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


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


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     


Lindi Ortega @The Sugar Club, Dublin Jan 11th 2014


Returning to the Sugar Club in support of her latest album Tin Star Lindi Ortega again impresses with her spirit take on country music. This time out she is accompanied only by mvp Champagne James Robertson on Telecaster and acoustic guitar. It doesn't take long to realise that this duo are as entertaining as the full band that she had backing her on the previous visit. What the sound lacks in deeper textures it makes up in vigour. She opens with the title track of the new album. It is a song about struggling singers playing for tips in the bars on Lower Broadway in Nashville. She then greets the assembled crowd with a "How Y'all Doing Tonight?" before announcing that the next song All My Friends was about "a little debauchery". Ortega played selections from her three recent albums while obviously concentrating on a selection from her latest release. A spiky take on The Eagles' Desperado was played, it was she told us, a song that was one of her Mother's favourites. She dedicated it to her and said she was not with us before realising the possible implication. Laughing she explained that her mother was still very much alive, rather that she just wasn't here tonight.

 Sometimes she just sang and at other she changed her acoustic guitar for a electric. "My Shiny Black Beast" she told us she had christened it. Together she and Roberston made some noise on the two electrics. At one point she brought her friend Dave Danger onstage to play acoustic guitar but otherwise it was the duo who commanded attention. Ortega has a twang to her voice that is ideal for the songs she sings. Songs that are never retro but unlike many of her mainstream contemporaries are obviously rooted in the music she grew up listening to. 

She was happy to be back in Ireland and told us of her love for Cadburys Chocolate, especially the Snack bar which she had been able to find so far. There's in an obvious charm to the between songs patter and moments of spontaneity  such as when she stepped on her guitar lead at the end of the song and pulled it out with a loud thunk making it she said "the most rock 'n' roll ending.

Others songs included Demon's Don't Get Me Down, Bluebird and Voodoo Mama. All proved that as well as being a captivating vocalist and guitar player Linda Ortega is also a compelling songwriter. But praise again to the inventive playing of James Robertson. I'm not sure how she would be received over an entire set purely playing on her own, but it would doubtless be entertaining. On this occasion the duo delivered something special and Lindi Ortega live is something that should be a regular occurrence at least once a year - in line with her equally star rated albums.

Review by Stephen Rapid.  Photography by Ronnie Norton


Kimmie Rhodes @ the Seamus Ennis Centre– Saturday 19th October 2013

A regular visitor to these shores, Kimmie Rhodes takes to the stage with a radiant smile that lights up this intimate venue. She is joined by her son, Gabriel Rhodes, multi-talented musician, guitar wizard and producer; together with Ruth Trimble, an Irish singer songwriter of great pedigree.

The capacity crowd is very much a loyal fan base and they laugh and applaud Kimmie’s stories between songs and her funny observations on life. So, playing to the proverbial home crowd, Kimmie appears both confident and comfortable in all aspects of the performance. The beautiful layers of guitar and keyboards fuse effortlessly with the vocals, as Kimmie selects songs from her latest Covers recording.

It is somewhat strange to hear so many cover songs in a Kimmie Rhodes set, as she is famed for her own song-writing talent across fifteen recordings; but her individual style is always to the fore as she effortlessly weaves the songs into her own particular vision.

Gabriel Rhodes colours the arrangements with some stunning fret work as he swoops and dives in and out of the rhythm to lift and ease the dynamic in the music. Listening to the songs, I am taken with the talent of Ruth Trimble on bass guitar, keyboards and percussion and the way in which she compliments the arrangements. Kimmie also gives Ruth the opportunity to feature a number of her own songs taken from her debut recording and we are witness to an emerging talent on the Irish music scene, as she sings and plays with a seasoned maturity.

The concert runs into 2 hours with an interval between sets and in addition to songs from Townes van Zandt (White Freight Liner) and Jagger/Richards (Moonlight Mile) we are treated to old favourites such as  Hard Promises to Keep, God’s Acre and a beautiful rendition of I Just Drove By.

 However it is on the covers of Donovan (Catch the Wind) and Lennon/McCartney (Little Help from my Friends) that we get to the true essence of the gig with Kimmie surrounded by an aura of grace as she invites the ever willing crowd to sing along and enjoy the spiritual experience and purity of a shared live experience.

Always a joy to see an artist at the top of her game and a lesson to so many aspiring musicians to keep it real, keep it true and feel it from the heart.   

Review by Paul McGee. Photograph by Sarah Koska from Kimmie Rhodes website