Sunday
Aug262018

The Lone Bellow @ Whelan’s, Dublin - 23rd August 2018

There are special moments that linger in the memory and remain, over time, even if we can never fully do justice to their elevated place and presence in the recounting.

Experiences that warm the soul and ensure that we continue to believe in the power of music to heal the spirit and lift the collective to a place of elevated awareness. Call it spiritual or just a bloody good night of spontaneous connection; all that seems important is the sense of community in being present at an event where something special happened.

Tonight, was one of those moments. When you marry a capacity crowd with a band whose power is at a creative peak, then the sprinkling of angel dust is palpable in the room and all are touched by the experience. A Lone Bellow gig has real fervour and intensity and the utter conviction in the performance of the music gives everybody present a sense of place in the grand scheme of things. We are somehow invited to share in the knowledge that our lives are bound by the same Universal glue.

To define the music of Lone Bellow as entirely celebratory is to miss the point that there are deeper emotions behind the words that fuel the revivalist, soulful performance of Zach Williams on lead vocals and acoustic/electric guitar; Kanene Donehey Pipkin on mandolin, bass, keyboard, vocals and Brian Elmquist on acoustic/electric guitar, vocals. The added talents of Jason Pipkin (bass and keys) and Julian Dorio (drums), provide a superbly tight base from which everybody can expand the song arrangements and Kanene switches instruments with husband Jason on a few occasions.

There are hidden layers of pain and life lessons learned behind the swell of melody and vocal harmony that leave the audience in admiration of a band that commit to a level of performance that is often breath-taking in its powerful delivery. The vocal dexterity of all three members is something to behold as they feed off the electric atmosphere and deliver fully on the art involved in creating a communal experience through the medium of music. 

The band visit all three releases, concentrating more on the latest, Walk Into A Storm, from last year. The set powers along with new heights being scaled on songs like Deeper In The Water, Green Eyes And A Heart Of Gold, Feather all the way along to the wonderful encore, Then Came The Morning. 

There are so many highlights that it seems churlish to pick out one over another, but the acoustic segment probably sums up the band ethic more than anything, with renditions of Call To War, Watch Over Us and Pink Rabbits (cover of The National song), stealing the moment, especially when the trio leave the stage and mix with the audience to sing off-mike. It is a perfect example of communal sharing and trust and a key element in the warmth shared. It was a privilege to be there.

Review and photograph by Paul McGee

Wednesday
Aug012018

Rosanne Cash @ National Concert Hall, Dublin - 28th July 2018

Certain things just continue to improve with age and judging by the flawless performance by Rosanne Cash this evening, she certainly deserves honorary membership of that club. Looking resplendent in a bird embroidered Nudie influenced blazer (a Stella Mc Cartney creation for the fashion inquisitive among you!) , Cash and her husband John Leventhal enthralled the large attendance at the National Concert Hall tonight with a one and three-quarter hour set that hardly had a weak moment, vocal or chord (to be honest Leventhal does strike one bum note during Forty Shades of Green to both his and his wife’s amusement!). Cash and her husband are regular visitors to Ireland and she refers fondly to her last appearance, when she was invited to take part in a music spectacular at The Bord Gais Theatre in March 2016 to commemorate the 1916 Easter Rising Centenary

With the acoustics at the Concert Hall more sympathetic to acoustic rather than more electric arrangements, both Cash’s stunning vocals and Leventhal’s wonderful guitar work are crystal clear throughout her well-chosen set, which in the main delves into material from her more recent albums, but also includes a few covers and a couple of songs from her early career. She is also due to release her next album in October titled She Remembers Everything and if the song she performed from the album, titled Rabbit Hole, is an indication of what to expect, it will match the lofty standard of her previous three releases. 

Her 2014 album The River and The Thread, was inspired both personally and historically by the Mississippi Delta. Arguably a career best, she opens the show with three selections from the album. First up is Modern Blue, a song of travel and love, written in both Memphis and Barcelona.The Sunken Lands,swiftly follows, written about an area in Arkansas which sank during the earthquake of 1811. She continues with material from the same album by including A Feather’s Not A Bird, inspired Cash tells us, by a visit to her friend Natalie Chanin’s fabric studio in Florence Alabama. While Chanin was threading her needle, she commented ‘You have to love the needle’, immediately giving Cash the idea for the song title.  

While travelling on tour with Johnny Cash in the early 70’s - Rosanne was immersed in rock music at the time – her father was astounded that his daughter was unaware of what he considered, classic American songs. He spent some time listing for her, what he called, 100 Essential Country Songs.  Rosanne’s 2009 album The List, featured songs from his recommendations and she performs both Long Black Veil and Sea of Heartbreak (dedicated to her young niece in the audience). Commenting that she duets with Bruce Springsteen on the album track, she joked that in the absence of Bruce her husband will have to do the honours tonight. Bury Me Under The Weeping Willow from the same album also features later in the set. Blue Moon With Heartacheis is introduced as ‘a song older than my youngest daughter,’ taken from her 1981 Seven Year Itch album. The Bobby Gentry classic Ode To Billie Joe is next, another Delta inspired classic, with Cash recalling how her husband and her visited Tallahatchie Bridge during their travels through the Delta researching for her 2014 album and the haunting feeling the location brought about. A further cover follows, at Leventhal’s insistence Rosanne jokes, with Leventhal switching to piano for an eloquent adaptation of Bob Dylan’s Farewell Angelina.

‘Do you actually think I wasn’t going to play this song’ is the introduction to Forty Shades of Green, following Cash recounting how she visited a second-hand bookshop in Dublin a few years back when she was playing a show at Vicar Street. High on a shelf was a large book titled History of Irish Music. Taking it from the shelf and dusting it down, she randomly opened a page in the book and the title of the chapter was, of course, Johnny Cash. Recalling the tale and singing the song proves particularly emotive for her and she is visibly tearful after the last chord.

Introducing WhenThe Master Calls The Roll, written by John Leventhal and her ex-husband Rodney Crowell, she explains that she begged them to allow her to record it, only to be told ‘it was written for Emmylou’. A few months passed without the song being recorded so she decided to bite the bullet and ask Crowell to rewrite the lyrics with her, which he agreed to do. It’s a beautiful love ballad inspired by Cash’s discovery that she had ancestors on both sides of the Civil War and her delivery is one of many highlights this evening. Seven Year Ache closes the show, remarkably written almost four decades ago before a standing ovation brings the pair back on stage for two encores. First up is Tennessee Flat Top Box which again showcases Leventhal’s exceptional guitar skills before she closes the show to a further standing ovation with 500 Milesfrom The List. 

It’s not an overstatement to describe Rosanne Cash as music royalty. Her song writing ability and vocals aside, she is a spokesperson for artists rights in the industry digital age, a long-time supporter of many charitable organisations, a decorated author and holds a doctorate degree from the Berklee College of Music. That aside, this evenings performance is further evidence that, like a vintage wine, she continues to improve with age. A night to remember.

Review and (sneaky) photo by Declan Culliton

Sunday
Jul292018

Birds Of Chicago@ Whelan’s - 28th July & @ Cleeres, Kilkenny - 29th July

"Most people in my country are good people, we travel every State and see kindness in them all," J.T.Nero informs us, to great applause, leading in to American Flowers,the title track of Birds of Chicago EP recorded in 2017. (I have seen American flowers all across this land, from the banks of the Shenandoah, along the Rio Grande, do not fear the winter blowing in the hearts of men, I have seen American flowers they will bloom again).

It’s the final chorus from the final song performed by Birds of Chicago and as had been the case on their last visit to Ireland barely twelve weeks ago, with the audience joining in, the words echo around the room. It follows what has been an extraordinary evening’s entertainment which kicked off two and a half hours previously with the support slot by The Remedy Club.

Regardless of their talents, performers can only do so much to create the perfect show. The additional ingredient to add that spark to a gig, is an engaging and appreciative audience and tonight certainly hit a high spot both on and off stage. A large crowd was already in attendance when The Remedy Club opened their slot with I Miss You, the opening track from their super album Legends, Lovers & Lost Causes. Long time favourites of Lonesome Highway, the husband and wife duo Aileen Mythen and KJ McEvoy’s performances over the past twelve months have gone from strength to strength and their self-assurance this evening was evident, no doubt buoyed by the positive reaction of the audience from the outset. After four songs from their forty minute set a call came from the back of the room of ‘who are you?’ Their set was going down so well that they neglected to introduce themselves from stage!  Performing as a duo, they have the ability to create a ‘band’ effect, with Mc Evoys splendid guitar playing complimented Mythen’s rhythmic percussion. However, their tour de force are their harmonies, Mythen’s ability to vary her vocal range from honey sweet to seductive blues competing with Mc Evoy’s baritone crooning.

Concentrating on material from the album they play When Tom Waits Up (the ‘legends’ in the album title inspired by Tom Waits we’re told), a rocking Big Ol’ Fancy, the more mellow Last Song. They encore with a killer delivery of the bluesy Image On My Retina (a song recorded in their previous life as B & the Honeyboy), highlighting this accomplished duo’s ability to rock out with belting vocals and a ripping guitar solo. I can hardly  recall the last occasion I witnessed a support act get as rapturous a reception at Whelan’s, further evidence that all the Remedy Club require is exposure, to swiftly move on to a much higher level in the music industry. Equally impressive is the sight of Birds of Chicago’s Allison Russell dancing in the corner to their set, accompanied by her husband J.T.Nero, a lovely touch. 

Unlike their performances at Kilkenny Roots in May, where they included bass and drums in their line up, this time around Allison Russell and J.T.Nero are joined on stage by Steve Dawson, one of the most accomplished and sought after guitar players presently residing in Nashville. A producer, session player and recording artist in his own right, coincidentally Lonesome Highway had posted a review of his latest album a few days previously. Having only arrived from Nashville to Whelan’s in time for the sound check a few hours earlier, due to a re-scheduled flight and despite the jet lag, he opens The Birds of Chicago set onstage alone, effecting some gorgeous swirling slide guitar, to be eventually joined on stage by Russell for a haunting delivery of She Moved Through The Fair. What follows is a one hour and forty minutes set which revisits their earlier albums, includes material from their recent release Love in Wartime and a recently written song. Alright, Alright, from their self-titled debut album is introduced by Nero as the most hopeful song they’ve ever written andFlyingDreamsfrom the same album is described as "a song written in the innocent summer of 2012."

Notwithstanding the heavenly vocal contributions by both Russell and Nero, the musicianship on display is breath-taking, with Russell playing banjo, clarinet and  ukulele, Nero on acoustic guitar and Dawson effortlessly switching from acoustic to electric guitar. A recently written song for their four year old daughter titled You Are Not Alone is introduced by Russell, adding how much she is missing her already. Nero adds the male perspective by retorting "much and all as I adore my daughter, I’m looking forward to my coffee in the morning and wine in the late afternoon, undisturbed and accompanied by reading something or other!" Canonball is mooted by Nero as a song written about the positives and negatives of living in Canada before they perform two songs from the current album, Superlover (adorned by splendid slide guitar by Dawson) and the title track Love In Wartime.Nero then leaves the stage to allow the remaining duo deliver Stardust, with choruses sung by Russell in both English and French. Inspired by her Scottish grandmother, Barley is delivered solo by Russell with hand claps from the audience before they end the set with Real Midnight, a request from the floor and Suger Dumplin’. A further encore was demanded and swiftly delivered with the aforementioned American Flowers. A completely different set list than their Kilkenny Gigs, the three piece more acoustic arrangement is tailored made for the more intimate setting of the Upstairs Room at Whelan’s where, as usual, the sound quality is crystal clear. 

Having just arrived from The States mid-morning, whisked out to RTE for an appearance on The Ray Darcy Show and straight to Whelan’s for the show, they apologised for any jet lag and sleep deprivation induced verbal nonsense that they indulged in. No apologies required, from the standing ovations and the general feel-good atmosphere at the gig, the evening could only be described as a triumph.

Review and photography by Declan Culliton

Birds of Chicago. Cleere’s Bar, Kilkenny. Saturday 28thJuly 2018.

Continuing on their short Irish tour, these beautiful Birds flew from Dublin down the motorway to the medieval city of Kilkenny to land at that infamous venue that is Cleere’s Bar. Always guaranteed a great welcome, the trio of musicians begin their stirring set with Real Midnight, ironically the song that was an audience request late into the Dublin show on the night before…

The atmosphere really started to take off as the experience of seeing this gifted band in a live setting took hold of the appreciative crowd. The new release, Love In Wartime, is given plenty of focus with Superlover, Roll Away, Baton Rouge and the title track itself going down a storm as JT Nero on acoustic guitar and Steve Dawson on acoustic and electric guitars weave around the irrepressible stage performance and talent of Allison Russell. Her passionate and soulful vocal delivery is something to behold in such an intimate setting and she sings with utter conviction in delivering a performance that includes her excellent musicianship on banjo, ukulele and clarinet.

Flying Dreams and Cannonball are both typical of the celebratory nature of the sounds and music on display and when the band bring things down a notch we are treated to You Are Not Alone, a song written for JT and Alison’s daughter. Barley is another superb song that shows the power and tenderness in Allison’s vocals as she builds the tempo with audience handclaps and brings everything to a climax that resembles something akin to a revivalist prayer meeting. 

The delicate Etoile d’Amour (Stardust) is a lovely performance between Steve and Allison as they tease out the melody and dynamic of the song. Ending the set with American Flowers has become something of a favourite these days and the audience participation in the chorus is very much in keeping with the spirit of fellowship that has been a key component of the warmth generated by this night. Birds of Chicago are sublime in their performance and their live show is quite intoxicating

Kilkenny review by Paul McGee

Friday
Jul202018

Static Roots 13th & 14th July 2018 – More Than Just A Music Festival

 

Oberhausen in the Ruhr area of Germany was once again the location for the third Static Roots Festival, promoted by Dietmar Leibeche with more than a little help from his wife Marion and his team of enthusiastic helpers. Held over two days the Festival featured four acts playing on Friday evening and a further seven on Saturday. 

To kick the festival off and for the benefit of those arriving early on the Friday, a StaticRuhrTour had been arranged by Marion and tour guide Robert Gerlings. Taking approximately four hours the tour included a short hike to the spectacular mountain dump Halde Rheinelbe. With glorious blue skies and temperatures reaching the late twenty degrees the hike terminated at a local Budchen (corner shop) for refreshments before a short trip to the World Cultural Heritage site of Zeche Zollverein in Essen, considered to be the most historical coal mine in Germany.

A twenty-minute train trip back to Oberhausen and a quick freshen up at the hotel and it was time to take the short walk to Zentrum Alterberg where the festival was hosted for the second year in succession. With a medium sized indoor auditorium and a tree lined outdoor area for refreshments between acts, it’s the perfect setting to enjoy the music, chill out and mingle with fellow punters and artists. Of note also was the price levels of both the drinks and food, a fraction of what's normally charged at other festivals.

The event could not be any more inviting for Lonesome Highway as the promoter, using a similar philosophy as ourselves, seeks to champion emerging and under the radar artists when selecting his acts.  His bill for 2018 was inspired, offering acts from all the Roots genre with Austrian honky tonkers Prinz Grizzley & His Beargaroos joining acts such as the UK supergroup Bennett Wilson Poole, our own Kilkenny supergroup The Midnight Union Band, Canadian rocker Terra Lightfoot, South Carolina psychedelic folk rockers SUSTO solo front man Justin Osbourne. Wolfe Island Records were well represented by indie folk rockers The Stephen Stanley Band and the stunning young Hadley McCall Thackston, who was originally to perform as backing vocalist with The Stephen Stanley Band but was also given her own showcase slot when Donald Byron Wheatley had to postpone at short notice. Nashville residents Hannah Aldridge, Charley Whitten, Anthony Da Costa and Cordovas completed the line-up.

Memphis born but currently residing in Nashville, Hannah Aldridge must qualify as one of the hardest working touring singer songwriter, regularly crossing the pond to play solo gigs in support of her two albums. The daughter of Nashville Country songwriter Walt Aldridge,she opened the festival with a fifty-minute slot that featured material from both albums including her ‘country cheating’ song Old Ghost, Goldrush and (‘the song I wrote after the worst gig I played in my life’) Burning Down Birmingham, which included audience participation to sing the chorus for her. Always approachable, she hung around side stage for the other evening’s acts, enthusiastically engaging with anyone that approached her for a chat.

Cranking the sound up a notch or two were The Stephen Stanley Band that followed. Previously the frontman with The Lowest Of Low, Stephen Stanley and his band raced through a set containing material from their Jimmy The Moon debut album in the main. Guesting in the band were our own drumming maestro Michael Mormecha (Malojian) and Ger Moloney on accordion. A glorious mix of jangling guitars, crisp keyboards, thumping bass and drums and some killer backing vocals from label mate Hadley Mc Call Thackston. Early REM and The Jayhawks  came to mind. Highlights included Things I Wish I’d Never Seen, Troubadour's Song and their closer Jimmy And The Moon

Having modelled his festival on many of the features that work at Kilkenny Roots and often seeking advice from our late friend Willie Meighan, the set by The Midnight Union Band was particularly emotive given Willie’s untimely passing last November.  Playing a larger stage with a superb lighting system and equally impressive sound provided them with a platform not often available to them. Anything but fazed, they played a stormer lead by frontman Shane Joyce, Peter Flynn on keys, Brian McGrath on bass, Cian Doolan on guitar and John Wallace on drums. They treated their travelling fan club to a trawl through their most popular anthems with I’m Your Leader, Moon, But I Am The Night and Behind The Truth all getting an airing. Their set was dedicated to Willie Meighan and poignantly they finished with two songs so close to his heart, Rainy Night In Soho and The Smiths classic There Is A Light.

Canadian roots rocker Terra Lightfoot was the perfect closing act on Friday evening. A powerful vocalist and equally impressive guitar player, her dynamic set was bluesy, rocky, rowdy and badass with a vibe that nodded in the direction of Chrissie Hynde one minute and P.J. Harvey the next. One-minute prowling menacingly around stage, the next minute on her knees effortlessly ripping out blues riffs from her Gibson SG alongside her bass player. Highlights that rocked the room from wall to wall were Paradise and Pinball King, straight down the middle urban blues delivered by her three-piece combo.

Recently married, Justin Osbourne has been on a Euro solo tour with his wife over the past month. His band SUSTO’s album & I'm Fine Today featured in our albums of the year in 2017 with a sound that can only be described as psychedelic Americana, combining layers of instrumentation and vocals across some breath-taking songs. It was interesting witnessing him play stripped down versions of songs such as Hard Drugs, Cosmic Cowboy, Waves and Gay In The South, together with some really impressive new material. His closing song Jah Werx , about community and living in the moment, perfectly reflected the ambience both on and off stage. Given the opening slot at lunchtime on Saturday, he had the audience wooed two songs in with material delivered by vocals that ranged from whispers to whiskey hoarse. Not easy to perform solo for fifty minutes as an opening act but his set was met by pin drop silence from start to finish. Observing how well his albums were moving off the merc desk there’s no doubt he won over a lot of new admirers and rightly so.

Having previously seen Anthony Da Costa perform with artists such as Aoife O’Donovan and Sarah Jarosz and being unfamiliar with his back catalogue, I had been expecting a fairly low-key affair. His guitar work has always been exceptional and he’s always in demand as a session player but his set which mixed power pop, blues and straight down the middle rock was a revelation.  From New York but currently working in Nashville his relaxed and laid-back stage banter contradicted his intense and technically note perfect guitar playing. Using Danish band The Sentimentals as his backing musicians was a masterstroke, the combined guitar playing of Da Costa and M.C.Hansen was sublime and Nikolaj Wolf on bass and Jacob Chano on drums provided the perfect rhythm section. Sins Of Your Father, Thanksgiving, Neighbours and Anywhere But Here stood out in his fifty-minute set. 

Anyone who attended Andrew Comb’s shows in Ireland last year could not have missed his bass player. Standing well over six feet tall and with a long mane of blond hair Charlie Whitten is a striking young man. From North Carolina but currently living in East Nashville he is very much part of the burgeoning East Nashville music community and released his debut EP Playwright in 2017. Performing songs from the album solo accompanied only by his electric guitar, his set was the perfect mid-afternoon laid back buzz. Casual and relaxed with engaging stage banter, Whitten melted a lot of young lady’s hearts during his slot.

Coincidently, Hadley McCall Thackston’s debut album arrived to be reviewed at Lonesome Highway last week, coinciding with her upcoming performances as backing vocalist with The Stephen Stanley Band both in Europe and Ireland. The album immediately struck a chord and had been practically on rotation in my player all week, so when she was rewarded with her own set in the absence of Donald Wheatly I immediately looked forward to seeing her perform live. Her backing band was The Stephen Stanley Band, the common denominator being that Hugh Christopher Brown, who produced and played on her album. Kilkenny accordion virtuoso Ger Moloney was invited to join the backing band at short notice given that he contributed to her album. With only two opportunities to rehearse prior to her slot and it being her first show in Europe she opened by telling us that she was more nervous than she'd ever been on stage. However, one song in and the nerves dissipated given the audience’s positive reaction. Her beautifully fragile voice absolutely mirrors the content of her song writing and she possesses the gift of sounding like June Carter on songs like Wallace’s Song (Sage Bush) and Amy Winehouse on Devil Or Angel and No.  After performing the album in its entirety, she finished with two well chosen and well delivered covers Ode To Billie Joe and Brass In Pocket.

Bennett Wilson Poole played two sell out shows at Kilkenny Roots in May and there was a homecoming atmosphere in the air with the very large numbers that also attend that festival. I’m unsure whether the air of anticipation and expectation was stronger in the audience or the band as Robin Bennett, Danny Wilson and Tony Poole seemed to be looking forward to their slot every bit as much as the rest of us. Performing as a three piece in Kilkenny, on this occasion they added a bass player and drummer to their line-up. Remarkably, even though their self-titled album was only released earlier this year, the songs already play out as anthems, with the chorus from Hate Won't Win, Wilson General Store and Ask Me Anything all being sung loudly from the floor. Three and four-part harmonies, shared vocals, wicked playing by all the band, the biggest on-stage smiles of the festival and in particular the king of the Rickenbacker Mr. Tony Poole, all combined to bring the house down.

Prinz Grizzley and his Beargaroos are no strangers to Lonesome Highway having played a number of sets at Kilkenny Roots earlier in the year. It was business as usual as they sailed through a set of headachers and heartbreakers, with Chris Comper soaring vocals and polished guitar playing blending perfectly with the silky pedal steel by Johannes Bischof.  Wide Open Country, Fiery Eye’s, Mountains Milk, Irene and I Can See Darkness all even surpassed the studio versions on their debut album Come On In. Sweet honky tonkin’ with a side of knockout blues courtesy of two Austrians and two Swiss (Claude Meier on bass and Andreas Wettstein on drums), these guys have progressed over the past eighteen months from a bar band to an act worthy to grace any festival stage.

One look at Cordovas and you get the picture. Dietmar had been working on getting these dudes booked to play for months and they were the perfect curtain closer for the festival. Facial hair of Biblical proportions, head to toe denim and mops that haven't encountered a comb or barber in yonks, they could be The Allman Brothers circa 1972 and they have a sound to match.  With a band that boasts four lead vocalists you’d expect some God gifted harmonies and they certainly delivered on that front, but what also hit the biggest spot was their musicianship to match. All I Found, Southern Rain and numerous Grateful Dead type instrumental jams went down a storm before they closed their set and the festival, accompanied by Anthony Da Costa and Charlie Whitton on stage, with a blistering version of Neil Young’s Down By The River.

Dietmar had again invited Jeff Robson from Canada to act as MC and credit to him for his knowledge of the bands and informative stage announcements. With eleven acts to soundcheck and a number of bands having multi vocalists the quality of the sound throughout was also exceptional. Hats off to Alex Shulte who got it spot on with every act.

I'm not sure that any other festival ends up with a sing song out in the open, with both musicians who played the festival and punters alike taking turns to belt out songs from all ends of the spectrum, some delivered to perfection and some bordering on the unlistenable but the perfect finale to a fun filled couple of days.

A final word again about the promoter Dietmar. His one objective is to bring people together to enjoy quality music in an environment where artists and punters mix, share a drink and good food, talk music and put aside the worries of their worlds for a few short days. He achieved that and much more at what we accurately described last year as a ‘’boutique festival’’. It happens all over again on July 12th & 13th of 2019. Tell your friends, but not too many mind, this is one festival we do not want to get too big!

 Review and photography by Declan Culliton

 

Saturday
Jul142018

Ags Connolly @ The Cobblestone, Dublin - Friday 13th July

Making his first performance and visit to Dublin Ags Connelly told that he had Irish antecedents such as Sean Connolly and Patrick Connolly. His parents lived here, he explained, before he was born but he’s never been in the city before. He was here to play a few of his songs (from his two fine albums) to a few of the faithful. This was a stripped back performance that took the songs back to their roots with just Connolly’s powerful voice and guitar. This gave the words even more prominence and show that he is a writer of compelling country songs that are very much as true to its real spirit as if he had been born and raised in his spiritual home of Austin, Texas rather than Oxfordshire, England. Mind you his accent soon gives him away even if the beard and Johnny Paycheck ball cap suggested differently!

Ags delivered an 18 song set that included A Good Memory For Pain, I’m Not Someone You Want To Know, The Dim And Distant Past, Trusty Companion. The latter he mentioned had been requested at both funerals and weddings and caused him to wonder if those requesting the song had actually listened to the lyrics. How About Now, the album title song was one he hadn’t played in a long time but reckoned he should. It was, he mused, his father’s favourite song of his. Also from that album he played When Country Was Proud - a song that the magazine Country Music People had selected as one of the best country songs of recent times. However he felt that as it was a sentiment that was a fairly common theme with songwriters these days that may he shouldn’t have.  He also played the song he’d written about on of his heroes I Saw James Hand. He said there was a live version of the song on YouTube where James Hand was in the venue when he played it (a second time as it happens as Hand had just walked in). From the latest album Nothin’ Unexpected he included such titles as I Hope You’re Unhappy (song brimming with positivity he laughed), Slow Burner, When The Loner Gets Lonely, Neon Jail, I Should Have Closed The Book. From that album he also sang Loudon Wainwright 111’s I Suppose. Wainwright he noted was perhaps his favourite songwriter and that many of his songs easily fit into the country genre.

Other songs, other than his own, that he included were Johnny Paycheck’s (another hero) Slide Off Your Satin Sheets. He also followed his James Hand song with one of Hand’s Over There That’s Frank. He was also road testing a couple of new songs and he hoped would be on his next album which showed that he has not lost his muse and good material. Throughout he was in good humour, something that was, perhaps, at odds with some of the lyrical content of his songs, but it made for an enjoyable evening of song and story that is rooted in these shores but translatable to any location and lover of country music as it was and should be. As Ags said "thank you folks" - rather, thank you Ags.

Review and Photograph by Stephen Rapid

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