Thursday
Oct182018

Kimmie Rhodes - Irish Tour 2018.

This artist has been visiting Ireland on a regular basis for a number of years now. Playing small venues around the country does not really do her justice, given her proven pedigree in the music business over a career that has spanned a few generations since her introduction as a real talent back in the early 1980’s.

This short tour is in support of her recent book, Radio Dreams: The Story of an Outlaw DJ and a Cosmic Cowgirl. It is a duet memoir and filled with great stories of a life spent together with her soulmate Joe Gracey who sadly died in 2011 after battling cancer over many years. 

The tour has dates in Rathfriland, Ballyboffey, Armagh, Lisburn & the Naul in north county Dublin. My journey takes me to a house concert in Rathfriland, plus the experience of the final gig at the Seamus Ennis Centre at the Naul.

Kimmie plays from a setlist that covers many of her 16 releases to date and she also allows herself creative licence to deviate away from this as the mood dictates. Joined by her incredibly talented son, Gabriel on guitar, the duo creates a very engaging and homely atmosphere with stories from the road and beyond. Kimmie is a natural storyteller and raconteur and her lengthy song introductions and back stories are equally as fascinating as the songs themselves. 

Drawing from the memories of a music scene that developed in Austin in the late 1970’s, Kimmie regales both audiences with her tales of meeting and being mentored by Willie Nelson. Her husband Joe Gracey was a much-respected singer and DJ before he lost his voice to cancer, only to turn his hand to studio production and working closely with Willie Nelson as part of both family and friends.

The songs include some carefully selected covers such as Buddy Holly (Raining In My Heart), Donovan (Catch The Wind), Townes van Zandt (White Freight Liner) and a new song yet to be recorded, Radio Dreams, to accompany the book.

Old favourites such as Love & Happiness, a song she wrote with Emmylou Harris, sit comfortably alongside Love Me Like A Song, a track she recorded with Willie Nelson.

Windblown is a song about her father and his colourful life, whereas Bells Of Joy celebrates an old Gospel band that she used to admire back in the early days. Just Drove By is the longest song she ever wrote, taking her a number of years to finish, but it captures everything in terms of family relationships and our changing feelings as we move through life.

God’s Acre is about coming home to be buried with those you love and the strength of family ties while Walls Fall Down references the present tensions in the USA and is an old song that has suddenly taken on new meaning with the turn of events there. 

Contrabandistas is a tex-mex workout that highlights the real craft of Gabriel on guitar as he soars and swoops around the rhythm laid down and delivers quite a performance. 

At the Naul, Kimmie sings 2 songs from different perspectives; one, Don’t Leave Me Like This, a bitter memory of the death of Joe Gracey and the other, Yes, a statement of intent in getting back into the light and living again.

House concerts are not really a big thing in Ireland Just yet but increasingly it appears to be a way of finding an intimate space where the artist can perform at controlled costs in the hope of making a profit and the sales of some merchandise. Rathfriland is a beautiful location and a very healthy crowd turn out to support our host Andy and to pay special tribute to the wonderful performance that is delivered.

The Naul is also an intimate setting and tonight there is a new soundboard to be tested – it passed with flying colours. A very attentive crowd sing along to the songs that they know and both performers give everything to that feeling of being in the moment while the magic of live music occurs.

Two excellent nights, spent in great company and you really must catch this superb artist on her next visit to our shores in 2019.

Review and photo by Paul McGee

 

Wednesday
Sep262018

AMA Report by Declan Culliton

Searching Out Country Music at Americana Fest 2018

It’s necessary to do a bit of digging to uncover what I consider ‘real’ country music these days. Robert’s Western World on Broadway in Nashville is a sure bet for the purist among us and with over three hundred acts performing at Americana Fest 2018, you’re guaranteed a decent representation of acts keeping that flag flying. Six acts in particular impressed and ticked the Lonesome Highway "real country is alive and kicking box." 

Jaime Wyatt at 3rd & Lindsley

Resembling a young Lucinda Williams in both appearance and sound, the striking Californian outlaw artist’s gig drew in the main material from her current album Felony Blues. Recalling her former years as a hell raiser - she did a prison stretch for robbing her drug dealer - Wyatt and her equally tight band delivered a storming set with full on numbers like Wishing Well and Wasco impressing every bit as much as her dreamy delivery of Merle Haggard’s Misery and Gin. Wyatt is the real deal, an artist with the ability in her writing, delivery and stage presence to make giant career steps. She sings from the heart, with pain, emotion and healing oozing from her every word. A festival highlight for those lucky enough to have caught her at 3rd & Lindsley.

Pat Reedy and The Longtime Goners at The Vinyl Bunker

The location for Pat Reedy’s set was a small vinyl record store located in the office of an underground car park. Not the most salubrious of rooms perhaps, but Reedy’s not the type of artist that’s going to grace the stage of The Grand Old Opry. He’s been touted as the most likely ‘country’ artist to follow in the footsteps of Joshua Hedley by making a name for himself way beyond Nashville. His appearance is that of someone that just drifted in from an auto store having spent the day changing tyres. With a three-piece band consisting of a recently acquainted Scandinavian pedal player, drummer and upright bass, he played two short sets of material mostly drawn from his recent release, the wonderfully titled That’s All There Is And There Ain’t No More. A former busker and construction worker, Reedy is the real deal, no frills, dirt under the fingernails and he dished out the perfect mid-afternoon set of raw and ragged country tunes. 

Jason James at Acme & Seed

Having played a solo performance at the same venue at the festival a few years back, James’s return with a full band was a joy to behold. The opposite side of the coin to Reedy, James is immaculately turned out, his appearance more George Jones than Willie Nelson and his performance was equally impressive. Playing to a large - and talkative- audience, it didn’t take long for him to silence them with his smooth Texan country sound, at times sounding like a young George Jones and helped in no small measure by his very impressive band. The new material on offer - to feature in his early 2019 album - sounded every bit as impressive as his 2015 self-titled album, using the same formula of traditional Texan country music, delivered with his silver-tongued southern tones. His signature tune Here Comes The Heartache and the honky tonkin’ I’ve Be Drinking More were standouts.

JP Harris at 3rd & Lindsley

Previous appearances at the festival had seen JP Harris play to smaller crowds at less spacious and less impressive locations, so it was a blast to see him and his entourage - which totalled ten at one stage - given the chance to play one of the larger venues. The stage at 3rd & Lindsley is one of the larger ones at the festival and Harris ensured that every square inch of it was put to use. His band featured guitar, bass, drums, pedal steel and keys with additional backing vocals courtesy of the Watson Twins and Kristina Murry. His set drew on material from his new album – officially released that day - including the title track Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing and When I Quit Drinking, alongside the crowd pleaser Give A Little Lovin’.Harris is not only a killer performer, he’s also a staunch supporter and promoter of emerging artists – in particular female East Nashville acts – often investing as much time in pushing them to the fore as he does in self-promotion. A rocking set from an artist that – were there any justice in the music world - would be a household name in country music. 

Mike and The Moonpies at 3rd & Lindsley

With the perfect mix and twang, honky tonk and boogie, Mike Harmeier and his five-piece band were the ideal act to close off the Evenings showcases at 3rd & Lindsley. Living up to their reputation for delivering full on high octane sets with a forty-five-minute onslaught of material that transformed the room into a Texas Dance Hall. Drawing in the main from their recent album Steak Night At The Prairie Rose they accelerated through Might Be Wrong, Getting High At Home and Beaches of Beloxi at breakneck speed. A "send them home sweating and smiling" set of fun music!

 Colter Wall at The Station Inn

One of the names on many people’s lips as the emerging young artist on the Americana scene of recent years, the 23-year-old Canadian nabbed a prime slot as the closing act at the revered Station Inn on the night of the Americana Fest Award Show. Playing out like a veteran, he mesmerised the full house with a spell binding stroll through his breakthrough self-titled album with the superb Me and Big Dave and Kate Mc Cannon bringing the house down. No mean guitar picker himself, the addition of a full band elevated his stripped back baritone vocals to another level. A memorable show!

Review and photography by Declan Culliton

Tuesday
Sep252018

AMA Report by Paul McGee

AMA Music Festival, Nashville - September 11th -16th 2018

The annual festival and conference to put all others into the shade. 

Americanafest, now in its 17thyear, is spread across 50 venues over 6 days. Add a lot of music industry discussion groups and panels, afternoon showcases, label parties, BBQ’s and shindigs – followed by the evening fare of artist and band listings; typically, 4 to 5 acts at each venue that run into the midnight hours. Exhausting and exhilarating!

There is an award show that brings together the great and the good of Americana music at the famous Ryman auditorium, but the real essence of the festival is the sense of community, camaraderie and fellowship that can be embraced all over the city in many forms, as many music fans get to meet old friends and form new connections.

The choice of music is like being a kid in a sweetshop, with the similar frustration of not being able to sample everything. Choices must be made and inevitably bands missed along the way. However, there were so many moments to inspire;

MAKING A NAME

Two acts that are gingerly stepping their way through the minefield that is a sustainable career in this music game are My Politic and Arkansas Dave.

My Politic is a 5-piece band, now living in Nashville, who play expressive roots music around the creative hub of Kaston Guffey and Nick Pankey. Fiddle, dobro, acoustic guitars and harmonica merge into an organic sound, topped off by the high energy performance of band leader Guffey.

Arkansas Dave is entirely different and delivers a performance of soulful blues that is hard hitting and quite compelling. His band deliver passionate playing across driving workouts in an impressive set.

STAYING THE COURSE

Diversity in music is everything that makes it great and the attraction of the celebratory, soulful sound of Birds of Chicago sits in contrast with the mellow, reflective style of Erin Rae. Both deliver stellar sets as they continue to hone their craft and build upon careers that are flourishing and moving forward at a pace.

Birds of Chicago have great songs and the key element of interplay between joint-lead performers, JT Nero and Allison Russell. Erin Rae has a calm and restrained stage presence as she gently coaxes her band to higher performance levels in what can be described as dreamy soundscapes on top of which her soothing voice glides.

RISING HIGHER

The impact of breaking stars can never be underestimated as pressure is brought to bear on the existing status quo and order of things. Rightly so, as all things must be subject to change.

Courtney Marie Andrews is a performer who has developed into quite a star with her strong work ethic and some killer songs. Her band is really tight and they play in support of a vocal performance that is highly impressive. Her career is going in one direction only and her powerful talents bear witness to this.

The Lone Bellow are another act that continue to find accelerated momentum around their increasing media buzz. 

They perform here as a 3-piece with a single stand-up microphone, an acoustic guitar and a mandolin. Their vocal gymnastics and harmonies are an absolute treat to witness as they play a compelling set of songs from their 3 releases to date.

THE OLD ROAD WELL-TRAVELLED

Artists such as Emmylou Harris, Mary Gauthier, Eliza Gilkyson, Richard Thompson, John Hiatt and Kim Richey have seen it all before and show their durability and experience while appearing at a number of venues over the festival. 

Far from burning out and fading away, they display an energy that far belies the advances of old father time. Playing songs from new releases, plus dipping into extensive back catalogues, they excite all who witness their powerful presence. They also show no fall in their vocal prowess as performers and continue to display  an easy stage presence that has been earned over time and travel.

HAPPY TO MEET

Whether unknown or just unheard, there are so many acts who win over new admirers and indeed, make up the major part of this festival. Always a pleasant surprise to discover new talent that delights.

Sons of Bill are such a band. They have been around since 2006 releasing albums and are led by the 3 Wilson Brothers. They have a vibrant roots rock sound that is exciting and very engaging.

Samantha Fish plays blues guitar in an incendiary style that fires her song arrangements into orbit and her band create a big sound with warm organ swells, horns and rhythm section to fill out the performance. 

Jaimee Harris played a fine set at the Campfire propaganda day party and Ana Egge also captured the room at the Proper Music Party, along with Ben Glover who closed the event.

Other acts worthy of mention were Neighbor Lady, Mike Farris, Walter Salas-Humara, Tom Freund, Ordinary Elephant and Ladies Gun Club.

SORRY TO PART

All goods things must come to an end and the gathering of friends for Sunday Morning Coming Down provided a gathering of gumbo and good times. The wonderful JP Harris was hosting this event and his generous spirit was evident throughout as he highlighted other artists as well as playing a superb set with his own band. We were treated to the perfectly aligned vocal performance of the Watson Twins and an exciting set from the ever- impressive Elizabeth Cook. 

SPECIAL MOMENT

There were so many of course, but perhaps the one that sticks out and epitomises the festival spirit more than anything else was the Lone Bellow playing on the sidewalk to the line of fans who were unable to gain entry to their sold-out gig at The Station Inn. They delayed their show in order to ease the disappointment of the crowd outside and turned in a 3-song performance that was quite something.

ENDURING MEMORIES

Hearing about a late-night gig at the 5-Spot that led to my finally seeing an old favourite of mine perform live – Webb Wilder. He played a set that was packed with superb craftmanship and electric moments as his crack band turned out performances that made for one of those special nights; a crowded bar, plenty of high & hot energy and smiles all around. Also, meeting Tim Easton and seeing him play again after many years. A seasoned songwriter who continues to produce music of the highest quality. Equally as important was my reunion with Walter Salas-Humara and his unique talents. Founder member of the legendary Silos, he has lost none of his sparkle and the songs are as sharp as ever.

CODA

This was my first trip to the AMA festival but it will not be my last … It is addictive in all that is offered and delivered, in a setting that is just perfect. Music City USA lives up to the name and there is also much else to see and do, outside of the music. Definitely a Bucket List recommendation.

Review and photography by Paul McGee

Friday
Sep212018

Ed Romanoff @Whelans, Dublin - Wed 19th Sept 2018


Ed Romanoff was pleased to be in Dublin, or maybe just to be on solid ground after a short flight from Amsterdam turned into something a marathon journey that included a quick visit to Shannon. All due to the breathy interjections of Hurricane Ally. However he was genuinely pleased to be in Ireland for a number of dates to help him embrace his Irishness.Throughout the tour he is being ably supported by the esteemed Clive Barnes whose guitar playing adds much to the overall enjoyment of the songs played. It was clear to see why Mr Barnes is in such demand as a sideman and why he is a compelling artist in his own right.

The songs were mostly from his recent and rewarding album The Orphan King. As is his want Romanoff prefaced each of the songs with a story or reflection on the origin of the song.The Night Is A Woman was his approach to a Van Morrison style romantic ballad, he informed us, while noting that most people hadn’t a clue as to what it was about. Much more definite was the inspiration behind The Orphan King. A song co-written with Mary Gauthier who Romanoff took a DNA test with and discovered he was essentially Irish, his birth father being 100% Irish. As he was adopted into a loving Russian family, he set about trying to contact his Irish father once he discovered his existance. This included the hiring of a number of prover detectives to try and find him, however they never discovered any trace.

Many of his other songs are based on real characters, and his research into their backgrounds and histories often formed the basis of his writing for this fact based material. Elephant Man is about Joseph Merrick who he imagined finding a female companion to share his life. The Ballad Of Willie Sutton concerns the bank robber who died in 1980. He was an Irish American who became a bank robber of repute (Making number 11 on the inaugural Ten Most Wanted FBI list). It recounts the part of his life and times preceding his release from Attica State prison on parole on Christmas Eve 1969. Romanoff incorporates much of this detail in his incisive writing. He writes both solo and with a co-writer. Many on the most recent album are written with Crit Harmon.

Romanoff also tells the audience that he only really started to become a writer after the age of 40 and never really thought of himself as a singer, recalling that his (adoption) father was tone deaf and he considered himself the same. He humorously noted that he was advised that it might be best if he mouthed the words of the songs, by the leader of his school choir. However Romanoff is a much improved singer now and able to deliver his songs with a certain conviction. He would never consider himself a great vocalist but, similar to singers like John Prine, one who is able to deliver the song despite any limitation of his vocal range.


Playing acoustic guitar and sometimes adding a beat with a foot pedal he blends this with the atmospheric guitar of Barnes to create something that is effective and entertaining. Barnes played a couple of full on solos that enhanced the dynamic of the offering. Humour is ever present despite his noting that many of these songs hit the down elevator in terms of mood, but do so within the realm of optimism. Luan Parle joined the duo onstage, adding her exquisite vocals to several songs including a version of Springsteen’s I’m On Fire sung by Clive. For a couple of numbers Romanoff also calls folk-singer Peter Doran to the stage and they all join in on Blue Boulevard (Na Na Na)

Romanoff was called back by the small but attentive audience for a two song encore. The first solo then he was joined by Barnes on his big silver Gretch for the final songs which also saw Parle and Dorian returning on the stage to end a satisfying night.

Review by Stephen Rapid   Photography by Kaethe Burt O'Dea

 

Tuesday
Sep182018

UAFP 27th Annual Bluegrass Festival @ Omagh - 2018

The stages have been dismantled and the sound equipment packed away after another exciting music festival in the Ulster American Folk Park, outside Omagh in N Ireland (31/08 - 02/09/18). Once again we were treated to a world class lineup of not just bluegrass acts but also old time, folk and cajun bands from the US, Europe and Ireland.

Lonesome Highway sent their two intrepid reporters along - myself and photographer/broadcaster Ronnie Norton as always, to report back on proceedings. We certainly were not disappointed.

Worthy headliners were the Darin & Brooke Aldridge Band from N Carolina, who were on their first visit to the country. Both are multiple IBMA & SPGBMA nominated - Darin for his guitar flat picking and Brooke for her vocals, and they showed us exactly why! They are interpreters of both bluegrass and country standards and more modern songs from other genres - all of which are given their own twist while remaining true to their bluegrass roots. Among the stellar musicians in their band was the impressive 21 year old fiddle player Carley Arrowood, also IBMA awarded.

Despite their youth, the band are quite obviously road veterans and they tear into their sets with no time wasted. Songs like Neil Young’s Powderfinger and pop covers are interspersed with old country classics and a yodelling song which the punters were encouraged to join in on, with varying degrees of success. Carley Arrowood showed that she’s not just a phenomenal fiddle player by taking the lead vocals on one of her own compositions. There are many gospel songs included in the sets, one of the highlights being Darin’s rendition of their friend Vince Gill’s Go Rest High. Darin and Brooke demonstrated their gorgeous vocals on several country duets, including the moving Corn, and the Everlys’ Let It Be Me. Darin’s long guitar intro into Wayfaring Stranger is truly psychedelic (a nod to his former life with Acoustic Syndicate, perhaps) and their rendition of this oft covered classic is one of the best versions I’ve ever heard. The whole band were quite clearly delighted to be here and endeared themselves to the large audiences at each of their three sets throughout the weekend.

Mike Compton & Joe Newberry entertained, moved and educated their eager audiences in equal measure throughout all their many sets during the festival. Those who are particularly interested in the roots of the music had the opportunity to attend the informal McInterview, hosted by the indefatigable festival MC Frank Galligan, where we enjoyed anecdotes from the legendary duo’s early lives in Mississippi and Missouri, and their subsequent musical journeys. Mike (mandolin) has played with Bill Monroe, John Hartford and later the Nashville Bluegrass Band. They treated us to songs from Gaither Carlton, Doc Watson, Big Mon and the Mississippi Sheiks.

Such is their vast repertoire that very few of their songs and stories were repeated over the course of their performances. 

Midnight Skyracer are an exciting new band made up of five young women from N Ireland, England and Scotland. They have just been nominated for two IBMA Momentum Awards and after this, their first Irish appearance, they will be hot footing it to Raleigh in NC for the awards ceremony. Impressively, apart from their instrumental prowess across the board, most of their set is comprised of original songs, written by all five members. And they can all sing, to boot!

Natural band leader is Leanne Thorose, with her lightning fast mandolin playing and powerful gutsy voice. Eleanor Wilkie is impressive on bass, and when she takes the lead vocals on her own composition High and Dry. Our own Armagh banjo player Tabitha Agnew needed no introduction to the home crowd, but her banjo playing has amazingly continued to go from strength to strength. Then there are the twin Carrivick sisters: Laura is equally at home both on fiddle and dobro, while Charlotte wowed us on guitar. Their set is dynamic and fun, and their multiple harmonies are close and sweet. Carrie Hassler’s I’m Going On The Next Train was one of the highlights of their sets for this reviewer.

The Allen Family Reunion were a revelation on their first and hopefully not last trip to N Ireland, home to some of their ancestors. Comprised of two generations of this Ontario family, they entertained and amused their audiences with their musical chops, their warmth and their humour. Mandolinist/fiddle player John P Allen is well known in their native Canada and further afield as a member of the country band Prairie Oyster, although he doesn’t make a deal about it.

Demolition String Band have been here before and are quite familiar to Irish audiences. This time North Carolina based Elena and Boo were joined by Galwegian upright bass player Sammy Rohan, who did a stalwart job of keeping up! The band specialise in breakneck speed versions of songs as diverse as Madonna’s Like A Prayer (I kid you not) and John Prine’s Paradise (Mr Peabody’s Coal Train). Olabelle Reed and Jim & Jesse covers are introduced to the audience, some of whom may not be familiar with the broad range of country, folk and bluegrass artists that the duo love to evangelise about. They are so well admired that Woody Guthrie’s sister Nora asked them to write music for some of the treasure trove of Woody’s lyrics recently uncovered and they treated us to two of these.

Belgian/US Americana/folk band Old Salt were also making their first appearance at Omagh and it quickly became apparent why they won a European World of Bluegrass award in 2017. Led by American Daniel Wall (clawhammer banjo), they are a whirlwind of bluegrass, folk, jazz and old time influences, all delivered with a dynamism and a respect for the tradition. Ghent musicians Lotte Remmen on fiddle, Lara Rossellini on upright bass and Johannes Wannyn on guitar were able partners in crime in the current collective’s line up - their sets were broad ranging and their musicianship was tight. They performed many traditional songs and tunes, but made them their own and they explained the provenance of most of their choices. Both Lara and Lotte have built on their classical training to produce a lush string sound and the band’s harmonies were flawless. About to release their second album, we hope they will be back soon.

Whiskey Deaf, the old timey duo from Portland, Oregon were welcomed back with open arms after their first visit here in 2015. John Kael (guitar/banjo) and Annie Staninec (fiddle) have a huge repertoire of old time and bluegrass tunes and songs and their quiet enthusiasm for the history of the music was infectious. 

Fellow Pynins (US) performed their delicate blend of folky old timey songs which reflect their deep interest in nature and the land. Perhaps their repertoire just wasn’t big enough to handle the five sets spread over the weekend, but their songs and stories didn’t stand up to repeated listens.

Northern Ireland was well represented with sets from the ever popular Northern Exposure (who have expanded their repertoire with the addition of fiddle player Brendan Henry), Broken String Band, Geordie McAdam and the recently expanded Henry Family Band. While Janet Henry was promoting her well received new album Going Home, she and her dobro playing husband Colin were in danger of being upstaged by their children - James, who is fast becoming a banjo player of note, and Olivia who is possessed of a most wonderful pure voice just made for folk singing!

Eilís Boland

Athy’s Godfather of Bluegrass Tony O’Brien with his legendary Woodbine and local Omagh hot shot superstars the “CoolHand String Band” graced the stage and braved all the elements in the Log Cabin Field to give us a full spectrum coverage of Bluegrass to suit all ages and tastes. Woodbine as expected were a little more rooted in tradition, and much loved for it, while the Cool Hand String Band on their first visit to the Folk Park brought a vibrant and young approach and a clear indication that our choosen music is safe in the hands of the next generation. They even, “Lord Save Us” brought the open air crowd screaming to their feet with a blistering version of Wagon Wheel.
As photographer to the festival for the past "not so few" years I’ve managed to meet most of my Bluegrass heroes in what has to be the most relaxed and crowd friendly athmosphere possible for musical visitors. With seven stages and venues available I certainly got my cardio workout done over the weekend strolling the length and breadth of my favourite venue world wide for a musical festival. I’ve listed all the bands that appeared and are included in these above two collages more or less in the order that I encountered them. My heartfelt thanks goes to all the performers for their tolerance of the lurker with the long lens and all, and I really mean all of the staff at the Ulster American Folk Park for taking me into the family and creating the highlight of each Bluegrass year for me.
The Bands as I met them were Mike Compton and Joe Newberry, Whiskey Deaf, The Demolition String Band, Old Salt, Old Baby Mackerel, Broken String Band, Allen Family Reunion, Northern Exposure, The Henry Family Band, Fellow Pynins, Geordie McAdam, Midnight Skyracer, Eilidh Patterson, The Cool Hand String Band, Darin and Brooke Aldridge, Two Time Polka and Darin and Broke Aldridge, who once again were back for their spine tingling Gospel Concert in the Meeting House to wind up a really memorable weekend.
Roll ON 2019
Ronnie Norton  

Photography by Ronnie Norton

 

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