Steve Earle@The Olympia Theatre Dublin - 6th Nov 2011

Review by Stephen Rapid, Photograph by Ronnie Norton

Bringing the Dukes (and the Duchesses) with him for the first time in an age Steve Earle delivered a two part set that was an appropriate mix of old favourites and new songs from his extensive reportaire. It featured various vocal turns from the band as well as from Earle who's own distinctive and forceful vocals were as powerful as ever. A prompt 8pm start (" Sometimes we are are own support band") was followed, as usual, by a set of back to back songs before Earle spoke to the audience and began his first introductions to the band. The songs in this part of the set included some songs from his MCA days - Hillbilly Highway, My Old Friend The Blues and Someday as well as songs from his latest album. He then introduced his wife Alison Moorer, who had up to this point been playing keyboards. They sang a duet Days Aren't Long Enough after which Moorer sang solo, including a version of Sam Cooke's A Change Is Gonna Come and again proved what a fine vocalist she is, and has always been. The band switched instruments throughout the show with Moorer playing accordion, acoustic and electric guitars. Guitarist Chris Masterson, something of a revelation, played pedal steel, mandolin as well as a variety of six and twelve string guitars and also sang harmony. He is a member of The Mastersons along with partner Eleanor Whitmore who tonight played fiddle, mandolin and guitar, as well as backing vocals. Both were versatile, adaptable and essential parts of the band's sound adding the twang factor when neccessry. The rhythm section was completed by Will Rigby on drums and the only surviving member of previous Dukes line-ups long time bassist Kelley Looney, who also took a turn at the microphone to sing Free Men. In his between song introductions and explanations Earle referenced the Occupy Wall Street campaign and it's Irish offshoots. Indeed the bass drum carried a "We are the 99%" sign. He also prefaced The Devil's Right Hand by telling a tale of how he used to keep a loaded pistol around the house until his son Justin misappropriated it and the lengths which followed to find out where it was. He further talked about the American Civil War and how there were 58,000 casualties at Gettysburg and how even today "the people who start these wars aren't fucking going" before playing Dixieland. This was followed by a rousing Galway Girl and a more acoustic version of The Mountain. Meet Me in the Alleyway had an rough-edged dirty blues sound with Earle playing harmonica and sing through a distorted mic. Another duet from Earle and Moorer, Heaven and Hell was from the current album I'll Never Get out Of This World Alive. Another small point that yet again Earle and band had no onstage mointors. The enthusiastic and invigorated audience demanded and got two encores which included a new song written for Treme, the TV series set in New Orleans that Earle has starred in as well as Taneytown, Johnny Comes Marching Home and Copperhead Road. Steve Earle is a captivating performer in any form but with the Dukes (and Duchess) it encapsulates his career in a better way than any other. This show was up there with the best I've seen him do and after the show they band met fans in the lobby to meet and greet and sign, which was an added bonus for hardcore fans


Eilen Jewell @ Sugar Club, Dublin - 3rd Nov 2011

Queen Jewell told us how excited she was to finally play a date in Dublin, something she had wanted to do, it was she enthused "a magical event". Her previous visits were only to Dublin Airport on the way to other venues. The audience in the Sugar Club were equally delighted to have her and her superb band there. The rhythm section of Jason Beek on drums and backing vocals and Johnny Sciascia on upright bass were solid and sympathetic to the songs throughout, laying down a solid musical bedrock. Because of his role in the music guitarist Jerry Miller gets a lot of attention, and deservedly so, he is an dexterous and dynamic player. This is a band as Jewell says that are "capable of playing anything" and that is proved as the music then touches on classic country, rockabilly, blues and honky-tonk. This tightly focused outfit played songs from all of their albums including a couple of songs from the gospel side project the Sacred Shakers. The 22 song set included two songs from her Loretta Lynn tribute album- Fist City and Deep As Your Pocket - the latter song described as a public service warning. Her relaxed introductions including telling us that cupid wasn't all he was cracked up to be with his scattered aim as outlined in her song Bang Bang Bang, that Jameson is their favourite whiskey before playing High Shelf Booze. That the first song she learned was a blues song that they had adapted their take from previous versions as Nobody's Business. Other covers outside of Miss Lynn's still relevant songs included Arthur Alexander's The Girl That Radiates That Charm, Bob Dylan's Trouble In Mind and the Miller showcase, the Johnny Kidd and the Pirates classic, Shakin' All Over which saw Miller include a slew of riffs from 60's songs like Paint It Black into the mix and the audience singing the chorus. Her own songs are every bit as good and included Sea Of Tears, Boundary County, Santa Fe, Warning Signs and Heartache Boulevard. Eilen Jewell is far more than just a queen of the minor key, the music played before an audience by this tight and thoroughly engaged and engaging quartet is an ideal live experience. They breathe new life into these songs in this setting. Both sides of the stage had fun, which is exactly how it should be.

Review by Stephen Rapid, Photograph by Mark Averill


Rodney Crowell @ The Seamus Ennis Centre 19th October 2011

In a perfect listening setting Rodney Crowell brought his solo Chinaberry Sidewalk tour to the intimate surrounding of the Seamus Ennis Centre. This show was a mix of newer material, old favourites, reminisces and readings from his memoir Chinaberry Sidewalk. As he tuned up he made the comment "I Know what your thinking... I tune with style and panache". He then began a 21 song set that included songs with humour like It's Hard To Kiss The Lips At Night That Chew Your Ass Out All Day Long and poignancy like 'Til I Gain Control Again, songs that show sympathy for others as in Ridin' Out The Storm. His first reading was about his mother's epilepsy and how a group of ladies came to their house to exercise the demon that they considered the affliction to be. It was told with humour, understanding and insight. He was in fine voice and held the audience in his two hour show that included also a slightly unkempt duet with his daughter Chelsea (his opening act) on Why Don't You Love Me Like You Used To Do, the Hank Williams Jr. song. He also took some audience requests that saw him trying a version of I Walk The Line (Revisited), a song he said he doesn't often do for obvious reasons. Other highlights include Closer To Heaven his song that lists the things he now finds favour for and with, Leavin' Louisiana In The Broad Daylight, Ain't Living Long Like This, The Rock Of My Soul and a cover of his friend and mentor Townes Van Zandt's Pancho and Lefty. Two other readings from his book were about his grandfather in his grey wool suit and fedoro and going for a haircut! He also described a fight his parents had that became a turning point in their relationship. All of this highlighted that, though it had taken a long time to finish Chinaberry Sidewalks it is a work that is as rewarding as his songwriting has proved to be on record and live through the years. 

Review by Stephen Rapid, photography by Ronnie Norton


Bray Vista@The Cobblestones - Friday 10th September

iPhone photograph by Ronnie Norton

Forced by outside circumstances into a hiatus since the recording and release of their excellent Jim Lauderdale/Leo Pearson produced album Let It Ride Bray Vista played a rare gig at The Cobblestones. With members now living in different continents it meant that only 8 of the 9 members were available, but with such a large line-up, featuring three lead vocalists, meant they had it covered. The lack of gigs and rehearsal, not unexpectedly, showed in places but not to the overall enjoyment of the evening. The solid rhythm section powered the songs along and piano and mandolin added depth, even though the latter was inaudible at times. But special mention must be made of Johnny Evans whose Telecaster and Steel guitar gave the band its direction and focus and he contributed several fine solos to the proceedings. Lead vocalist Neil Tobin writes some strong songs, usually on the nature of love and relationships and in the 25 song set they played many of these including L.O.V.E, First Impressions, Keep On Keepin’ On and the encore Reprise which pledges the friendship of the Bray Vista Social Club, something that is evident onstage. Co-vocalist Alison Byrne also impressed with her soulful voice and took the lead on a number of songs including If It’s Alright, a song she co-wrote with Tobin. Brian O’Dwyer added another vocal texture when he took the lead for a couple of songs and also contributed to the overall sound on rhythm guitar and accordion. Along side their own songs they peppered the set with a number of classic cover including Byrne’s emotive take on Loretta Lynn’s Rated X. Other audience favourites included songs from the Louvin Brothers through to Gram Parson’s Ooh Las Vegas and on the songs of influences like Bill Monroe with Blue Moon Of Kentucky and Waylon Jennings' Good Hearted Woman. The set ended with the song they usually close their shows with, that was Will The Circle Be Unbroken with featured most of the band taking lead vocal on a verse and with the audience joining in on the chorus, as they did on the final encore You Are My Sunshine. That they are not playing regularly is a loss all round as they are that rare band that plays with integrity and passion and with a eight piece band money is definitely not the main focus here. One can only hope that circumstances will change to allow the various members the time and proximity to perform and to record more regularly. For now this one-off gig show how ragged but right good Irish country (rather than Country & Irish) can and should be.

Review by Stephen Rapid



Brad Paisley @ The Olympia Theatre, Dublin 19 August 2011

Brad Paisley onstage with Darius Rucker (inset) using a local beverage bottle to good advantage.

If there was ever any doubt that a healthy market for Nashville’s country music existed in Dublin it would have been blasted out of existence Friday night. It was a first come, first served downstairs-standing-up gig and the crowd was queuing neatly for 150 metres down Dame Street at twenty past five. And the doors didn’t open until 7.

I can’t say much about the Darius Rucker gig as I was stuck backstage for most of it, but from what I did hear he was in amazing voice, had a tight band – he’s far too experienced for anything else – sang some of his hits and the crowd loved his show. And it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy – he’s a sweetheart with a fabulous voice and is a great songwriter who loves what he does.

Brad Paisley was instantly at home with the crowd and if they loved Darius Rucker, they adored Brad, singing along with every word of every song. He played for roughly 2 hours with two acoustic solo numbers to break up the almost overwhelming power and sound of the band. The solo numbers were Whiskey Lullaby and When I get Where I’m Going To and showcased his acoustic playing and voice.  Brad is known for his amazing guitar playing and his reputation was thoroughly burnished, not tarnished by the gig. It’s true: he is a spectacular guitarist and in regard to his other talents, songwriting and singing he fully deserves his CMA Entertainer of the Year title. The band are versatile and very, very good, particularly Kendal Marcy on keyboards and banjo and the flamboyant Ben Sesar on drums, although to be fair, the steel player (Randle Currie) sounded great when we heard him, but the sound varied from place to place.

Working on a Tan was dedicated to a sun-starved Ireland – and we need it! Other highlights were  This is Country Music, title track to Paisley’s most recent album, Celebrity , I’m Still a Guy, I’m Gonna Miss Her (aka The Fishing Song), and the night’s climax was a full stage – crew and Darius Rucker included – rave up of Alcohol.

Enterprising promoters take note: the audience is there, even in these parlous economic times we have the time and the money for good music – just bring it in and we’ll be there.

Review by Sandy Harsch. Photography by Ronnie Norton