Sunday
Oct132013

Ed Romanoff @ Whelans, Dublin - Wed 25th Sept 

 

Back at Whelans Ed Romanoff this time out played in the downstairs room. He again brought with him some accomplished players - Deni Bonet on violin and backing vocals, Seth Woods on cello as well as the ever excellent local boy Clive Barnes on steel and electric guitar. Clive will be familiar to may through his own solo work. All three added a subtle but highly effective atmosphere to balance with Romanoff's voice and guitar centred songs. He will freely admit the limitations of his voice but gigging has definitely improved his tone and timbre. He appeared earlier in the evening to sing a song with his special guest Rachael Yamagata during her short set. She returned the compliment and joined Romanoff later in his set.

The songs were mostly taken from Romanoff's debut album. Between the songs he told some stories and anecdotes about the backgrounds and inspiration for the songs. He told us how while on a cab he had come across a dead man lying in the street who had a small dog who was staying beside the unfortunate man and he wondered who would look after the dog but that neighbours had come out to take care of the dog. This led on to how he had found his own dog Freckles and how he brought him back into the States from Costa Rica. There is a mix of humour and warmth along with some darker tones in his tales of what is the human condition that features in Romanoff's music. He is an entertainer who is on this chosen journey of expression, using words in different forms to tell the real and imagined stories.

For the song Two Yellow Roses he was joined by a singer Sharon, a singer he had encountered while walking round Dublin on his last visit to Dublin and who he had asked to join him onstage. She repeated her vocal harmony again tonight. He related a story of a singer who had been sent a letter from John Lennon telling the singer to always pursue his dream but that the letter never got to him at the time but turned up years later. It is this sense of the storyteller that is at the heart of what Ed Romanoff does. He is further exploring that aspect of his own life with a book that will tell the story of his adaption. That tale is the subject of St. Vincent De Paul on his album and here live. 

Rachael Yamagata joined him then for a song and used Romanoff's guitar and they sang together Lost And Gone. A new song not on the album. She later came back on stage at the end of the set and played piano and added vocals. There was an obvious rapport and friendship between the two. Less Broken was written for a friend that Ed had visited in hospital who was recovering and who had said she was "a little less broken now". Which shows again a songwriter always needs to have a ear open for little expressions or phrases that can spark off a song.

The show ended with a version of Orphan King, a song that Romanoff had written with Mary Gauthier, which he has subsequently rerecorded with Rachael Yamagata and released as a single to benefit the Chernobyl Kilkenny Outreach Group. It was a fitting end to an intimate and warm show and was followed by Romanoff coming off stage to meet those in the audience who wanted to speak to him.

There's no doubt that Ed Romanoff will be back in Ireland before long as he feels a strong affinity with the country and those who have heard his music will likely be happy to have him back here to.

Review by Stephen Rapid. Photography by Ronnie Norton

Sunday
Oct132013

Buddy Mondlock @ Whelan’s - 6th September 2013

On a return trip to Dublin, this talented artist and song writer talks about the special community of musicians, touring his songs and living it from the heart. A view that pretty much sums up the special vibe that is created at a Buddy Mondlock gig, with the connection between musicians and audience creating a warm feeling that lingers long after the show has ended.

A regular visitor to these shores over the years, Buddy Mondlock displays the writing sensitivity of a true poet and the self- effacing humour of a gentle spirit who smiles, both broadly and often, in sharing his gift of song writing and playing with a very appreciative audience.

We are introduced to Mark Lindaur on vocal harmonies and a fretless, five string Bass, playing an understated and impressive accompaniment to these vignettes of life and love. We learn that this talented musician is a schoolboy friend of Buddy Mondlock and has played side by side with him through a lifetime of various experiences.

It is in the telling of the stores surrounding the songs that we gain a true insight into of the pedigree of Buddy Mondlock  as he speaks of collaborating with Guy Clark, Garth Brooks, and Tom Kimmel, Jim Tullio, Nanci Griffith and others, in a way that is not meant to boast but rather just telling it like it is.

The songs are truly captivating, displaying humorous, empathetic and wry observations on life and an understanding in the fragility of humankind as we try to rise above the daily challenge.

We are treated to songs such as The Holes You Leave, Coming Down in the Rain, No Choice, The Kid, I Count You My Friend, The Cats at the Coliseum, Poetic Justice, Magnolia Street, Nobody Knows Nothing, Fence in a Storm... No end to the quality of the words and music.

It is all very understated in a ‘less is more way’ and the new recording, The Memory Wall gets a decent airing with new songs like The Ugly One, What Do I Know,  Some Kind of Hope and Central Park, a song shared with his Dad in the writing.

A Canary’s Song is prefaced by a story of sharing the same manager as Garth Brooks and the vagaries of the music industry that have seen one artist rise to the top of the commercial tree while the other continues in smaller venues, in service of the eternal flame of creativity.

Who is the poorer I ask myself at the end of it all -especially when it is all about the heart – right?

For all the years served in the trenches and all the shows where his constant good humour and supremely honed songs and words have taken flight, I applaud Buddy Mondlock and urge you to check him out when he is next in your neighbourhood.

Just a final word for local artist Josh Johnston who opened for Buddy and played  brief but heartfelt set on keyboards, displaying a fine talent with his personal songs and view of life and relationships. It is always good to see local talent given an opportunity and Buddy Mondlock was very generous in inviting Josh up on stage to sit in on one of the encores.

All told, this was a special evening of music, stories and song.

Review and photo by Paul McGee

Sunday
Oct062013

Sam Baker @ The Seamus Ennis Centre - 14th Sept 2013

 

This gig was a perfect example of why I would always prefer to be in a small intimate venue (like the Seamus Ennis Centre) than in a much larger location even with a commercially bigger act brings in a bigger production. It is the economy of scale of course, but that scale balances when you are at close quarters with a performer.

On this occasion Sam Baker is accompanied by Chip Dolan a seasoned sideman (and recording artist in his own right) playing electric piano and accordion and singer/songwriter Carrie Elkin. (Incidentally Elkin's last album Call It My Garden was recorded in Sam Baker's house). This trio had an obvious ease with each other that encouraged their playing and how they delivered the songs.

Elkin mainly added harmony and counterpoint vocals but she also played clarinet (an instrument that she only took up in the last few weeks) and guitar. Dolan excelled on the piano and on the accordion.

At the start of the show Sam Baker tuned his guitar through his tuner but wryly told us that he didn't need it as he only had to look at the expression on the face of either of his companions to know if he was in tune or not. Throughout the evening there was many asides and stories that enhanced the evening. An evening that included songs from across his four albums. Among them Slots, Pretty  World, Change and, naturally, from the new album came Say Grace, Ditch, White Heat, Migrants. The latter a song that featured to great effect Dolan's accordion and was based on a story that Baker had read and was in the same vein as his hero Woody Guthrie's classic song Deportees. In other words an event that only barely gets mentioned in the press as the victims in the song were themselves migrants, Isn't Love Grand, The Tattooed Woman and the closing song Go In Peace

He did a trio of songs that related to love, something he said he doesn't do that often, jokingly telling us "when you hear it you'll know why". Like all his material it took us through a window and into the lives of the song's subjects. Tattoos and teenage abuse were more often on his radar he commented. As are the terms of endearment between couples which may not actually be what the words spoken seemed to mean. There is a great deal of humour in his songs that balances with the occasional more tragic consequence that reveal themselves as a particular story unfolds.

Anyone who knows Sam Baker's music knows that he would not likely pass any "formal" audition voice test. He has a limited voice range. But that voice is who Sam Baker is and with that voice he connects. In fact his delivery, like that of a poet, allows every word to be savoured and understood. His crafted songs tell of hard times full of, more often than not, people who are not hard. They're making the best of their lives. He is an astute observer of life. Pictures painted with words, which here (and on record) are enhanced by the contributions of his fellow performers. Elkin's crystal voice is a delight throughout while Dolan's piano playing is also integral and when he delivers a solo his skill and dexterity are obvious.

At one point tour manager Rebecca joins Elkin for a short unaccompanied song. Another vocal highlight was provided by the audience who joined in on several occasions and completely broke down the barrier between the artist and audience. Not that Baker ever allows one in any real sense. He never puts himself above his fans. After the show he allowed the audience as much time as they wanted to say hello, and goodbye.

Review by Stephen Rapid. Photograph by Ronnie Norton

Thursday
Sep192013

Peter Bruntnell @ Whelan’s – Sunday 18th August 2013.

 

On a short Irish tour to promote his ‘Retrospective’ CD release, Peter Bruntnell takes to the stage with his band of merry men. Playing with great energy and impressive array of talent, Steve Prior (drums), Dai Godwin (bass) and Dave Little (guitars) provide the perfect backdrop and beat for the excellent songs of this great songwriter.

With a recording output that stretches back to 1995, Peter Bruntnell has produced a body of work of the highest order that stands quite comfortably alongside any of his peers. This show contains many of his favourite songs and he sings with an engagingly sweet voice that wraps the rhythm and melody of the arrangements into a beautifully compelling gift for the enthusiastic crowd on the night.

The band adds texture to the songs and serves the arrangements with a perfect balance of passion and restraint. In addition to his literate, mature and self-realised song writing talents, Peter Bruntnell is also a skilled guitar player and he shapes the tempo of the set with all the experience of a travelled artist.

Americana for Europeans is a tag that does not do him justice, despite his close links with Son Volt, the celebrated roots rock band, led by Jay Farrar. Opening with 25 Reasons, Bruise on the Sky and London Clay, the audience is treated to wonderful melodic hooks and harmonies to savour. Matters of the heart and relationships; emotional and physical, platonic and sexual, are visited and handled in a fashion that channels the lost, yearning voice of the lonesome traveller in search of home.

Have you Seen that Girl again; By the Time my Head gets to Phoenix and Clothes of Winter are all played to an increasingly excited room in which the  atmosphere crackles, helped in no small manner by  the dextrous solo runs of Dave Little, a fine guitar player who really elevates the songs to exciting levels.

Brought back for two encores, Peter Bruntnell plays an acoustic version of Caroline, which highlights just what a fine singer he is and the band finish a real high with Fear of Lightning, before calling it a night.

Peter Bruntnell remains largely unrecognised in Ireland and given his trail of impressive releases, this remains a mystery to me. I urge any self- respecting music collector to seek him out and to watch for his next dates in our country. He stands as a rare jewel and shines a bright light of talent across an increasingly arid musical landscape. Long may you run Mr Bruntnell…!!

Review and phone photograph by Paul McGee

Sunday
Sep152013

Joe Henry @ Live at Whelan’s – Thursday 28th August 2013.

 

This is the first visit to Ireland for an artist who started his recording career back in 1986 and has delivered 12 official releases over the succeeding 25 years. In recent years Joe Henry has been as renowned for his production talents and has worked with many great artists, including Elvis Costello; The Jayhawks; Mavis Staples; Solomon Burke and Brad Mehldau to name but a few.

Part of the reason for his appearance on these shores is the connection with Lisa Hannigan and his work on her Passenger release of 2012. Tonight Joe Henry is joined onstage by Lisa and her regular drummer Ross Turner, together with guitarist John Smith who has garnered a strong reputation over his three releases as a solo artist of some repute.

The band plays as a tight unit throughout, displaying a light touch in the interpretation of the song arrangements, given the short rehearsal time that they must have had. There is one more show to follow in Switzerland, but the impression is that the Dublin show is a key pleasure for Joe and this band of minstrels.

Opening with Sold from his Tiny Voices recording Joe Henry immediately establishes the mood for the evening in his laid back, ‘less is more’ approach to the song structure and establishes an immediate rapport with the audience, who listen in  restrained and interested silence.

Odetta follows from the most recent Reverie recording, swiftly followed by a new song, Grave Angels, which touches on the subject matter of marriage and commitment. Straight away one realises that we are in the presence of something special and the unique atmosphere of the occasion continues to reveal hidden treasures as the night unfolds.

We are treated to an old favourite in Monkey from the Fuse release in 1999 and this recording is revisited later in the set with a stirring version of Like She Was a Hammer. In between we get You Can’t Fail Me Now and Civil War from the Civilian recording; the first sung in honour of Bonnie Raitt who recently covered the song on her latest CD and the latter, joined on piano and vocals by our own Gavin Glass, who sings sweetly and plays beautifully.

Lisa Hannigan performs two of her own unique songs from the Passenger CD; Little Bird and A Sail, plus she sings a haunting version of Eyes Out for You from Joe’s Reverie CD. There are a couple more new songs tried out on the ever enthusiastic audience, Lead Me On and Plain Speak, coupled with a defining version of Flag from the sublime Tiny Voices CD. “Laugh or bleed, as you need to; who of us doesn't know already? Every flag flies like confetti now”.

Joe Henry does not write political songs as a rule but this song is delivered as a keenly observed statement in frustration at the abuse of power.

The interplay between musicians is never short of captivating as we witness the unfolding of great songs, insightful words and joyful acoustic connection in the arrangements. Ending with These Days, a Jackson Browne cover played with grace and majesty, Joe Henry returns to the stage for a final song, Kindness of the World which has the ecstatic crowd on their feet shouting for a fast return to build upon the great swell of joy he left behind this night in Dublin. 

Review and photograph by Paul McGee