TransAtlantic Sessions @ National Concert Hall Tues 7 Feb 2012


While it might have seemed an unusual venue for the Celtic Connections crowd the Concert Hall worked just fine as the musicians transformed it from a formal setting into a casual evening with music from a bunch of companions who all happen to be superb musicians. There were (I’m pretty sure) 16 musicians with 7 featured singers. I won’t attempt to list each number but will pick out my personal highlights.

The band opened with a fast tune – unannounced, but sizzling, which left everyone eager for more – and they were followed by Tim O’Brien who was, as always a delight. Ruth Moody of the Wailin’ Jennys beautifully sang Nest from her album and a Jennys tune, Asleep at Least switching neatly from guitar to banjo. Eddi Reader was a crowd delight with her perfect voice; she started with a Burns song before singing Declan O’Rourke’s Love is the Way and introducing Declan himself who received a rousing reception, as a home-town boy should before he went into Galileo.

Aly Bain led the amazing ‘band’ - although it is almost silly to count musicians of their calibre as merely band members – through a set of tunes before turning the stage over to the great Karen Matheson who triumphed with Si Kahn’s Aragon Mill which Karen noted she had learned from Andy Irvine.

The extraordinary Raul Malo came next and his two songs here were, for me, the highpoint of the night. He opened with JD Souther’s You’re Only Lonely making me feel that JD had written it for Raul and then blew me away with a version of Every Little Thing about You. Raul Malo’s voice over Jerry Douglas’ lap steel and the astonishing Michael McGoldrick’s uillean pipes was a perfect experience for me in what was a powerful night of music. Tim O’Brien wrapped up the first half with a singalong version of Woody Guthrie’s This Land is Your Land to honour Guthrie’s centenary.

Eavesdropping at the interval I heard that some thought last year was better, some thought this year was much better. And someone else was…bored. Bored?! Please.

The second half started with a rippling Jerry Douglas resonator solo followed by Bruce Molsky’s 2 lovely old time songs – I only wish I could have worked up the nerve to introduce myself to him – followed by Raul crooning, as only he can, Around the World, the theme to Around the World in 80 Days a choice that puzzled many. Perhaps it was the mention of County Down? All the singers came out again, we had guitar wizard Russ Barenburg’s jazzy Hallowe’en Rehearsal which featured all the musicians . Phil Cunningham, who had only joined the tour the night before, gave us a lovely, wistful Cajun flavoured Lake Charles Waltz just before Karen Matheson again triumphed with Diamond Ring.  The band then ripped into Frankie/The Crossing before the encore when Paul Brady and Ciaran Tourish joined the multitude for a Raul Malo led romp through Hank Williams’ classic Hey, Good Lookin.

It was a great evening for music and it is hard to convey how  amazing musicians were throughout. Guitarist John Doyle was both rocksteady and imaginative, a hard combination he carried off superbly. The fiddlers – Aly Bain and John McCusker, occasionally joined by Tim O’Brien and Bruce Molsky – were both sweet and tough. Danny Thompson on bass was, as expected, magisterial and perfect. Tim O’Brien, Russ Barenberg and Bruce Molsky played (I think) 5 or 6 different instruments amongst themselves switching around without a care. Phil Cunningham switched between accordion and piano with Donald Shaw and drummer James Mackintosh was a subtle yet constant and necessary  presence.

I thought it was a night of exceptional music and also great fun. Bring on next year

Thanks to Denis Finnegan for the set list.

 Review by Sandy Harsch. Photography by Ronnie Norton


Lindi Ortega @ The Sugar Club - Saturday 4th Feb. 2010


With Zoe Muth playing close by it was a toss-up to decide on which artist to see but on balance we chose to go and see Linda Ortega who had her full band The Wild Wranglers with her. It was the right choice (for us) as it was a great evening with Ortega a force of nature delivering a powerful set that should see her reputation and audience growing in the future. Greeting us with a "It's great to be back" she launched into her first song Angels, one of several songs from her enticing debut album Little Red Boots. Each song was introduced by a short incisive explanation. For instance Lindi told us that I'm No Elvis Presley was written after she did a industry showcase in L.A. and one of the 'men in suits' had contacted her manager to say while she was good she would never be "legendary". Hence the song. And while Lindi Ortega may never achieve "legendary" status she is going to find a lot of devoted fans. Other songs from the album included Black Fly, Little Lie, When All The Stars Align, a stunning Bluebird and heartbreaking Dying Of Another Broken Heart. Heartbreak was a continuing theme through her songs. She told us she had recently brought a crystal on a necklace that was going to bring her some true love.

She played several new songs including one which she said was a public service announcement, its theme was don't use drugs, "use me". Another song In My Backyard was about burying a former lover in that particular location. "Just don't break my heart, boys" she warned us. The band throughout were excellent and had apparently only met for a rehearsal the day before, as although they had individually all played with her before this was their first gig together with this line-up. Double bassist Travis Vance and drummer Tristen Henderson laid down a solid rhythmic foundation, while keyboard player and backing vocalist Sarah Silva (an artist in her own right) filled out the sound. Special mention must go to guitarist James Robertson whose Telecaster playing was precise, twang-filled and fun. His slide playing on the closing Fall Down Or Fly was worthy of Sonny Landreth.

There were two covers of Johnny Cash songs - Folsom Prison Blues and Delia, the latter played solo and she revealed herself to be an accomplished guitarist as well as a stunning vocalist. Live the Dolly Parton comparison was more pronounced, though I don't think Parton has ever delivered her songs with such force and ferocity. Her fifteen song set had the enthusiastic audience totally with her and ensured that when she returns so will these fans. She promised a new album later this year and this Irish-Mexican (the Irish Lindi said was on "the mammy's side") songbird will be back. Can't wait.

Review by Stephen Rapid. Photograph by Ronnie Norton




Secret Sisters@ The Sugar Club, Dublin - Tues 24th Jan 2012


Sisters Laura and Lydia Rogers are no longer a secret judging by the sell-out audience in the Sugar Club on a Tuesday night. The siblings went straight into their first song of a 17 song set and it was obvious that they have a growing confidence and a more astute awareness of an audience. Tonight the fifties-style dresses were replaced by jeans with black tops but the between song banter was very much a part of the act, as are the asides about having to share so much time together and the minor conflict that ensues from that. Laura how happy they were to be back in Dublin.

Laura said that because of the song Tennessee Me many people believed that they were from there rather than from Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Their home state was the subject of one of a number of self-written songs due to be included on their next album that they previewed in the show. The songs included King Cotton, the aforementioned Alabama tribute, Bad Habit, River Jordan, Little Again and a song written and sung by Laura that was a direct reaction to weather disasters in their home state. That song Tomorrow Will Be Kinder was  one of the evening’s highlights. They of course included a lot of covers, songs that they loved and heard growing up and singing on their front porch. Songs their father loved like Why Baby Why (a song  they stopped in the middle due to a distorted guitar and then faultlessly resumed once it was fixed), Am I That Easy To Forget, Your Cheatin’ Heart as well as a song that Laura had convinced Lydia to sing onstage, it was one of a number of songs that they often sang offstage. You Send Me worked well and got a great reaction - however she said that another song they occasionally did for themselves Careless Whisper would remain that way. They also did Do You Love An Apple? and revealed that when they started singing it neither they nor their father knew what “bugger all” meant. They do now. A highlight for this listener was the Everly Brothers (who they said they have often been compared to) Devoted To You.

As expected the harmonies throughout were sublime and the simple guitar accompaniment, shared by both sisters was effective. I do feel that in the future, after the release of the new album, a couple of additional players, double bass and lap steel perhaps?, would add that extra dimension. But it was a great night that showed that music in its most basic form of voice and guitar (and little light-hearted dialogue) can captivate an audience. The sisters have grown and learned from the large amount of touring they have done and their new album should take them to another level.

Review by Stephen Rapid. Photography by Ronnie Norton


Sarah Savoy and the Francadians @ Whelans, Dublin - Sat 21st Jan 2012

Cajun came to Camden Street in the formidable shape of Sarah Savoy and the Francadians - a quartet of David Rolland on accordion, Manolo Gonzales on upright bass, Vincent Blin on fiddle and the larger than life Sarah Savoy on vocals and guitar. Savoy is the obvious leader and focal point of the band (and from an illustrious family steeped in the cajun traditions and music) but this is a fully integrated band not a backing group and vocalist. Something that was highlighted in the opening song Little Bitty Girl that played with double entendres and ended with the line that “we all play together”. This was one of the few songs delivered in English but that didn’t in any way affect the overall enjoyment of the evening as French is the natural language of cajun and at least half the band are native Frenchmen. This was their first time to play Dublin although they had been in the city before. Many of the songs they featured in tonight’s set were taken from their current Allons Rock ‘n’ Roll album. It takes a mix of classic country songs and one original all delivered in smokey French. For instance the Tex Williams, Merle Travis song Smoke, Smoke, Smoke That Cigarette is now Fume, Fume, Fume. Johnny Can’t Dance and Folsom Prison Blues were two others, the latter got an especially warm response. Savoy who was dealing with a shot voice due to a series of gigs and some bad PAs had to drop the keys of some songs in order to be able to sing them. However her natural exuberance carried her through and won the day. David Rolland took the lead on some songs too and provided a nice balance between the two. It was one of those gigs where both sides of the stage seemed to be enjoying the evening which ran to two sets and ended with the curfew. Throughout Savoy translated the essence of the songs and had an entertaining and funny stream of between song banter. Telling us that “there are blondes, brunettes and girls whose hair is so dark that even the devil don’t want them!” ... Savoy has jet black hair. She has an expressive face that makes her a natural on stage and has a band that are equally adept at what they do. She confided that all have very different tastes and agreeing on what to play in the van is difficult and usually comes down to some classic George Jones, something that they can all agree on. She also told us that cajun music is a very masculine music and so she had written High-Heel Two-Step to help redress the balance. The subject of many of the other songs though revolved around the consumption of alcohol and its subsequent results. Although space didn’t allow it and it only briefly broke out for the last song this is music made for dancing and the whole audience was caught up in its infectious rhythms. They said that they wanted to move to Dublin but true or not they would be welcome back anytime.

Review by Stephen Rapid. Photograph by Ronnie Norton


Glen Campbell @ The Convention Centre Dublin - Nov.19th 2011 


Glen Campbell paid a farewell visit to his Irish fans with an a near capacity house at Dublin’s Convention Centre. Supported by his family based band Instant People he gave an almost flawless performance marred and jarred only by the loss of stage lighting about a third of the way into his show and then a constant trickle of totally inconsiderate well-wishers at stage front looking for handshakes, abusing the star’s generosity and good manners, and freaking out most of the rest of the audience. For once I wished for a tighter and more diligent house crew.

The show itself was a credit to all concerned and with Glen’s acknowledged medical condition on everybody’s radar, there was always the possibility of an embarrassing glitch. But under the watchful eyes of mother hen and 35 year veteran musical director T. J. Kuenster and his three children Cal, Shannon and Ashley, that was never allowed to happen. One little guitar fluff in Wichita Lineman was quickly glossed over by the excellent twin lead guitar work of Shannon who shows every sign of becoming a major star in his own right way into the future. 

From the start, all the favourite songs were there, By the Time I Get To Phoenix, Where’s the Playground Suzy, Only Make Believe and Rhinestone Cowboy, all drawing huge audience response. They were interspersed with songs from the excellent current album Ghost On The Canvas, especially one called It’s Your Amazing Grace with daughter Ashley. Ashley is also a fine banjo player and together they hit my nostalgia bone with a reprise of the highlight of my first Glen Campbell concert in Dublin’s Carlton Cinema when supported by Anne Murray, Glen had there introduced the world to banjo maestro and future mega producer Carl Jackson with a stunning Dueling Banjos.

The highlights of the evening for me were a powerful rendering of Jimmy Webb’s The Moon’s A Harsh Mistress and a mini guitar marathon on the break in Galveston. Glen’s poignant visit to A Better Place brought a few tears to his enthralled audience. All in all a very enjoyable farewell concert from one of Americana music’s icons who in his career crossed all the boundaries from bluegrass to country and West Coast to standards and leaves us with no regrets and a shed load of great memories.

On Saturday night Glen Campbell kicked alzheimer’s ass, played guitar like a demon, and lost not one fan in the process. May he have a peaceful journey as he faces the one medical spectre that we all dread, in the company of friends, family and legions of devoted fans. 

Review and Photograph by Ronnie Norton