Big Sandy & The Fly Rite Boys @ Grand Social - Saturday Aug 20th 2016

It’s not too often lately that a gig will bring together such a wide bunch of rock ’n’ roll fans to appreciate live music as were at the Grand Social this weekend - music that encompasses boogie-woogie, jazz, rockabilly, rock ’n’ roll and the occasional instrumental twang. Tonight’s gig started with an opening set from veteran piano player Gavin Povey who most assuredly tickle those ivories with style. His fellow musicians know as the Fabulous Oke She Moke She Pops - Simon Farrell on upright bass and vocals alongside Shane Atlas, top hat, drums, vocals and dancing - offered solid support throughout with a set that is full of danceable rhythms and memorable hooks that were appreciated by the dancers and drinkers alike. The songs included a well deserved encore of Moon Mullican’s Seven Night To Rock as well as a tribute to Etta James, in the song of that name, as well as such gems as Go Cat Go, Hook, Line and Sinker, Red Man and Glory Bound.

The star attraction however was the return of Robert Williams aka Big Sandy and his Fly-Rite Boys. Big Sandy is a regular visitor thanks to Ubangi Stomp Club presentations. It turned out to be Big Sandy’s birthday a reason for celebration overall but one that somewhat derailed the show mid set as Happy Birthday was sung to Sandy and also to other members of the audience who also claimed the day too. One who took the stage to sing his congratulations was Welshman John Lewis (a fellow rock ’n’ roll artist in his own right) who also brought a round of Tequila shots only to be called back onstage to sing a song with the band.

The songs ranged from the first song from Big Sandy’s first album to both sides of his latest 7” single release Fine, Fine, Superfine and Every Time (on Ruby Records). Other solid favourites included Jumping From 6 To 6, Tequila Calling (which it was!), The Greatest Story Ever Told and Chalk It Up To The Blues. As per usual the players in The Fly-Rite Boys deserve special mention and none more so than long-serving guitarist Ashley Kingman whose playing is every bit the attraction that Big Sandy is. A stunning guitar player who can turn his hand to many styles and moods. He is joined tonight by the current line-up of Kevin Stewart on upright bass and vocals and Ricky McCann on drums. The trio delivers a striking instrumental mid-set that was a testament to their undoubted playing skills.  

Yet it is the big man upfront who holds court whether joking with the audience or expressing his love for playing in Dublin. Asking “you been alright since we last met?” as well as noting that “a Mexican can now feel right at home in this international city”. The distraction of the “happy birthdays” aside he was in fine form and obviously enjoying singing and playing for the assembled finely-dressed fans who thoroughly enjoyed the show. They danced throughout and at the show’s end demanded an encore  - which they duly got. A three song set that started with Night Tide and finished fittingly with a extended and energetic Carl Perkins tune that left everyone in a good enough mood as they headed out into the rainy early morning.

(Top: Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys Below: Gavin Povey and Fabulous Oke She Moke She Pops & Dancers)

Review by Stephen Rapid  Photographs by Kaethe Burt-O'Dea


Anne McCue @ House Concert: Knocklyon, Dublin - 11th August 2016

House concerts, particularly in the States, have become essential for touring musicians and offer the best of both worlds to both audience and artist.They often act as fillers between club dates for the artists and give punters the opportunity to enjoy the act in more intimate settings without the distraction of clinking glasses and over-talkative spectators.

I have to admit that this was my first attendance at a formal house concert but what better way to start than with the East Nashville based singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Anne McCue. The concert was the last of four shows in Mc Cue’s tour of the UK and Ireland. McCue said that she "needed this tour to raise funds for some new guitar strings, you gotta have big dreams!".

The venue is the front room of a residence in the leafy suburb of Knocklyon and is hosted by the extremely welcoming Joe Kelly and his wife Monica. The room comfortably accommodates twenty two people seated and with an excellent sound system (courtesy by John O’Leary who also provided electric guitar, acoustic guitar and ukulele which McCue on a number of occasions makes reference to the best ‘pick up’ equipment she has ever encountered) contributed to a wonderful evening’s entertainment. Throughout the set McCue performs material from her current jazz influenced album Blue Sky Thinkin’ together with visiting her extensive back catalogue and some well-chosen covers.

Her stage manner is relaxed and quirky, telling tales of her Catholic upbringing in Sydney such as the wry commet that "I was child number eight, my mother used to say she only wanted four, imagine how that made me feel, needed therapy for years" and marvelling over the scenic drive earlier in the week from Kilkenny to Clonakilty and a breakfast earlier in the day at Inchydoney Strand.

The evening certainly reinforces the extreme talent of McCue possesses both as a song writer and as a musician. Her guitar work throughout is quite stunning whether it be playing acoustic, electric, lap guitar or indeed ukulele.

The range of material on offer is testament to how she has explored and crossed many genres throughout her career.

She introduces one of her signatures songs Want You Back as a western song that was "in fact a Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly song to the key of e-minor".Things You Left Out In The Rain, Spring Cleaning In The Wintertime, Cowgirl Blues, Uncanny Moon (a tango co-written with Carl Byron,) all feature on her current jazzy, ragtime album, yet sit comfortably beside a powerhouse version of Hendrix’s Voodoo Chile ,The Door’s Cars Hiss BY My Window and her own delta blues number Hangman which includes superb soaring lap guitar.

Milkman’s Daughter, she recalls, was written in recognition of one of the many additional jobs her father worked at in order to raise and educate his large family.

She finishes the set in style, encouraging and succeeding in having the chorus of Little White Cat sung by the audience, telling us that "I’ve broken my golden rule by writing an audience participation song" before fittingly encoring, ukulele in hand, with Say Bye Bye.

The one hour forty minute set passes all too quickly, evidence of the all engaging quality of the artist in a most comfortable environment. A first but definitely not a last house concert for the writer, though it will no doubt be difficult to match the standard set by Anne McCue this evening.

Review and photograph by Declan Culliton


Luan Parle @ Dockyard 8 Bray - 21th July 2016


Dockyard 8 has earned the reputation in recent years as one of the hippest diners in the Wicklow/South Dublin region. As a further string to their bow they have decided to host midweek music events offering the best of both worlds by combining talented acts with casual dining.

The first of these evenings features Wicklow born Luan Parle, Irish Meteor Award Winner and one of  Irelands premier female vocalist. Luan has been touring extensively this year both at home, in Europe and America accompanied by blues guitarist and singer/songwriter Clive Barnes. This evenings show was an opportunity to witness their combined talents and in particular to reassess an artist who career appears to be enjoying a renaissance in recent times.

The setting is ideal on a scorching summers evening with the stage situated at the entrance to the restaurant overlooking Bray Harbour and the retractable roof opened slightly to allow adequate ventilation. Luan Parle comes on stage via the front door announcing how impressive her outdoor dressing room is!

The evening is relaxed with the duo performing material from her current EP Roll The Dice together with songs from her back catalogue. As expected her vocal is sweet and evocative throughout supplemented by some stunning guitar work by Barnes on his favoured Gretsch guitar.

Highlights include the title track Roll The Dice which Parle introduces as "not the mix version which also features on the album, I was aiming at the boy racer market with that mix!" You’re Not Here and Funny also feature from her latest together with Why Baby Why and Strawberry Fair from her 2010 album The Full Circle. Ghost, her 2002 hit single, featuring lyrics sung in Irish and English also features as a strong contender in the set.

Barnes also performs a number of songs solo, playing some divine slide guitar and also amusing the audience with anecdotes relating to some dodgy tour managers he engaged early in his career. He also recalls an encounter with Bruce Springsteen whom he had the unexpected pleasure of sharing an adjoining urinal when Barnes inadvertently ended up in a VIP toilet at a Springsteen gig in the States. "An introduction and unwashed handshake followed" we are told!

The evening closes with two covers, a sultry rendition of Springsteen’s I’m On Fire, in honour of the bathroom handshake and a rocked up version of Where Did You Sleep Tonight?.

All in all, a particularly enjoyable evening, very well received by those present in a worthy venue and based on this performance evidence that Luan Parle is entering a period in her musical career that can only bring her further positive recognition.

Review and photograph by Declan Culliton


Joe Ely @ BB Kings NYC - 27th July 2016

Having been lucky enough to catch Joe Ely live in Dublin on a number of occasions either with his roots rocking’ band or with The Flatlanders this was a chance to catch Ely on his tod - with just his voice, guitar, songs and anecdotes in tow in the surroundings of this New York supper club style venue. Ely drew from a wide range of songs, mostly from the earlier part of his career as well as more recent songs as Magdalene (a Guy Clark co-write) from his last album Panhandle Rambler. A title which could equally have suited the evenings themes. Between many of the songs he reminisced about the origins of the songs or its writer. He spoke about the late Guy Clark and having recently played Clark’s songs at an event with Kris Kristofferson and Terry Allen. Other songs from other writer’s pens he included in his set were Live Forever by Billy Joe Shaver (and he told how he’d been honoured when the author asked him to sing it at a tribute to Shaver) as well as songs from his fellow Lubbock songwriters Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore.

He played a set that included many favourites as well as some audience requests; although on some he struggled to remember some of the verses but always managed in the end to get through the song. “I don’t know why I do it” he wily commented having worked hard to recall some of the words to the longer songs. Some of the songs included in the set were Silver City, Up On The Ridge, Pay The Alligator and Cool Rockin’ Loretta. While one particular song Billy The Kid sparked the comment that since the newly discovered photograph of the said William Bonney playing croquet he wasn’t quite sure what kind of car a croquet playing outlaw might drive. He then updated the lyrics to accommodate a revised viewpoint.

He told us about his first trip to New York and busking outside Carnegie Hall only to find himself on the inside many years later when invited to play there with the Flatlanders. Something he couldn’t have imagined back in the day. As mentioned he included songs by his fellow Flatlanders that included Butch Hancock’s If You Were A Bluebird and Jimmie Dale Gilmore’s Dallas (the night’s final encore). Pay The Alligator another Flatlanders co-written song was sung with some an energy that would have befitted the younger Ely. He also included his version of the Flatlanders co-write Borderless Love a song he has revised in recent times as a comment on the more polarised political attitudes that prevail in America, in some quarters, right now. “It’s all gotten too weird for me” he professed while also noting that “they should let out all the pot smokers to make room for the politicians”. That comment aside Ely’s set was delivered with insight and humour but without rancour as befits his overall attitude to life and love. A intimate setting for an evening with a seasoned rambler and reasoned storyteller.

Review and photograph by Stephen Rapid


Cactus Blossoms @ Rough Trade NYC - 26th July 2016

Arriving at the venue to find a sparse crowd was reminiscent of some gigs in Dublin where the audience was much less than the artist merited. However by showtime the venue had filled up when the band opened with Hank Williams’ Tennessee Border. From then on however the bulk of the set came from the songs on their new album You’re Dreaming which they co-produced with JD McPherson and is a move away from the more traditional country song choices of their first two albums.
These included the title songs along with such songs as Adios Maria, Change Your Ways Or Die, Spotlight Kisses, Traveler's Paradise, Clown Collector all written by Jack Torrey as well as a Powder Blue written by his brother Page Burkam. They were ably assisted by Andy Carroll on upright bass and Chris Hepola on drums. The latter deserves a special mention for doing a great job of playing with both subtly and drive as the songs required.
However the focal point is the exquisite sibling harmonies that are a fundamental part of the music. Each took the lead for certain songs while the other added the harmony vocal, or else they sang together in a way that few outside of siblings can. It was a simple, direct and pleasing sound that is a modern take on the many brother duos of the past - The Everly Brothers would immediately spring to mind on hearing them. But much as that duo updated the sound of the past so the Cactus Blossoms do today.
It is also apparent that they listen to a wide range of music outside of the more traditional when they cover the Kinks' song Who’ll Be The Next In Line towards the end of the show. The Muswell Hillbillies fitted right in - as any good songs would. Other covers included another British Invasion related choice with The Beatles This Boy as well as Waylon Jennings' Only Daddy Who Walked The Line
Throughout there was some banter between the band and the audience with them noting that although the soundcheck was fun that ”they couldn’t have done it without you” and also thanking the audience members who danced upfront. That some think that only the country audience dance was a misnomer they noted with appreciation. A round of drinks send onto the stage elicited the comment that they had (stated with tongue in cheek I suspect) never drunk whiskey before! They also gave a shout out to the music of their home town and state Minneapolis/Minnesota and to two of its better know exponents - Bob Dylan and Prince.
It was a great night’s entertainment with good humour and solid playing. Torrey’s electric guitar was seemingly simple but very effective even if he was self depreciating about it during the show. His brother Tyler he told us had recently been playing lead guitar with them on some dates. But in the end it is the combination of the songs and those voices that are the stars of the show - if you think you’ve heard better could be you’re dreaming.

Review by Stephen Rapid  Photography by Kaethe Burt-O'Dea

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