Eilen Jewell @ Whelans 30 March 2013


The trio of guitarist Jerry Miller, bassist Johnny Sciascia and drummer Jason Beek, Jewell's long term road and studio band opened the show with a Miller instrumental Round 'em Up. This was a consummate showing of roots-rock riffing that immediately let you know just how good these guys are if you haven't caught them on previous visits or on foreign shores. Then straight into Where They Never Say Your Name followed by Sea Of Tears as Eilen took the stage. She then wished everyone a Happy Easter and thanked us for choosing to spend the evening listening to them before she plugged guitarist Miller's new solo album New Road Under My Wheels. Jimmy’s playing should have been enough to point you in the merch table’s direction.

From then on the quartet played songs from all their albums, although Back to Dallas (from debut album Boundary County) was the sole song from that album and came as part of the ‘special request’ section of the show. They played covers like Deep as Your Pocket by Loretta Lynn "the honky tonk queen", Twelve Gates to The City by Rev. Gary Davis and Arthur Alexander's The Girl That Radiates That Charm. Billie Holliday’s Fine and Mellow  brought the information that as singer Holiday was Eilen’s  her first love and influence. Jewell also said listening ‘while very young’ to Howlin' Wolf ‘probably explained a lot’. She also sang Stonewall Jackson’s lovely That’s Why I’m Walking while Charlie Rich's Thanks A Lot was the cue for trying out her cod Irish accent - "tanks a lot" -to much amusement.

Throughout Jewell radiated good humour and charm as well as displaying her undeniable qualities as a vocalist (and rhythm guitarist).Though she had been suffering from a throat problem it didn't affect her performance or enthusiasm. This however is an integrated and close-knit unit and Jason Beek added his backing vocals throughout the evening as well as being a part of a dexterous rhythm section. Johnny Sciascia played a short bass solo in If You Catch Me Stealing that emphasised his proficiency on the upright bass. Miller is Jewell's foil, never letting his amazing skill and dexterity overpower a song or Jewell's delivery.

Nor should Jewell's talent as a writer be underestimated. Her songs stand tall alongside the occasional classic or outside gem included in the set. Her songs in the set this evening included Back To Dallas, Rain Roll In ( a very 60s sounding song), In The End, Heartache Boulevard and Final Hour, a bluesy song with Miller reaching for his inner B.B. King. The 24 song set covered different textures, tones and tempos that grabbed the partisan audience from the first notes to the final encore song High Shelf Booze. Eilen was toasting us mentally she said until a pint of beer came up from the audience. "Sláinte" she said and that greeting about sums up the evening: music that's a cure for just about everything from the many who are there to witness another memorable performance from the extraordinary Eilen Jewell.

Review by Stephen Rapid. Photography by Ronnie Norton


The Avett Brothers live @ The Button Factory 18th March 2013

It's clear that the Avett Brothers live are quite a different beast to the current recorded version. From the first bars of the first song they exuded a wired, punky energy that saw Seth, Scott, bassist Bob Crawford along with celloist Joe Kwan pogoing. Drummer Jacob Edwards remained seated but was no less enthused. The site of Mr Kwan jumping up and down while playing his cello was to say the least, somewhat unusual. 
The songs were often delivered at a frantic pace with the drums and bass very prominent in the sound mix. As was the banjo of Scott Avett, it was the lead instrument along with brother Seth's guitar. Both attacked their instruments with vigor that saw strings break with abandon. There is a philosophical leaning in the recent songs but the merry stomp that was there for most of the set was the real driver. Before Mumford & Sons there was the Avett Bros.
There were moments that showed a more reflective side such as Through My Prayers from their new album The Carpenter. Here the twin acoustic guitars and sibling harmonies shone. But for the most part it was the faster songs that had the packed audience singing, jumping and raising hands. It was a predominantly younger audience - for the most part under forty and at odds with the age of the audience for most roots/bluegrass gigs except perhaps for the Old Crow Medicine Show.
This was the final night of a 3 week European tour and was the band's second visit to Dublin. Seth said that he was very happy to be closing the tour in Dublin. The talk was though kept to the minimum as the music spoke louder. They played just under twenty songs in just over ninety minutes on stage and left everybody wanting more. The set featured a lot of songs familiar to the gathered fans but was, naturally, heavy with songs from the current album. Scott also played keyboards and harmonica during the set which added some sonic textures. But the overall mood was one of celebration despite the songs having darker sides. There was an almost evangelical tone to the performance; lots of outstretched hands to the sky and bearing witness. On this showing The Avett Brothers show is dispensing the right kind of medicine to the masses.
Review by Stephen Rapid & Paul McGee. Photograph by Gareth Averill



Vince Gill @ Olympia Theatre 13th March 2013

Once the poster boy for mainstream country music, Vince Gill now plays music for his audience and himself. This performance marked Gill's first visit to Dublin since he played the Point Theatre back in 199? Times have changed and one would only have to compare Brad Paisley and band playing the same venue last year to see how much they have changed. Paisley is the current model and his loud, unsubtle version of country music undoubtedly has its devotees, but few here tonight would have swapped the two nights.

Gill and band are built for comfort not for speed. It was loose casual clothes all the way with all but Vince and second guitarist Tom Britt sitting on stools which  did not effect the music one iota. These players deserve individual mention in their own right as they excellently served the songs played on the night. They include long-time band members Pete Wasner on keyboards, the aformentiioned Tom Britt on guitar, David Hungate on bass with Tommy White on steel and Bill Thomas on drums and harmony vocals. These guys do exactly what they are supposed to and solo superbly when the song calls for it. They easily accommodated elements of blues, jazz, folk and rock into the countrified centre of the set.

 But front and centre is Vince Gill, a consummate singer, songwriter and guitarist. He's also a fine raconteur with a line in self-deprecating humour that took in everything from his weight, stating that he will be as big as Elvis if he goes in one more buffet line,  to the fact that he has made a career "singing like a woman"  and the fortunes of fame.  He related being in a mall and hearing two women passing, one of whom said ‘That that looks like Vince Gill.’ to which the other replied "He wishes". He also talked about his father, whom he described as being a combination of Clint Eastwood, John Wayne and General Patton,  a real old school,  non touchy-feely father whom he both feared and admired. Later in life his father came to him with a song idea which many years later Vince turned into a song with Rodney Crowell and recorded as the Notorious Cherry Bombs as It's Hard to Kiss the Lips at Night that Chew Your Ass Out All Day Long. He realised later the song was about his mother and father's relationship. The song went down well with the audience and was balanced with the more poignant songs in the set which included Bread and Water, a song about his late brother. 

Between those two emotional points in the two and three quarter hours set,  Gill covered many of his classic songs.  Never Alone, Never Knew Lonely, Liza Jane, Pocket Full Of Gold and I Still Believe In You were among a set that ran to 28 songs including two encores and an acoustic set where it was just Gill alone holding the packed house in the palm of his hand. The whole show was a reaffirmation that,  although country music has either moved to popper fringes or further underground,  it should be about the telling of stories and Vince Gill did this both in with his between song talk and with the songs themselves. 

There may be a strong amount of sentiment in Gill's songs, but it rings true and serves as a reminder of what country is losing. There is still an audience for the real thing and Vince Gill and his band are exactly that. Gill is a consummate player and singer who is very much at ease with himself, his music and his audience. So much so that I think we all felt "I still believe in you".

Review by Stephen Rapid. Photograph by Ronnie Norton


Petunia and The Vipers@Seamus Ennis Centre-Saturday 8th February 2013

The Vipers open with an instrumental that immediately lets you know that these guys mean business. This is the second to last date on a tour of the UK and Ireland and they are tight. With players like Jimmy Roy and Stephen Nikleva   (both veterans who played with Ray Condo) in the band you wouldn’t expect otherwise. Add to that a subtle, swing rhythm section and you have one hot band;  a band fronted by the man known as Petunia - a legend in the making. He draws inspiration from his travels and all the music he has heard and funnels it into a meaty stew of country music that leaves a lasting impression. In a two hour set they played 29 songs, including encores, that covered songs like the yodel fuelled The Cricket Song, the hopped up Maybe Baby Amy, The Ballad Of Handsome Ned - all self written - alongside classics like Stardust, including  all the tracks from their self-titled album. This master class also included Petunia solo and turns at the mike from each of the band members bar drummer Marc who sang harmony throughout.

Steelie Jimmy Roy sang a wonderful Crazy Arms, a song "written by one of my favourite steel players Ralph Mooney" he informed us. He also sang White Lightening with Petunia and the audience joining in on the chorus. Bassist Patrick Metzger sang a song that Petunia had written with his first band, a bluegrass band as it happens, while the versatile Petunia played the upright bass. Other songs in the set included Folsom Prison Blues for which Petunia placed a bank note under the strings of his acoustic guitar for that authentic boom-chick-boom Cash sound. His voice adapted to a lower range with ease. He also gave us a great version of Marty Robbins Big Iron as well as versions of   Fever and Hadacol, the latter about the infamous Hank William-touted cure-all mixture. Their song choices suggest that these guys could do anything from the canon of good traditional country music with ease and panache. Marc L'Esperance’s drumming show exactly how you can drive the music without dominating it, something a lot of drummers now playing country music can't do. 

More than once Petunia encouraged the audience to get up a shake a tail feather as it would "help us out and help you out". That didn't happen, but the audience was very receptive and loved the show, which ended with a five song encore that had Jimmy, Marc and Stephen all taking turns on lead vocal. The songs included Can't Find the Doorknob,   the Jimmy and Johnny hit as well as Hank's My Bucket's Got A Hole In It and they finished with their own Mercy.  A great night,  a great band and great music.


Calexico @ Olympia Theatre -Thurs 14 Feb 2013

Making their Olympia debut the seven piece band played a seamless and absorbing mix of song from their new album Algiers along with favourites from their previous albums. This was a partisan audience here for the first night of their European tour and to celebrate St. Valentine's Day. Calexico proved a suitable band for the occasion as there is more than a hint of border romance in their music. While it may not have been the most memorable gig that longtime Calexico fans would consider - that would, arguably be either The Button Factory against the backdrop of western movies and their gigs at The Kilkenny Rhythm and Roots Weekend. However it was still a special show.

The twin founders of the band are guitarist/vocalist Joey Burns and master percussionist John Convertino. They were joined by regulars Paul Niehaus on pedal steel and guitar and Martin Wenk and Jacob Valenzuela on trumpets, keyboards, guitars and sundry percussion. They were rounded out by two additional members on upright and electric bass and keyboards. These players moved between several instruments often in the space of one number however the overall texture applied to their songs were an important part of the atmosphere of each song. There is a filmic quality to their music that is readily apparent live as it is on record.

There wasn't too much between song conversation although Joey Burns told the assembled fans that he was "really happy to be in Ireland on Valentine's Day". He wished us a "Happy Valentine's Day" at the top of the show but largely let the music do the talking. It lived up to the band name delivering aired psychedelics of California with the hot flavours of Mexico's musical heritage. The spanish guitar sound and twin trumpets conjured that image. Though at one point with Niehaus and Burns both played electric guitars and added a heavier element to the sound.

The songs featured several songs from Algiers like Fortune Teller and Maybe On Monday alongside selections from the albums The Black Light, Hot Rail amongst others. The penultimate song in the main set was a cracking, faithful rendition of Arthur Lee's Alone Again Or, whose band Love who undoubtably were an influence on Calexico in their formative years. Few would have been disappointed with their night out. Burns and Convertino have led this band since it's inception and have grown with the band. Burns vocals have grown into a vital and powerful asset and Convertino is an outstanding drummer. Calexico are a unique and purposeful band and the Olympia was an ideal place to start a tour. The applause throughout was real and both sides of the stage seemed to enjoy the experience.