roses she takes the stage confidently, colourfully attired in a black blouse and matching coloured harem pants, her guitarist and occasional backing vocalist Sam Taylor equally looking the part in a two-piece tailored suit and plastic boot lace neck tie. Picking up her Gretsch guitar she immediately launches into Preservation and The Way It Goes, two obvious crowd pleasers notwithstanding the fact that her vocal is somewhat drowned out by the powerful sound of her guitar. Explaining that she is now performing show twelve of a thirty four date tour – and convinced that it’s actually Thursday rather than Wednesday – she switches to acoustic guitar for Runwayand Right On Time, both delivered beautifully, bringing her vocal out front where it deserves to be.

Reach My Destination she explains was inspired by reaching the rock bottom status of moving back home to her mother’s house in Port Chambers after a relationship breakdown. The song is underpinned by stunning guitar playing by Taylor, matched equally by his playing on Hanson Street, Part 2.

An unfortunate juncture during the performance found Reid, visibly disturbed, having to pause mid song and call out a couple of people that insisted on talking during her performance – why do ‘talkers’ always position themselves upfront – and while succeeding in shutting them up she did appear noticeably unsettled for quite a while before regaining composure. Ruby, Track Of The Time, Hanson Street Part 2 also featured together with an audience request for Richard before closing with The Arrow and The Aim. Reid made a point of thanking her close friend and producer Ben Edwards for the inspiration and encouragement in the recording of Preservation. Interestingly she did not reappear for an encore, possibly still unnerved by the mid set distraction.

Ironically, printed on the flip side of Reid’s hand-written set list at the front of the stage was the following ‘I Want Freedom For The Full Expression Of My Personality – Mahatma Gandhi’. No truer words could sum up the exceptionally talented young New Zealand artist.

Spare a thought for Jim Ghedi, another Basin Rock recruit, who opened the show. The young Sheffield folk singer’s band members failed to make the gig due to transport problems leaving him to borrow equipment and perform solo. Given the trauma he performed remarkably well.

Review and photography by Declan Culliton