Sunday
Feb272011

Lucky Bones @ The Sugar Club, Dublin - 24 Feb 2011

This new Dublin band were using this date to launch the album Together We Are All Alone. The album was recorded in Barstop,Texas by singer/songwriter Eamonn O'Connor and some session players. O'Connor then put together this band on his return to do full justice to the songs which show O'Connor to be an interesting and intelligent writer. The music covers several bases and influences, including country and roots rock, celtic soul and '60s based melodic pop. In the live context these disparate elements are drawn together by the versatile band. With a solid rhythm section of Leon Kennedy and Ben Clark powering the songs over which keyboard/banjo player Conor Miley and guitarist Billy Morley added texture and grit to the songs. This made the live band renditions of the songs rougher edged and punchier than the recorded versions. Songs like their debut single Longshot, Toward The Setting Sun, Stand So Tall, Unbelieving Eyes, Frank Sinatra and the extended, intense closer Commercial Presentation are all memorable and melodic. Eamonn O'Connor is convivial frontman who leads the band from the front and is a captivating singer. This is early days for Lucky Bones who have only played a handful of gigs to date, which included opening for Marty Stuart as an acoustic trio, and sound issues with monitors and small tuning problems should soon be eliminated with experience and confidence. That two of the stand-out songs, including the song of infatuation bordering on stalking - , are new songs shows that this band can only get better. These are tough times for any new band, especially one making its own way in the world but the signs are that these guys, if they hold their nerve, will be lucky.

Sunday
Feb062011

Marty Stuart & The Fabulous Superlatives @The Helix, Dublin. Feb 2nd 2011

Sparkle and Twang. That may well sum up Marty Stuart and the Fabulous Superlatives as they gave a masterclass in how to keep a tradition alive and healthy. At the outset Marty Stuart said that "the most outlaw, most outsider thing you could do in Nashville today is to play country music". How right he is, and as someone who has been at the heart of the music, its people and its rhinestone look he knows what he's talking about. In his first visit to Ireland in quite some time he captivated the audience in the intimate Helix Theatre. It was his first visit with his current and longtime band which includes 'Handsome' Harry Stinson on drums and vocals, 'The Apostle' Paul Martin on bass and vocals and 'Cousin' Kenny Vaughan on guitar and vocals. The "and vocals" shouldn't be underestimated as all four deliver distinctive and dynamic contributions either on harmonies or stepping up to the mic themselves. Each member showed themselves more than capable of holding their own. Vaughan sang Country Music Has A Hold On Me, while Handsome Harry sang a song from his Who Is This Man? mini-album, Paul Martin sang Bluegrass Express. It also was a gig that emphasized what a talent Marty Stuart himself is; from his exemplary vocals, his lead guitar playing - using Clarence White's B-Bender Telecaster, alongside his acoustic guitar and mandolin dexterity, highlighted in a section of the show that he played solo. The full band played songs from the early days like Tempted and Hillbilly Rock to a selection of songs, often prefaced with stories of how the came into being, from Ghost Train and Badlands. They also played several songs from the CD that is only available at gigs and from their website Cool Country Favorites. These included the theme from the Marty Stuart Rural TV Show La Tingo Tango as well as his Johnny Cash tribute, a song which he had explained he had attempted to write in several occasions, Dark Bird. He also sang Merle Haggard's Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down, an audience request, and a part of obvious and warm interaction between the audience and the band throughout the show. The music covered all aspects of what makes country cool to those who know and believe in it's merits. From bluegrass to Bakersfield, from honky-tonk to gospel they covered it all with skill, humour and commitment that made it a perfect show in so many ways. Mention should also be made of Mick Conley's sound mix, as all too often in the past gigs have been too loud and volume does not replace dynamic, here they got it right in every aspect. Something that was expressed by many of the audience who waited to have a CD signed, have a picture taken or just to say "hi". The foursome sat for an hour after to make sure that anyone who wanted to had the opportunity to meet them. Now that's country.

Tuesday
Feb012011

Justin Townes Earle, 25th January 2011, Whelans, Dublin


"Alright, Ladies and Gentlemen, how are we doing?". Justin Townes Earle greets the house-full audience and launches into a 25 song set that covered songs from all three of his albums. He prowled the stage like a caged tiger, full of pent up energy and the need to express himself. This was frustrated at times by a temperamental tuner "technical difficulties" but otherwise Earle was in top form. Most songs were prefaced by anecdotes relating in some way to the song he was about to play. They Killed John Henry was prefaced by a mention of his grandfather Jack Earle. Mama's Eyes, a song for his Mother who he told us stood over 6 foot tall and managed to detach one of his father's retinas with a single punch. He also mentioned she was now using Facebook and said that if "she ever gets on Twitter I'm through". Earle live is quite a different prospect to the JustinTownes Earle on album where he utilizes a full band and range of instruments. Live he uses his considerable guitar technique that sees him playing both a hard rhythm as well as melodic lead lines that sound like there is more than one player. A second player would have undoubtably added depth to the sound, as was the case on his last visit when he had Cory Younts accompanying him. A point emphasized here when he brought support act James Walbourne and his brother Rob on for a set closing Harlem River Blues, the duo played mandolin and washboard and added vocal support. Being solo however gives him the freedom to play whatever song he felt inclined to. His set included covers of "the great" Bruce Springsteen's Racing In The Streets as well as a Texas blues song from Lightening Hopkins. He noted that Townes Van Zandt had said that there was only "the blues and zippity do dah" and that no set would be complete with a blues. That music genre undoubtably informs Earle's own songs as well as the covers he played. He didn't shy away from his own blues, telling us that his weaknesses included "young ladies and fried chicken", but he noted that while fried chicken had given him less problems than women it also gave him less to write about. His father he said noted that he was "a hard dog to keep under the porch". He mentioned his recent and ongoing problems with chemical dependence and incarceration. His love of vodka ("I like to drink it in the morning") as well as cocaine and pills were cited. This tour follows a much reported spell in rehab and one can only hope that this talented artist can keeps that side of his nature under control and that it doesn't diminish him as a live performer and recording artist. Because he is capable of a lot of insight and tenderness as with songs like Learning To Cry as well as the more driven hell-raising songs in his set. Make no mistake Justin Townes Earle is very much his own man and this audience loved him for everything that he is.

Review by Steve Rapid. Photography by Ronnie Norton

Tuesday
Nov232010

Ryan Bingham & The Dead Horses - 20th November@ The Sugar Club, Dublin

The Sugar Club was not perhaps the best venue for Bingham  who seems to prefer the audience upfront and personal and Bingham got everyone on their feet at the show's end. Indeed, due to a 10:30 nightclub curfew, the audience  made no move to leave instead demanding the band return for an encore which they duly did. The encore really rocked with both Bingham and guitarist Corby Schaub playing electric bottleneck slide on a bluesy extended workout.

The show opened with Bingham playing solo with harmonica. The band then launched into Day Is Done with gusto and the gig took off. Front and centre was Bingham's aged gravelly voice, an amazing sound that belies his years. He acknowledged the audience with "How you guys doing? Alright?"before delivering a set that featured songs from all three of his Lost Highway albums which included "a songs for all the mothers out there" Tell My Mother I Miss Her So. Those expecting something akin to his Crazy Heart co-write may have been disorientated by the sheer energy and noise that this band makes. Key to this is drummer Matt Smith and bassist Elijah Ford, both of whom shonebut special mention must go to Smith who drove the band and the sound. Schaub played mandolin and a variety of guitars that blistered in raw intensity. As with many bands the live set is harder and more powerful that studio versions of the songs could ever be. Perhaps the most interesting section of the set was Bingham talkingof learning to play the guitar with Malaguena,  a mariachi inspired version that featured Schaub on mandolin. This largely instrumental number was full of atmosphere and ability and showed Bingham as a skilled guitarist too. Requests came flying from the audience with South Side of Heaven from his first album being a particular favourite. Hard Times from that album also featured. The song Strange Feeling In The Air was prefaced by Ryan's remark that there was a lot of discrimination in the world but that this songs says "fuck to all that". 

The set proper closed with a dynamic cover of Townes Van Zandt's Highway Kind which also featured opening act Australian singer/songwriter Liam Gerner on electric guitar. If that had been the closing it would have been a fitting tribute to a hero as well as a great song to end on. But then the audience, as mentioned stayed put and we got that encore. There's not doubt that all there were pleased with the show and that Bingham and the boys will be back.

Review: Steve Rapid    Photography: Ronnie Norton

Tuesday
Nov232010

John Hiatt - 17th November@The Academy, Dublin


I’ve seen John Hiatt live on a number of occasions in Dublin, the last time being an acoustic set with Lyle Lovett, and he has never put in a bad show. This though was one of the more vital and electric shows. It was the last gig of a four week European tour which made Hiatt comment that they were feeling somewhat “giddy” but couldn’t think of a better place to finish in than Dublin. His current band rejoices in the moniker of The Combo and includes bassist Patrick O Hearn, longtime drummer Kenneth Blevins and for this tour making his Irish Hiatt debut, following in the strings of many a noted guitarist, Doug Lancio. Lancio may be the best one yet. Playing a variety of guitars and mandolin he had no trouble in adding to the nuances and tones of Hiatt’s memorable songs. With a few selections from his latest album, including the title The Open Road, it was largely a case of delivering some classic Hiatt from through the years. Opening with a full force Perfectly Good Guitar he played a 20 song two hour set that included Just Like Your Dad Did, Master of Disaster - dedicated to his friend and former producer the late Jim Dickinson, Thing Called Love which was dedicated to Bonnie Riatt who Hiatt said helped him get recognition as a writer when she covered the song. Other songs coming from across his multi-album catalog were Alone In The Dark, Real Fine Love, Slow Turning, Drive South and the set closer an extended and robust ‘running down the road’ version of Tennessee Plates. The audience who were largely of Hiatt’s vintage and were obviously long-time fans who loved every minute of the show. There were some slower songs were Lancio switched to mandolin and Hiatt to a blond Gibson that included Cry Love. On other songs he also played a Telecaster adding to the overall sense of fusion in the air. He played my favourite song too - Icy Blue Heart  - a classic of failed relationships. Throughout Hiatt was in good form with between songs talk of his mild disappointment with the iPad. He reckoned it should have be a $30 full body suit that messed with all the senses. As is the norm in the live situation the band stretched and extended the songs on several occasions allowing Lancio to shine and show what a versitile player he is. No the more so than on the two song encore of Have A Little Faith and the lengthy guitar-driven pure energy of Riding With The King from the 1983 album of that name. Hiatt has been making great music for a long time. He still is. This night was just more proof of that.
Review: Steve Rapid  Photography: Ronnie Norton