Tom Russell @ Whelans 14th July 2013

Roll up; roll up for the great Tom Russell extravaganza! Hold tight as this train is travelling at top speed towards the recapture of the human spirit. What was once assumed lost has only been missing and the treasure hunt at Whelan’s begins with tales of Bob Dylan and his early Duluth beginnings; of Peter Pan and the sad descent of actor Bobby Driscoll into his own dark never, never land.

We are regaled with memories of Tom’s ancestors and their great journey west from the lands of Norway and Ireland. We learn of the new CD release Aztec Jazz with the company of the Norwegian Wind Ensemble and their live renditions of classic songs from Russell’s extensive back catalogue. Unfortunately all 32 members of the wind ensemble cannot fit on the simply lit Whelan’s stage, so we are left with the talents of two supremely gifted f travellers: Tom Russell and Thad Beckman.

Truly one of the last of a dying breed, the rebel in Tom Russell is never far from the surface as he recounts tales from his career as a songwriter, poet, painter and raconteur. He commands the stage with a larger than life strut and asks that we join him on a trip that invites on board cowboys, dreamers, lovers, renegades and true believers.

In Tom Russell’s eyes true Country Music died with the arrival of the big hat brigade, in the shape of Garth Brooks and Tim McGraw, but the true heart still beats on in the memory and inspired writing of this songwriter. You are bound to hear an old favourite with most of the first set this evening concentrating on the new release, along with songs from Mesabi and the more recent releases among his 28 recordings so far. Guadalupe and Goodnight Juarez conjure up imagery of life on the Mexican Border with his tales of El Paso, where Tom Russell lives, adding to the colour of the lyrics. Jai Alai, the Mexican ball game, is also played along with Stealing Electricity and Nina Simone. Spoken tributes are also paid to Ian Tyson, Johnny Cash and Dave Alvin, among the many greats that he has encountered along the way. 

In the second set we are treated to Navajo Rug, Blue Wing, East of Woodstock, West of Vietnam,  St. Olav’s Gate, Tonight We Ride and two songs from a new folk opera, yet to be completed. A love song written for his wife, Finding  You is beautifully performed and the equally touching Where Love Abides follows in a similar vein.

The wonderful solo runs of Thad Beckman lift the songs throughout and never more so than in a section that pays tribute to the legendary blues players of old, with Lightning  Hopkins and Mississippi John Hurt featured in a bottleneck display of the highest order. A medley of US Steel and Veteran’s Day closes the show before a second encore pays tribute to Johnny Cash with two songs that tip a hat to the past and the inspiration of former artists; a very generous way to say goodnight to an ecstatic Dublin audience.

Tom Russell speaks of no limitations and of free thinking. He is a natural storyteller and one of the greatest songwriters of his generation. Full marks to Roadworks Tours for bringing this great talent to our shores and they deserve great credit for promoting quality artists that need to be heard. Check out future gigs on

Review by Paul McGee. Photograph by Ronnie Norton


JD Wilkes & The Dirt Daubers @ The Grand Social 25th June 2013

Ubangi Stomp presented another great night in the Grand Social with JD Wilkes & The Dirt Daubers. Ubangi had previously promoted the previous incarnation of the band which was the more old-timey acoustic based trio of JD, Jessica Wilkes and Mark Robertson. This was the line-up that recorded their debut album Wake Up Sinners. JD and Mark were founder members of Th' Legendary Shack*Shakers.
This current incarnation of the Dirt Daubers has plugged in and gone electric and while not quite the full on audio assault of the Shakers they still back a mighty punch. Jessica has now moved over to playing the upright bass while still sharing the lead vocals with JD. He takes over the bass when Jessica steps up to the lead microphone. They have now added Rod Hamdallah on electric guitar, Rod was also a member of the Shack*Shakers in their last line-up. The drummer is the brooding bearded but engine room ready Preston Corn. They are an integrated and exciting quartet who cover their fusion of southern gothic roots, delta blues and urban punk.
After some small problems with the sound the Daubers soon settled into a groove that built through a set of songs that will appear on their next album to be released later this year as well as songs from the Shack*Shakers and Dock Boggs. The sound mixes Wilkes' excellent banjo and harmonica playing over the solid bass and drums bedrock that drives the music along at the pace of a midnight train. Over this is Hamdallah's Silvertone guitar playing. He crosses blues, rockabilly and rock 'n' roll influences into a distinctive sound that perfectly complements JD's contributions.
JD Wilkes is still one of the best frontmen around. A showman of the old school who performs the songs like a vaudeville entertainer of bygone times, using his body and face as much as his voice to emphasise the song themes and to hold the attention of the audience. But that doesn't in any way take away from Jessica Wilkes own delivery or Hamdallah's strong presence stage left. When Jessica completes her first vocal set JD in mock disappointment states "they like you better than me". Truth is this audience likes this band period.
What is strange is that they haven't picked up a bigger audience. There may be some confusion between the Shack*Shakers and Dirt Daubers. Whatever name that JD Wilkes performs under he is worth catching live. He has always made his live performance something that stands on its own apart from the recorded versions of his songs, something that personally is important to me as when I go see a band play live I don't want to hear a flawless rendition of a recorded track. The Dirt Daubers give you that. They deliver the full live experience. One that should be seen in it's natural setting. 
So come on, wake up sinners - redemption is at hand and will be available again before too long.
Review by Stephen Rapid. Photography by Ronnie Norton



Cara Luft @ Whelan’s. Sunday 9th June 2013


Tonight is the third date in a UK & Ireland Tour that sees Cara Luft visit eighteen different venues in just over twenty one days. A hectic schedule that sees this gifted Canadian talent joined by Scott Poley on additional guitars and the two musicians display a great chemistry in their playing and their onstage presence. Blessed with amazing musicianship, this is the first time that Cara Luft has played in Dublin and her enthusiasm is energizing as she plays an impressive set across a diverse range of songs.

With a confident onstage presence, Cara regales the audience with stories of her right wing aunt in Idaho, her bust up with American Customs and her song-writing collaborations with co- writer, Lewis Melville, by e mail. There is plenty of fun and laughter when she breaks a string mid song and continues singing, while attempting to change the broken string, all with hilarious consequences and a sound engineer who saves the day (you had to be there.)!!

A founder member of the much feted, Wailin Jennies, who rose to great heights in the North American folk/roots scene, Cara Luft has released three wonderful solo recordings that would grace any discerning music collectors armoury. Her skill on guitar and banjo is of the highest quality and with an ability to switch between traditional arrangements, English Folk songs and country tinged tales of love and loss, Cara Luft shows an impressive musicality and deep knowledge of tradition.

There are a few cover versions, notably ‘Bring ‘Em All In’ by Mike Scott and a beautiful arrangement of the Bert Jansch song ‘Black Water Side’ which she prefaces with a tale concerning the influences of certain songs that appeared on Led Zeppelin records in the day.

However, it is on her latest release, Darlingford, that Cora really shines and we are treated to a number of the selected tracks during this ninety minutes of warm and wonderful music. Scott Poley serves each song with an impressive playing technique that never sees him clutter the arrangements, instead adding subtle nuance to the dynamic on display.

Cara Luft has a great gift in taking the personal and turning it into a universal feeling and message that reaches out to all who listen. Long may she reign.

The opening act, Polly Barrett from Kinsale, played an interesting set of songs that bodes well for the future of this talented singer songwriter. Having busked to gain experience Polly is about to release her second recording and she displays a quiet confidence onstage. Her final song ‘Almost Friend’ was particularly arresting.

Congratulations to the music promoter, Roadworks Tours, for bringing interesting and original artistic talent to these shores. Gerry Rickard, owner of Roadworks, ably assisted by Denis Goodbody, deserves greater support in their activities and with Tom Russell due to play on 14th July next, a full house is the least that can be expected.  

Review and photograph by Paul McGee


Lucky Bones @ Whelans, Dublin - 22 May 2013

This gig was the launch of the band's second Texas recorded album Someone's Son. The band, bolstered by drummer Binzer Brennan, were in fine form considering this was their first full band show in a long time. They were amiably led by singer/songwriter Eamonn O'Connor with his lieutenant, guitarist Peter O'Grady, providing the firepower  and vocal harmonies. The band was ably rounded out by keyboard player Conor Miley and bassist Leon Kennedy. The latter also appeared with interesting support band The Edisons.
The band opened with She Don't Know, Baby Please Don't Pull Me Down and Forever With Wings from the new album. All demonstrated what a fine set of the songs they have produced for both albums. The debut album was not neglected in the set with Frank Sinatra, the title track Together We are All Alone and a fiery build up on Commercial Presentation, which closed the show. The band know have a sound that is robust and memorable and had some reminded of mid-period Fleetwood Mac as well as touches of melodic roots rock. The most 'country' sounding song in the set was the title of the first album which feature Miley on banjo to good effect. The current single Who's Gonna Follow Me Down was a highlight too towards the end of the set.
O'Connor switched between acoustic and Fender Telecaster and for one song played a solo Passion Played with the electric guitar which show both his strength as a singer and rhythm guitarist. The band, as mentioned, gelled and all worked hard to give the songs a good first outing and one hopes that from here on they will have a lot of gigs to further develop their live sound. 
Born To The Holy Land was early song written around the time of the Iraq invasion and included on the current album. It shows that O'Connor is aware as much of political attitude as he is of the more inter-personal politics that form the basis of many of the songs. The fifteen song set was applauded by the appreciative audience and the calls for "one more song" had to go unanswered due to the venue's curfew, however all involved left in good spirits.
Lucky Bones, like any new, upcoming, band have their work cut out to get there music across but with such a strong album and a live performance to back it up they're heading in the right direction. You should make the effort to follow them down if they play near you.
Review and photograph by Stephen Rapid



The Kennedys @ Whelan’s Sunday 19th May 2013.

Husband and wife team, Pete and Maura Kennedy, have been producing compelling music since their debut release back in 1995. We find them in Dublin on a Sunday night, ready to deliver a stripped down set across their ten studio releases, with matching Gibson guitars at the ready and big smiles all around…

They really are a tonic to experience live, with the unbridled energy of Maura shining through in her strong playing, while Pete dazzles with his fret work and imaginative soloing throughout a most enjoyable 90 minutes. Maura has been blessed with a beautiful voice and her singing is both distinctive and sweet. She is a very literate and warm person and handles the pace of the performance in a confident, yet understated manner.

Their new release, the first in four years, titled Closer Than You Know is featured and there are a number of cover versions chosen from favourite songs. So, we get Bob Dylan, The Byrds, Richard Thompson, U2, Nanci Griffith and some virtuoso guitar instrumentals which weave Bach pieces into variations on Over the Rainbow.

However, it is on their own tunes that Maura and Pete really shift into top gear and the spark they generate in playing off each other leads to plenty of great musical moments. Standing shoulder to shoulder they build the tempo of the songs into celebratory and exuberant finales which leaves the audience cheering for more.

If the new release looks to the future, then the other CD on the merch desk nods nostalgically to the past with a 16 track retrospective that is packed with great songs and a must-have for any self respecting country music collector. 

Midnight Ghost features some wonderful guitar playing from Pete and he displays a masterly command of his six string. River of Falling Stars, written at the Olympia in Dublin while on tour with Nanci Griffith back in the ‘90’s, is a memory of where it all started for the Kennedys and we get a steady stream of memorable tunes with Life Is Large, Half a Million Miles, Stand and I Found the Road all reverberating with a positive energy.

Stories of playing at two separate Bill Clinton inaugurations are told with great charm, as is the time when they first met as a couple. We are also treated to a song from a solo record that Maura released in 2009 having experienced the illness of a family member when she channelled her emotions into the compelling tracks that appear on Parade of Echoes.

The night was kicked off in some style by an Irish couple who perform under the stage name of B & the HoneyBoy. About to launch their second release, this husband & wife team are confident performers and seem to channel the vibe of the Civil Wars with their on stage chemistry and the excellent guitar work of Mr HoneyBoy. They join the Kennedys on stage for the final two songs of the evening and the joy of four voices singing in harmony to a driving guitar beat sums up the experience perfectly and leaves me waiting for a speedy return tour

Review by Paul McGee