Hamell On Trial @ Whelan’s - 9th March 2017.

The legendary Woody Guthrie performed with the slogan "This machine kills fascists" displayed on his guitar and he was a major influence on many songwriters over the years.

Will there will ever be an artist like him in today’s world; one that follows their muse in breaking through the accepted norms? England produced Billy Bragg who has been a very politically charged musician over his career and has fought against social injustice. He often spoke of his passion for the principles that Woody Guthrie stood for.

However, there is also an American equivalent, someone who is hiding in plain sight and has been delivering important messages for the last 20 years…

Tonight, I am reacquainted with the performance phenomenon that is Hamell On Trial.

It has been quite a few years since I last encountered this force of nature in a live setting and I was blown away by his passion and energy and his razor sharp wit. He also displays a verbal dexterity that is quite something to witness when he is riffing on a theme and his laser precision intelligence is aimed at many deserving targets.

He is a wordsmith, street-poet, a rebel with a cause who questions the basis upon which society works and the values that are held dear within the ranks of conventional thinking and Government spin. Nothing is safe from this punk poet. He is a country-rap artist and an urban guerrilla who stands tall against all that is hypocritical in the world.

Drawing from his twelve previous releases and debuting songs from an upcoming release, Tackle Box, we are given a 2-hour set that is full-on, with unrelting energy and a commitment to lift the audience into a new space, despite suffering from severe back pain; something he returns to at regular intervals and jokes around. Indeed, his penchant for joke telling is an integral part of the performance and his stories and observations from a life spent in the trenches are often hilarious. We get songs about divorce (his own), drugs, parenting, gun violence, the passage of youth, the media, hate crimes, religion, dead-end day jobs, old age, whores and Politics - with plenty of Trump references throughout.

Finishing with the iconic Johnny Cash song Folsom Prison Blues, Ed Hamell plays with rapid and powerful strumming on his heavily amplified Gibson acoustic guitar, while bringing all the pieces together into a statement of being your own man and living life to the max.

He has a tattoo that reads ‘The Chord is Mightier Than the Sword’ which encapsulates the Woody Guthrie stance and although the performance on guitar is impressive, dare I suggest that it is his poetic bullets that truly hit the mark.

Also on the bill, as support, was the ever-impressive Clive Barnes who joked about his 18 years of remaining anonymous in the music industry despite playing close on 200 gigs a year. The five song set displays his great talent on slide and acoustic guitar and he is a player with some serious licks who also sings like an old bluesman from the deep South. Always a joy to hear and one of our premier Irish musicians. He has a new CD, his sixth, to be released soon and is well worth tracking down.

Review and photograph by Paul McGee


Darrell Scott @ Civic Theatre Tallaght - March 4th 2017

Making his return to Dublin as a solo artist for the first time in awhile Darrell Scott takes to the stage at 8pm before an attentive and appreciative audience. Other than a quick “thank you very much” Scott played a opening selection of songs that display his guitar playing skills as well as his distinctive voice and well-written songs. However after the first three songs he moves to the piano and delivers the first of several stories about the songs or life in general. One such antidote was that quite often that songs come from a place for many writers feel is “beyond our tool set.” Looking Glass is a song that deals with that magical process “Feels like someone’s looking over my shoulder, I turn around and no one’s there.” He also tells us of his love for traditional country music, something he heard to the exclusion of any other music growing up. His father played this music in the cab of his truck and was a Hank Williams and Johnny Cash man, while his mother’s preference was for Marty Robbins and Tammy Wynette. They met however in a shared love for Merle Haggard.

Scott didn’t move to Nashville himself for quite some time “until I got my shite together.” Country music was about dark cheating and drinking songs; something he mused had almost disappeared from today’s mainstream country music. Those older songs were not Margaritaville, red cup or tail gate party songs but hard living hard drinking tales. One of his own songs Too Close For Comfort dealt with the topic and he felt that another country themed song was Waiting For The Clothes To Get Clean. The latter comes from his most recent album Couchville Sessions. A collection of songs from which he also included Down To The River. A song that was the first track on the album.

Given the way people listen music these days he felt he needed to put one of the strongest songs first. Statistics show how each song on an album in order of track placing gets less and less play. Scott had envisioned using Guy Clark for the final coda of this song when he recorded the song he had left space at the end of the song for this recitation. He told us how he had gone out to Clark’s home to record his voice and after couple of hours saw Clark hit a place where they both knew he had found his moment. That was the piece he used.

Scott hasn’t used a set list for a long time preferring to gauge the audience on the night and play the songs he feels fit best. Tonight he had a number of requests and a couple of these he played such as Rod McKuen’s Jean at the piano with a set of hand-written lyrics before him. He also played the traditional Wayfaring Pilgrim on the piano - a song he'd featured to great effect on his Live In NC album.

Another couple of highlights in an engaging set were his versions of Johnny Cash’s I Still Miss Someone and Red Hayes and Jack Rhodes oft-covered but still resonant Satisfied Mind. A song he informed us that he had chosen as his spotlight song in the live set with Robert Plant’s Band of Joy as it seem to fit better than any of his own songs. Scott clear appreciates the songs of others as his set is peppered with such choices. Another was his version of Townes Van Zandt’s Loretta; also a song taken from his Couchville Sessions collection. 

The audience was largely silent throughout the set other than to applaud the songs at their finish. The sound was crystal clear for which Scott thanked the sound engineer as he also did the audience for coming out. There was humour inherent in the patter too with Scott apologising for the recent election as well as for the green beer and hats that are often associated with St. Patrick’s Day in America. He was going to be in Ireland for our festive day he explained as after his series of Irish dates he would be involved with a song writing masterclass.

From my personal perspective I preferred the second set to the first as he seemed to get into his stride and I simply prefered the song choices. Everybody there, familiar with his albums and songs, would have had a favourite and given his catalogue it is likely that some personal favourites were not played. This didn’t detract though from the obvious enjoyment that both sides of the stage got from the evening. He told us that following the last song there would be no encore as the final song would say it all. If we liked the show, he quipped, we should tell friends and if we didn’t we should keep it to ourselves. The word is out.

Review by Stephen Rapid  Photogrph by Ronnie Norton


Drive By Truckers @ Vicar Street - February 28th 2017.

Vicar Street sees the welcome return to Ireland of this much-loved band who have been visiting these shores on a regular basis over their career. Formed in 1996 and with 12 studio releases to their name, Drive By Truckers deliver a show that is as rousing and vibrant as any since they first formed. Despite a number of rotating musicians and personnel changes over the years, the creative axis of Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley has remained firmly front and centre when it comes to driving this uncompromising collective ever-forward.

Tonight, we are treated to over 2-hours of energetic and passionate performance from Hood and Cooley, together with the superb playing talents of Jay Gonzalez (Keys/Guitar), Brad Morgan (Drums) and Matt Patton (Bass). The band members are perfectly in tune with each and every direction that the 24-song set list takes throughout the evening.

Starting with the new record and Ever South, which mentions Irish emigration to America, the band could do no wrong as they spun the enthusiastic crowd into something of a frenzy. Old favourites were interlaced across the newer songs in order to keep the momentum building and the sonic attack of three guitars was quite something to witness.

It can sometimes be just a bit too much in terms of the sound quality and the vocals certainly suffered on certain songs as a result. However, take nothing away from the overall energy in the room and the cathartic quality of songs such as Puttin’ People On The Moon, Zip City, Sinkhole, The Living Bubba and Women Without Whiskey kept the crowd singing in unison and punching the air.

The latest release, American Band, gets plenty of attention with the inclusion of Ramon Casiano, Surrender Under Protest, Darkened Flags On The Cusp Of Dawn and others. In fact, the band revisit seven of their previous albums across the evening and the performance of all five musicians is a real treat to experience; players at the very top of their collective game.

No doubt there were fan favourites that were not given an airing but with the body of work this band has produced, that seems to be inevitable. The pace was unrelenting and the excellent song-writing talents of Cooley and Hood really stand strong against any of their peers.

Finishing with a rousing version of Neil Young’s Keep On Rockin’ In The Free World, the Drive By Truckers leave the stage to prolonged applause and the hope that they return again soon – perhaps to one of our Summer Festivals (here’s hoping).   

Also worthy of a mention are opening act Eyelids. Considered to be one of the finest recent bands to come out of Portland Oregon, they are fronted by John Meon (Decemberists) and Chris Slusarenko (Guided By Voices) and their energetic forty five minute power pop set is the perfect warm up for what is to follow.

Review by Paul McGee  Photograph by Declan Culliton


Tom Robinson/Gerry Diver/Raphael Doyle/Louis Doyle @ Whelan’s 30th January 2017

Raphael Doyle has been a musician since the early 70’s and a friend of Tom Robinson. They initially played together in a band called Café Society but their paths took different directions over subsequent years.

In 2016, Raphael was diagnosed with motor neuron disease and his son Louis, also a musician, convinced his Dad to write and record a selection of songs that have just been released on Never Closer. Father and Son teamed up with Tom Robinson and award winning producer Gerry Diver to finish and record the CD, which forms the main body of the performance tonight.

This joint project has produced an album they should all be justifiably proud of and the live performance in Whelan’s, while poignant, Is also very uplifting and full of happy moments.

Gerry Diver plays fiddle, mandolin and flute with superb craft as he fills out the song arrangements in both a subtle and understated fashion. Tom Robinson adds guitar and vocal and brings great colour to the performance with his confident stage presence and larger-than-life persona.  

Louis is a very good guitar player and has a fine voice, something that is highlighted later in the evening when he delivers a solo performance of one of his own compositions.

Having opened the evening with an acoustic set of audience favourites [including Glad To Be Gay, War Baby and Up Against the Wall], Tom Robinson played a couple of songs from his excellent new album, Only the Now, before joining Raphael, Gerry and Louis to play songs from Never Closer.

The performance of songs like The Touch of Our Hands; Feet on the Floor; Live the Game and We’ll All Get Together Again point to the excellent song-writing talent and flair for observation that Raphael has brought to the project.

There are 2 covers with Robbie Robertson’s The Shape I’m In and Bob Dylan’s Dream but it is the dedication to his wife that takes centre spot as Raphael sings Rose with a tenderness and true love that is quite moving.

The 8-minute poem I Come From Ireland is uncomfortably honest in reminiscing on a life lived and of chances missed; “nobody’s fault but mine” is how Raphael summarises at various points during the delivery.

A heart-felt night of poetry and song delivered with real bravery and honesty. Raphael Doyle is going forward with all the courage he can muster and it is memories like tonight that will give him the strength to do so. 

Review by Paul McGee  Photigraph by Donna McGee


Billy Bragg & Joe Henry @ St Patrick’s Cathedral - Sat 28th Jan 2017

This seemingly unlikely pairing of an English folk/protest singer and an American songwriter/producer has recently released Shine A Light: Field Recordings from the Great American Railroad. For the project, they booked a rail trip from Chicago to Los Angeles and recorded classic blues, folk, and country songs with railway themes at various train stations along the way.

Tonight, they combine to deliver a concert of great focus and honest sentiment in at a venue where the regal surroundings call for a fitting tribute to the old ghosts of past generations. There is an iconic image of freedom that attaches to the romance of the railroad and train journeys across the great plains.

Songs from The Carter Family (Railroading On The Great Divide), Hank Williams (Lonesome Whistle), Leadbelly (Midnight Special), Johnny Cash (The L&N Don’t Stop Here Anymore), Ramblin’ Jack Elliot (Railroad Bill), Jimmie Rogers (Waiting for a Train), Woody Guthrie (Hobos Lullaby), Bill Monroe (In the Pines), are played by these two talented performers. They spark off each other with witty comment and strong story-telling of the great characters that made up the fabric of life in the pioneering days of the old West.

In between performing songs from the new project, each artist takes a solo slot to highlight their back catalogue with some well- chosen songs to suit the occasion. They both speak of current issues, and, as expected, Donald Trump receives much comment. Joe Henry comments on the need for community and shared ideals to take us forward and Billy Bragg sings the classic Bob Dylan ‘The Times they are a-changin’ along with a very timely song from Anais Mitchell ‘Why We Build the Wall’.

Joe Henry sings in a softer tone to Billy Bragg, who attacks the material with his strong English accent. However, the mix of the two different voices does work well and the evening passes pleasantly over a 2-hour set that contained plenty of entertainment for the capacity crowd present.

Review by Paul McGee  Photograph by Vincent Lennon

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