Friday
Sep012017

Courtney Marie Andrews @ Whelans - 29th August 2017

This was not Courtney Marie Andrews first time to play Whelans. She explained that she had come over on the ferry as a teenager having been advised to play the venue by an Irishman of her acquaintance and ended up performing to a couple of people in the public bar before heading right back to the UK on the ferry to do some further busking. This time around there was substantially more people there to see her perform and on the basis of her stunning show a larger venue may be required for her next visit. She was accompanied by her four piece band and delivered a set that was considerably more electric and rocking’ than her studio albums and videos might suggest.

She opened with How Quickly Your Heart Mends from her most recent album Honest Life, already a contender for album of the year in many quarters.  Andrews pointed out that straight after this tour, which ends at The AMA’s Festival in Nashville,  she and the band would be going into the studio to record their next album and that these shows would act as preproduction.  In that light there were a number of new songs in the set, all well received by her fans who would likely be hearing them for the first time. Table For OnePut The Fire Out, 15 Highway Lines and the gorgeous Rookie Dreaming were included from Honest Life together with a selection of  songs from a previous album (On My Page) that had been rereleased by her UK label Loose Music to coincide with the tour. One of these songs, highlighting her skill as a songwriter, is titled Paintings From Michael and is performed solo by her at the piano having explained the story behind the song; that of an incarcerated relation who painted while in prison. Throughout the show her superb vocal ability was readily apparent handling both solo acoustic folk songs and full throated rock work-outs. She also displayed slick guitar playing skills with some delicate finger pickin’ on Woman Of Many Colours also from the rereleased album.

There was some banter between Andrews and the audience, a couple of whom who were effusive in their praise. Another moment was when she strapped on her electric guitar for the first time and someone quipped “Judas” to much amusement all round. At the end there was a tongue in cheek request for Smells Like Teen Spirit which the band briefly, but effectively, played the intro before finishing the set with the crowd pleaser Irene. The encores included a solo version of a new song Rough Around The Edges, which might be the title of the next album and an amped up version of Bob Dylan’s Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You, highlighting the versatility of the band.

There was little to doubt the skill of those on the stage. Andrews quipped that they were known as Courtney Marie Band when they played together and the fact that these were her long time regular players (who were featured on her recordings) gave them an undoubted collective ability to serve the songs in the way best suited to that moment of performance. It was also apparent that although, still only in her mid-twenties, Andrews has so much  to offer both as a writer and performer and with a number of album already under her belt has the potential to become a much more mainstream artist. The style and delivery of her newer material also suggested that her next album may be a departure to a fuller rockier sound compared to the more intimate style of the exquisite Honest Life.

Sound designer, audio engineer and musician Scott Hirsch filled the support slot splendidly with a thirty minute set which included material from his debut 2016 album Blue Rider Songs. A former bass player alongside MC Taylor in Hiss Golden Messenger, his style varied from laid back country soul to a fuller bluesy rock sound and his accompanying three piece band included American keyboard and guitar wizard Sean Coleman, currently residing in Dublin. Darkness, Blue Rider and his closing track Isabella were particularly impressive. All in all a great opener from an act more than worthy to be headlining himself. 

Review by Stephen Rapid and Declan Culliton   Photograph (at top) by Kaethe Burt O'Dea. (Below) Scott Hirsch and Sean Coleman by Declan Culliton

Monday
Aug282017

Grant Lee Phillips @ Whelans - 23rd August 2017

Edinburgh native Dean Owens, who supported Grant Lee Phillips, is a highly regarded singer songwriter whose album Into The Sea received glowing reviews when released in 2015 . A close friend of Phillips, his thirty minute set was the perfect opener for what was to follow. Not unfamiliar to all things Irish having toured here previously with The Mavericks and more recently with Sharon Shannon in Australia, he joked  early in his set of been taken by surprise by the pin drop silence of the audience at Whelan’s, in total contrast to the rowdy Irish entourage that followed Shannon around Australia. To his credit the quality of his material and his confident and entertaining stage banter engaged the audience throughout, even managing to get them to sing the chorus on his final song. Highlights of his slot were the opening song Valentine’s Day In New York, written in a hotel room while spending some time in New York without his wife, the Ryan Adams sounding The Only One and Cotton Snow inspired by a visit to the Carter House in Tennessee where The Battle of Franklyn took place during the American Civil War and where ten thousand soldiers died during the five hour battle. 

Grant Lee Phillips most recent album The Narrows, released some twelve months ago and his first recording since relocating to Nashville from California, matched the excellence of his early career recordings as Grant Lee Buffalo and much of this evenings show featured material from both ends of career to date. Interestingly, The Narrows and Fuzzy – released nearly twenty five years ago – both feature quite similar looping and atmospheric guitar playing together with his quite unique vocal range. It’s a great compliment to Phillips that this evenings performance, even though delivered solo, managed to recreate the power, quality and excitement of the material from both those albums in particular.

Kicking off with It Ain’t The Same Old Cold War Harry and One Morning, both from his 2009 album Little Moon, he pledges ‘to start the evening off nice and easy and end it up in a coma’ and over the following ninety certainly delivers a storming set ending the evening jacketless, bathed in sweat and elated.

For a creator of bittersweet and often doleful lyrics, Phillips himself is quite the contradiction on stage, upbeat, humorous and possessing the ability to effortlessly engage and enthral. Introducing One Morning he refers to his rural country childhood, open fields, cattle and roosters before joking "I heard you can buy washed and fresh roosters in the stores here and was scratching my head until someone told me we were talking about potatoes!"

Smoke and Sparks, Holy Irons and Taking On Weight in Hot Springs all from The Narrows follow, stripped back versions but all performed wonderfully. A similar pattern of playing a collection of songs from a particular album follows with two selections from Virginia Creeper, crowd favourite Mona Lisa and Josephine Of The Swamps, and three from Mighty Joe Moon, Honey Don’t Think, Happiness and the title track.

Explaining how his relationship and friendship with support artist Dean Owens started in California and continued in Nashville he invites Owens back on stage to join him on two covers, Gram Parsons Hickory Wind and Ramblin’ Man by Hank Williams, which features a striking guitar solo by Phillips.

The highlights of the evening however are probably his selections from the album Fuzzy. Phillip’s vocal delivery on Jupiter and Teardrop is stunning to say the least - soaring, dipping and echoing, aided by the excellent acoustics and engineered sound in the room. Audience requests are satisfied by two more from the same album, Stars ‘N’ Stripes’ and the title track Fuzzy, described by Phillips as his melodic nightmare, both bringing the house down.

The encore and closing track sees Owens back on stage taking the difficult chorus on a rousing Mockingbirds, with Phillips joking ‘you can sing the high notes, the ones I won’t reach having been travelling from London from 6am this morning’. It’s a fitting  close what has been a wonderful evening by an artist who remains every bit as passionate, entertaining and committed nearly three decades in to his career. 

Review and photography by Declan Culliton

Tuesday
Aug082017

Jim Lauderdale/Beth Nielsen Chapman @ NCH, Dublin - Sun 30th July 2017

JIM LAUDERDALE

Quite aside from his standing as a prolific singer songwriter, Jim Lauderdale’s reputation as best dressed artist in Nashville is beyond dispute. He most certainly cuts a dash taking the stage this evening togged out in a multi coloured Liberty print Dandy & Rose shirt and light green embroidered Manual trousers. The stage in a concert hall can be a lonely and unforgiving platform for an artist to perform solo but Lauderdale breezes through his set this evening accompanied only by his acoustic guitar, customary confidence and good humour.

Since his debut release in 1991 Lauderdale has released no fewer than twenty-eight albums, collaborating and working with the cream of country, bluegrass, roots, soul and rock including Rodney Crowell, Ralph Stanley, Elvis Costello, Robert Hunter, Nick Lowe, Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams and Buddy Miller.

Tonight’s setlist includes a selection of many of those collaborations and a selection of songs from his latest album London Southern, which was actually written five years ago but only finally surfaced earlier this year. The album was a labour of love, (excuse the Nick Lowe pun), explains Lauderdale later in the show, having been recorded with Nick Lowe’s band and production team.

Opening this evening with Three Way Conversation from his 1994 recording Pretty Close To The Truth and continuing with Midnight Will Become Day and The Hummingbirds from the album of the same name it’s clear that the show will be a trawl through his imposing back catalogue rather than concentrating on his latest album. This Changes Everything, released in 2016, found Lauderdale revisiting his love of the  Texas ‘Red Dirt’ Country sound  and the title track comes next followed by Drive from the same album, a stunning  co-write with the young Texan troubadour Hayes Caryll.

Lauderdale refers to his opportunity to work with bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley and The Clinch Mountain Boys as one of the musical highlights of his career and proceeds to play Lost In the Lonesome Pines and Feel Like Signing Today, both being title tracks of the two albums recorded with Stanley. It’s difficult to perform bluegrass songs solo acoustic but he manages to do both songs more than justice before an impressive a Capella delivery of the gospel song Like Him.

He seeks out audience requests, "songs that I’ve written please, no Wonderwall or even Cosi Fan Tutte given our surroundings in this beautiful Hall!" The King of Broken Hearts, a song inspired by two of his heroes George Jones and Gram Parsons, is requested and duly delivered.

At this stage Lauderdale explains that’s its twenty-five years since he first played Dublin, "my favourite city to tour", recalling that the gig was in Bad Bobs and he was accompanied by his band Buddy Miller, Donald Lindley, Dusty Wakeman and Gurf Morlix. The response to that show, and in particular the praise by journalist Lisa Hand and musicophile Steve Averill, was a hugely encouraging and a significant confidence booster for his career going forward, adds Lauderdale.

Two songs from London Southern are included, both dedicated to the producers on the album Neil Brockbank who passed away earlier this year and Robert Trehern who died in 2015. The beautiful ballad Sweet Time is first up and followed I Love You More, possibly one of the strongest songs he has written to date. Delivered with immaculate discipline it’s one of the highlights of a most enjoyable set by an artist that always delivers whether in a solo show or accompanied by a band.

Finishing his slot with Headed ForThe Hills, co-written with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, he insists the audience help him out by singing the chorus concluding what has been a typical engaging, entertaining and delightful Jim Lauderdale show.

Review by Declan Culliton

BETH NIELSEN CHAPMAN

A singer-songwriter and performing artist of some renown with a career that has spanned the decades; indeed, it is 27 years since her debut release in 1990. Of course, she was already active before this release and has written for a who’s who of major artists, in addition to releasing her own work. The names of Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Crystal Gayle, Martina McBride, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Trisha Yearwood and Faith Hill are just a sample of the talent she has written for and her list of song-writing collaborations runs just as deep and too numerous to mention.

Filling in for the original artist Rodney Crowell who was unable to travel, Beth takes the stage with her trusted accompanist Ruth Trimble who plays bass and keys in addition to harmony vocals. In a set that ran for 13 songs Beth puts in a commanding performance with favourites from her song catalogue along with four new songs from a future release.

Ruth Trimble is invited to play one of her songs and sits at the grand piano to perform Goodbye, a beautiful track from her debut release. She shows all the reasons why Beth chose her as a touring companion with a fine performance that showcases Ruth’s beautiful voice and melodic touch on the keys.

Beth exudes a strong confidence on stage and chats easily between songs with stories about the writing process, relationships, touring and the current state of things. While not specifically talking about the situation in American politics, she does make reference to a lack of empathy and grace before singing the Paul Simon classic American Tune; a most appropriate and classy statement to highlight where her feelings lie. It is her ability to sing from the heart that separates Beth out from many of her contemporaries and her powerful delivery is utterly convincing on both guitar and piano. 

This Kiss, Sand And Water, How We Love and I Find Your Love are all received with great enthusiasm from the audience and Beth includes a song from her recent collaboration with Olivia Newton John and Amy Sky, Stone In My Pocket. She also sings a song written for Willie Nelson back in 1989, There’s Nothing I Can Do About It Now, adding great colour in the last verse by mimicking both Willie and Bob Dylan’s vocal delivery – both carried out with great aplomb.

Her final song of the evening is taken from an astronomy project she was involved with and is the gentle message that light exists everywhere across the Universe. The song is called There Is No Darkness and Beth leaves the stage to a standing ovation which is richly deserved. Beth Nielson Chapman stands at the pinnacle of her art as an accomplished artist of great insight and maturity. Her gift of communication is something to hold close and treasure. 

Review by Paul McGee   Photography by Ronnie Norton

Tuesday
Aug082017

Buddy Mondlock @ The Hot Spot, Greystones - Sat 29th July 2017.

This is a very fine venue, located at the marina in the beautiful setting of Greystones harbour. It is the perfect place to host live music with an intimate setting and the only drawback is that it must rely mainly on local residents for support, which is crucial to its survival.

The journey from the centre of Dublin is a long one and I am sure that many people have concerns over the return leg after the show has ended. However, it is well worth the trip as I discovered on Saturday last when Buddy Mondlock and Mike Lindauer performed a set that had the small crowd waxing lyrical about the talent on show.

At the end of an Irish tour, both musicians play with an easy style that comes from many years of playing together and Mike makes reference to the fact that they first met in the principal’s office at school when they were ten years old.

Playing a selection of songs that includes many fan favourites like The Kid, The Ugly One, Coming Down In The Rain, Mud, New Jersey Sunset, The Cats At The Colosseum and the regular encore No Choice, Buddy proves himself the consummate songwriter with his keen observations on life, love and everything in between. He has a gentle approach to both his guitar style and his vocal phrasing. Indeed, it can be quite hypnotic in a venue like the Hot Spot where the atmosphere is one of quiet listening and attentiveness. Mike plays beautifully on his custom-made bass guitar and compliments the soft vocal delivery with understated harmony vocals and subtle melody runs.

A few new songs are tried and well received, Come Back First, The Witness and Filament will no doubt appear on an upcoming release. Buddy co-writes a lot of songs and tells stories of his time spent in younger days writing with Garth Brooks. As their respective careers took different paths, Buddy waited for one of their co-writes to appear and this finally happened on The Chase (1992) when Every Now And Then was included. The royalties kept Buddy in comfort for some little time and also gave him the joyous experience of purchasing a brand-new car for cash … !

A word for support artist Martyn Travis who entertained with his quick wit and easy conversation. A natural storyteller, Martin comes from a fishing background and has known Buddy & Mike for many years, having originally met in New York. He is a fine guitarist with a clear voice and sings of Salt On My Skin, The Harbour Bar, A Father And A Son, A Place In My Heart and As This Night Becomes Day in a short set that impresses and makes a positive statement of intent for future outings.

Review and photo by Paul McGee

Friday
Jul282017

Chuck Prophet & The Mission Express @ Dublin & Belfast -July 2017

 

The Errigle Inn - 26th July 2017

Glorious late afternoon sunshine suggested a relaxing road trip from Dublin to The Errigle Inn on the Ormeau Road in Belfast for the return to Ireland of Chuck Prophet and his regular touring band The Mission Express. Or so I thought. On approaching Belfast, a colossal rain storm seemed to appear from nowhere with deafening thunder and spectacular fork lightning as if to announce that Prophet had hit town. As it happened it was a fitting precursor to an enthralling and energetic show that exploded into action shortly after 9pm and continued relentlessly for the best part of two hours.

Prophet is gifted with the ability to write killer songs that tackle difficult issues and struggles whether social, political or personal yet always tinged with humour and an ‘let’s get on with it folks and try and treasure the good moments’ attitude. His current album Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins, is his most political recording since Let Freedom Ring in 2009 and possibly his most sardonic, moving and uplifting. The album tackles political issues, laments the many lost musical icons in 2016, questions ongoing racism and class distinction in his home city, gun control (or lack of) and conspiracy killing. However, it’s an album that leaves the listener pensive rather than depressed or downbeat. It’s no surprise that his set this evening includes a large chunk of the album together with his customary crowd favourites and the odd killer cover to complete the setlist.

Prophet’s characteristic stage presence, often tongue in cheek, has all the moves, shapes, facial expressions and antics that makes his shows every bit as much a visual delight as a musical feast. Behind this window dressing is a guitar player to equal any in his genre and a band to match in The Mission Express -"the longest Mission Express line up that Stephanie and I have ever had and one that we want to last forever" he explains early in the show. He is of course referring to his wife Stephanie Finch (keyboards, vocals), James De Prato (guitar), Kevin T White (bass) and Vicento Rodriquez (drums) whose combined interaction is faultless throughout the show, as are Prophets frequent guitar solos, more often than not extended from the studio songs versions, delivered on his trusted white fender which he often comments can play the licks unaided at this stage it’s been around so long. 

The hilarious Jesus Was A Social Drinker, which got one of the biggest cheers of the night, had to be included in the set given the lyrics "Jesus wasn’t Irish, just imagine if he was. He might have written poetry and verse, And enjoyed a pint of Guinness every day for lunch." It’s funny, it's clever but also includes some serious input from Finch from her robotic cowbell intro to her brilliant keyboard solo which Prophet encouraged be played a number of times while he casually corrected a loose lead in his guitar amp.

The set had started off with an instrumental intro before launching (1-2-3-4!) into Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins and kicking on with Fast Kid and Rider or Train. A maestro in terms of audience participation, only a few songs into the set list and he demands a call and response to Temple Beautiful  and from then on  has the crowd eating out of his hands encouraging or rather demanding people to get of their chairs and move.

Bad Year For Rock And Roll is dedicated not only to the musicians that passed away last year but also fittingly to Mohammed Ali, Harper Lee and the politically non-democracy that worryingly prevails, particularly in his resident country. He recounts how he was approached by an elderly gentleman after a recent show in Berlin who tapped him on the shoulder and simply enquired "Mr. Prophet, we’ve created history by taking down walls, why would your people even consider building walls."

Fittingly Barely Exist follows with Prophet reminding us of the hopelessness facing so many people on the southern borders of America and questioning why on earth they should not strive for a better existence by crossing borders to the prospect of basic survival for them and their families.

An extended adaption of In The Mausoleum (written for the deceased Alan Vega of electronic duo Suicide) features Finch sharing vocals with Prophet, who mid song slips his Fender over her shoulders encouraging her to let rip with some beautifully distorted feedback. We Got Up And Played, slowing things down for the only time in a full on set, is introduced as a true story of how unglamorous and difficult touring can be, sound men not showing up, loading in equipment on cold winter nights, long drives in cramped vans and poor crowds. A cover of Rank & Files Amanda Ruth also has Finch centre stage in front on the microphone again before a lengthened Summertime Blues with Prophet and De Prato splendidly sharing guitar licks. You Did with it’s expected audience input rolls on for the best part of ten minutes including a ripping solo by Prophet. Wish Me Luck see Prophet demanding the audience to vocally do exactly that and isn’t content until they drown out his vocal with good luck gestures and Willie Mays Is Up At Bat, a favourite of the baseball loving Prophet and always played in his shows, closes out the show.

Encores include the Howard Tate soul tour de force Shoot Em All Down and the Bobby Fuller classic Let Her Dance with Prophet coming off stage and finishing his solo among the audience. The closer Shake Some Action is proceeded by a tale of seeing the Flamin' Groovies for the first time at the age of fifteen, hearing the best ever power pop song ever written and at that moment deciding what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.

Chuck Prophet, and this can’t be said of many artists, managed to transform a dull, wet Wednesday night into a New Year’s Eve celebratory type evening with a performance that ticked every box you’d hope for in a live show. Great songs, exceptional playing and no end of humour to a very large, appreciative and engaging congregation. I was still grinning from ear to ear when I arrived home after a five-hour round trip that was worth every minute and mile.

Support act John Blek also deserves a worthy mention. An artist that is just as comfortable with the fuller and rockier sound of his work with John Blek & The Rats as he is with his more folk/traditional solo work. Night & The Liquor, Ruby Blood, Lightness Vs.Weight and Little Sparrow from his excellent solo album Cut The Light all featured in a slot that was particularly well received. 

Review and Belfast photograph (above) by Declan Culliton

Whelan’s 28th July 2017

If the round trip to Belfast could only be tackled by our dedicated scribe Declan, with plenty of positive energy and stamina reserves, then my short trip into Whelan’s was a complete breeze.

The best recommendation I can make is a Chuck Prophet show If you like to rock out and forget the daily routine. The Mission Express, as a band, really kicks up a storm – with both the noise level and their full-on adrenalin attack. Members Stephanie Finch, Kevin White, Vicente Rodriguez and James DePrato play in perfect unison and produce a compelling support behind Chuck, who is the consummate front-man.

He struts and poses over the audience as he cajoles a reaction from all those faces staring up at him. He has a magnetic charm as a performer and the avid crowd hang on his personal anecdotes. His defining quality after you strip everything down is his quality on guitar. Searing solos and wonderful dual play with James DePrato remind me of Allman Bros or Thin Lizzy when they dove-tail together for some extended workouts during the set.

The songs were very much the same as Belfast so I won’t repeat the running order as already outlined above by Declan. Suffice to say that every song is played like it is the first and last time it will ever be heard; total commitment and intensely honest delivery. The inclusion of a Linda Ronstadt song in the encore, Different Drum, was sung by Stephanie and created a pleasant moment of calm amid the tornado that spilled off the stage and into the packed crowd tonight. Fantastic show!

Review by Paul McGee  Dublin photograph (at the top) by Vincent Lennon

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