Sunday
Feb062011

Marty Stuart & The Fabulous Superlatives @The Helix, Dublin. Feb 2nd 2011

Sparkle and Twang. That may well sum up Marty Stuart and the Fabulous Superlatives as they gave a masterclass in how to keep a tradition alive and healthy. At the outset Marty Stuart said that "the most outlaw, most outsider thing you could do in Nashville today is to play country music". How right he is, and as someone who has been at the heart of the music, its people and its rhinestone look he knows what he's talking about. In his first visit to Ireland in quite some time he captivated the audience in the intimate Helix Theatre. It was his first visit with his current and longtime band which includes 'Handsome' Harry Stinson on drums and vocals, 'The Apostle' Paul Martin on bass and vocals and 'Cousin' Kenny Vaughan on guitar and vocals. The "and vocals" shouldn't be underestimated as all four deliver distinctive and dynamic contributions either on harmonies or stepping up to the mic themselves. Each member showed themselves more than capable of holding their own. Vaughan sang Country Music Has A Hold On Me, while Handsome Harry sang a song from his Who Is This Man? mini-album, Paul Martin sang Bluegrass Express. It also was a gig that emphasized what a talent Marty Stuart himself is; from his exemplary vocals, his lead guitar playing - using Clarence White's B-Bender Telecaster, alongside his acoustic guitar and mandolin dexterity, highlighted in a section of the show that he played solo. The full band played songs from the early days like Tempted and Hillbilly Rock to a selection of songs, often prefaced with stories of how the came into being, from Ghost Train and Badlands. They also played several songs from the CD that is only available at gigs and from their website Cool Country Favorites. These included the theme from the Marty Stuart Rural TV Show La Tingo Tango as well as his Johnny Cash tribute, a song which he had explained he had attempted to write in several occasions, Dark Bird. He also sang Merle Haggard's Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down, an audience request, and a part of obvious and warm interaction between the audience and the band throughout the show. The music covered all aspects of what makes country cool to those who know and believe in it's merits. From bluegrass to Bakersfield, from honky-tonk to gospel they covered it all with skill, humour and commitment that made it a perfect show in so many ways. Mention should also be made of Mick Conley's sound mix, as all too often in the past gigs have been too loud and volume does not replace dynamic, here they got it right in every aspect. Something that was expressed by many of the audience who waited to have a CD signed, have a picture taken or just to say "hi". The foursome sat for an hour after to make sure that anyone who wanted to had the opportunity to meet them. Now that's country.

Tuesday
Feb012011

Justin Townes Earle, 25th January 2011, Whelans, Dublin


"Alright, Ladies and Gentlemen, how are we doing?". Justin Townes Earle greets the house-full audience and launches into a 25 song set that covered songs from all three of his albums. He prowled the stage like a caged tiger, full of pent up energy and the need to express himself. This was frustrated at times by a temperamental tuner "technical difficulties" but otherwise Earle was in top form. Most songs were prefaced by anecdotes relating in some way to the song he was about to play. They Killed John Henry was prefaced by a mention of his grandfather Jack Earle. Mama's Eyes, a song for his Mother who he told us stood over 6 foot tall and managed to detach one of his father's retinas with a single punch. He also mentioned she was now using Facebook and said that if "she ever gets on Twitter I'm through". Earle live is quite a different prospect to the JustinTownes Earle on album where he utilizes a full band and range of instruments. Live he uses his considerable guitar technique that sees him playing both a hard rhythm as well as melodic lead lines that sound like there is more than one player. A second player would have undoubtably added depth to the sound, as was the case on his last visit when he had Cory Younts accompanying him. A point emphasized here when he brought support act James Walbourne and his brother Rob on for a set closing Harlem River Blues, the duo played mandolin and washboard and added vocal support. Being solo however gives him the freedom to play whatever song he felt inclined to. His set included covers of "the great" Bruce Springsteen's Racing In The Streets as well as a Texas blues song from Lightening Hopkins. He noted that Townes Van Zandt had said that there was only "the blues and zippity do dah" and that no set would be complete with a blues. That music genre undoubtably informs Earle's own songs as well as the covers he played. He didn't shy away from his own blues, telling us that his weaknesses included "young ladies and fried chicken", but he noted that while fried chicken had given him less problems than women it also gave him less to write about. His father he said noted that he was "a hard dog to keep under the porch". He mentioned his recent and ongoing problems with chemical dependence and incarceration. His love of vodka ("I like to drink it in the morning") as well as cocaine and pills were cited. This tour follows a much reported spell in rehab and one can only hope that this talented artist can keeps that side of his nature under control and that it doesn't diminish him as a live performer and recording artist. Because he is capable of a lot of insight and tenderness as with songs like Learning To Cry as well as the more driven hell-raising songs in his set. Make no mistake Justin Townes Earle is very much his own man and this audience loved him for everything that he is.

Review by Steve Rapid. Photography by Ronnie Norton

Tuesday
Nov232010

Ryan Bingham & The Dead Horses - 20th November@ The Sugar Club, Dublin

The Sugar Club was not perhaps the best venue for Bingham  who seems to prefer the audience upfront and personal and Bingham got everyone on their feet at the show's end. Indeed, due to a 10:30 nightclub curfew, the audience  made no move to leave instead demanding the band return for an encore which they duly did. The encore really rocked with both Bingham and guitarist Corby Schaub playing electric bottleneck slide on a bluesy extended workout.

The show opened with Bingham playing solo with harmonica. The band then launched into Day Is Done with gusto and the gig took off. Front and centre was Bingham's aged gravelly voice, an amazing sound that belies his years. He acknowledged the audience with "How you guys doing? Alright?"before delivering a set that featured songs from all three of his Lost Highway albums which included "a songs for all the mothers out there" Tell My Mother I Miss Her So. Those expecting something akin to his Crazy Heart co-write may have been disorientated by the sheer energy and noise that this band makes. Key to this is drummer Matt Smith and bassist Elijah Ford, both of whom shonebut special mention must go to Smith who drove the band and the sound. Schaub played mandolin and a variety of guitars that blistered in raw intensity. As with many bands the live set is harder and more powerful that studio versions of the songs could ever be. Perhaps the most interesting section of the set was Bingham talkingof learning to play the guitar with Malaguena,  a mariachi inspired version that featured Schaub on mandolin. This largely instrumental number was full of atmosphere and ability and showed Bingham as a skilled guitarist too. Requests came flying from the audience with South Side of Heaven from his first album being a particular favourite. Hard Times from that album also featured. The song Strange Feeling In The Air was prefaced by Ryan's remark that there was a lot of discrimination in the world but that this songs says "fuck to all that". 

The set proper closed with a dynamic cover of Townes Van Zandt's Highway Kind which also featured opening act Australian singer/songwriter Liam Gerner on electric guitar. If that had been the closing it would have been a fitting tribute to a hero as well as a great song to end on. But then the audience, as mentioned stayed put and we got that encore. There's not doubt that all there were pleased with the show and that Bingham and the boys will be back.

Review: Steve Rapid    Photography: Ronnie Norton

Tuesday
Nov232010

John Hiatt - 17th November@The Academy, Dublin


I’ve seen John Hiatt live on a number of occasions in Dublin, the last time being an acoustic set with Lyle Lovett, and he has never put in a bad show. This though was one of the more vital and electric shows. It was the last gig of a four week European tour which made Hiatt comment that they were feeling somewhat “giddy” but couldn’t think of a better place to finish in than Dublin. His current band rejoices in the moniker of The Combo and includes bassist Patrick O Hearn, longtime drummer Kenneth Blevins and for this tour making his Irish Hiatt debut, following in the strings of many a noted guitarist, Doug Lancio. Lancio may be the best one yet. Playing a variety of guitars and mandolin he had no trouble in adding to the nuances and tones of Hiatt’s memorable songs. With a few selections from his latest album, including the title The Open Road, it was largely a case of delivering some classic Hiatt from through the years. Opening with a full force Perfectly Good Guitar he played a 20 song two hour set that included Just Like Your Dad Did, Master of Disaster - dedicated to his friend and former producer the late Jim Dickinson, Thing Called Love which was dedicated to Bonnie Riatt who Hiatt said helped him get recognition as a writer when she covered the song. Other songs coming from across his multi-album catalog were Alone In The Dark, Real Fine Love, Slow Turning, Drive South and the set closer an extended and robust ‘running down the road’ version of Tennessee Plates. The audience who were largely of Hiatt’s vintage and were obviously long-time fans who loved every minute of the show. There were some slower songs were Lancio switched to mandolin and Hiatt to a blond Gibson that included Cry Love. On other songs he also played a Telecaster adding to the overall sense of fusion in the air. He played my favourite song too - Icy Blue Heart  - a classic of failed relationships. Throughout Hiatt was in good form with between songs talk of his mild disappointment with the iPad. He reckoned it should have be a $30 full body suit that messed with all the senses. As is the norm in the live situation the band stretched and extended the songs on several occasions allowing Lancio to shine and show what a versitile player he is. No the more so than on the two song encore of Have A Little Faith and the lengthy guitar-driven pure energy of Riding With The King from the 1983 album of that name. Hiatt has been making great music for a long time. He still is. This night was just more proof of that.
Review: Steve Rapid  Photography: Ronnie Norton

 

Tuesday
Oct262010

pete Molinari- October 19th@The Workingmen's Club Dublin

This talented and versatile singer-songwriter was making his Dublin debut in the recently launched Workingmen's Club. Those who came were given a great show, and although the venue was far from capacity it was a very mixed audience, both in gender and in age, a testament to Pete Molinari's wide-ranging appeal. Molinari opened the show with three solo numbers, the last of which was the song that originally caught my attention as a listener. That was Lest We Forget a song that seeks remembrance for those who lost their lives in two world wars. He then brought on his three piece band of bass, drums and guitar with the former two also handling deft backing vocals. The whole thing kicked up an notch then, maybe a little more with a volume level that was a little loud for the room, as it was commented on after, and the foursome delivered some fearsome versions of songs from Molinari's recent releases, and some not officially released. A refreshing change from the usual new album promotional scenario. Unusually, in some ways, he chose to feature songs not only from his albums but some that featured as extra songs on recent singles. Molinari led from the front with his Fender Coronado 11 electric guitar while his live guitarist Tom, from Stockholm, played his black Gretsch throughout until the final encore where he picked up and played his pale blue Telecaster.

What I had not really expected was a sound that approximated the 60s sound of a high octane beat group. That point where George Harrison's playing was still showed the influence of Chet Atkins. This was tight, melodic dance- floor orientated uptempo rock. Not something you might have expected from listening to the studio albums. These versions of his songs included Sweet Louise, Street Car Named Desire, No Trace Of You and other songs across his recorded output which offered another perspective on Molinari's musical influences; all of which seem to stem from the 60s and earlier though now filtered through the last half century of individuals interpretations of those influences. In this instance the often cited Dylan comparison had little relevance. The end result, which is driven by Molinari's distinctive vocal style, seems fresh and vital and bodes well for future live performances in whatever setting he wants to place his strong, memorable songs.

Review: Steve Rapid   Photography: Ronnie Norton