Wednesday
Jun062018

Linda Ortega @ The Grand Social - Dublin, June 2nd 2018

Returning to the Dublin stage the first time in a number of years Lindi Ortega said that in the future she hoped to spend more time in Ireland rather than passing through for a single show. She has an Irish mother and a Mexican father and felt an affiliation with the country. She had just arrived here and was still suffering from jet lag but that didn’t in any way take away from a solid and memorable performance. She was accompanied by her friend and long time live lead guitarist “Champagne” James Robertson and drummer Sly Juhas. The duo provided an interesting and effective bedrock over which the revived Ortega gave a strong and renewed vocal delivery. The lack of a bass player wasn’t readily noticeable as the bottom end came. largely, from the bass drum. She explained that she had considered quitting the music business, finding it heard got make headway in the current crossover-pop climate.

Living in Nashville had exposed her to some good times and friends but she was up against a corporate commercial bro-country ethos that seem to have little time for women artists and less for her. This experience was recalled in the song Tin Star. Through the 16 song set she covered songs from various stages of her career with, naturally, t he bulk of choices from her recently released album Liberty. Some of the album’s songs included ’Til My Dyin’ Day, The Comeback Kid, Lovers In Love (which she describes as a very rare bone-fide love song), though Pablo was another such theme inspired, she said, by her recent marriage (and also Antonio Banderas - especially in the film Desperado but not to tell her husband). The songs from Liberty also included the title track and her Spanish language version of Violeta Parra’s Gracias A La Vida -  singing in the languages something that she was nervous about doing until it seemed the perfect closer for this song cycle of redemption and for people travelling the “stormy seas of life,” The overriding theme of this album.  

She also quipped how she had mentioned to Roberston that she wanted to include a certain death song in the set and she laughingly recalled that he had asked which one as she had at least 10 such songs to choose from. Old favourites like Cigarettes And Truckstops also got an airing. That song was written about wishing she could be in LA with her boyfriend of the time but ended up being a song rather than the actuality of doing just that! Bluebird and Ashes were other well received tracks from her previous releases.

Though Ortega is undoubtably the star of the show it was obvious that the dexterous and exploratory guitar playing of Robertson was a draw in it’s own right. Something akin to the sonic stylings of fellow Canadian Daniel Lanois. He rarely played chords rather added lines, riffs and sounds that enhanced the mood of the songs. Likewise the drums were not confined to a simple, solid beat but rather explored the possibilities of the full kit. Ortega herself added rhythm guitar on occasion on her newly acquired white Fender acoustic. Most of the songs she performed however just holding the microphone and singing the best we’d heard her to date.Overall, then, this was a reaffirmation of Ortega’s talent and determination to get herself and her music across. Both were done to satisfaction from both sides of the stage.

Review by Stephen Rapid  Photography by Kaethe Burt O'Dea

Wednesday
Jun062018

Peter Bruntnell @ Cleere’s - Kilkenny 31st May 2018

A regular visitor to Kilkenny, Peter Bruntnell has been performing in The Marble City solo, with full bands, duets and trios over many years, his most recent being a whistle stop tour with his full band at The Roots Festival in 2017 where he played four times over that weekend, all to adoring crowds it has to be said.

Tonight’s show is advertised as a trio. Joining him on stage are Iain Sloan of Wynntown Marshals fame who plays pedal steel, electric guitar – beautifully it has to be said - and backing vocals and Danny Wilson on upright bass, whose playing is equally impressive. It’s a format that Bruntnell has toured previously with in the U.K. as evidenced by their note perfect delivery throughout. However, the three-piece format increases to four before the end of their opening forty-minute set when local accordion virtuoso Ger Moloney joins them on stage and four became five towards the end of the evening when the man with coolest Gretsch guitars Clive Barnes, also makes an appearance. 

This evenings setlist reflects the stage format. Whereas his last gigs with his full band featured some of the more rockier songs in his vast back catalogue, this evening concentrates on some of his more tranquil material, ideally suited to the semi acoustic set up. His opening set includes Clothes of Winter, Sea of Japan, Bluebeard, Domestico and John, all from his excellent 2008 album Peter And The Murder Of Crows, and all impeccably suited to the bands composition. False Start and one of his most popular songs Cold Water Swimming, all from the same album are also included in his second set. In fact, before his band members make their way back to the stage for this second set we are even given a master class in Bruntnell’s ability to perform solo when he launches into the gorgeous Caroline, the closing track from his latest album Nos Da ComradeEnd Of The World and Long Way From Home also from the current album, both feature when Sloan and Williams return to the stage.

The Cats Laugh Comedy Festival is about to kick off in Kilkenny and the laid-back stage banter this evening includes many comical moments of its own, from comments about musicians being financially supported by their wives to the somewhat portly Sloan commenting as the slimmer Clive Barnes takes the stage ‘he’s a handsome lad, if you stretched me out I’d look like that!’.

The show allows has its more sombre moments with two dedications to the late Willie Meighan, including the crowd favourite By The Time My Head Gets To Phoenix,enhanced by cracking guitar playing by Barnes and accordion by Moloney and the superb closer Have You Seen That Girl Again.

It’s difficult to even consider a particular highlight in such an outstanding performance but his delivery of the delightful Widows Walk,with haunting pedal steel by Sloan, is simply spine chilling and a wonderful memory from a special night.

Credit must also go to local musician and sound engineer Peter Flynn whose contribution on sound and the pin drop silence from the floor all added to a quite stunning evenings entertainment. 

Another Peter Bruntnell show and another standing ovation for one of the finest artists to emerge from the U.K. music industry in decades. Why he isn’t a household name is beyond comprehension, the plus side being that we get to see him appear in smaller venues on his regular trips to Ireland. 

Review and photography by Declan Culliton

Tuesday
May222018

Various Artists @ Pappy & Harriets - April 2018

Pappy and Harriets is a restaurant, bar and music venue founded in 1982 which stands at a site once called the Cantina It is located in Pioneertown which was built as a film set for westerns back in in the 1940’s in San Bernardino County in California. It was used as a backdrop in over 50 TV shows and films. For a time the venue was closely associated with the LA alt. and traditional country music scene. These days however the acts are much more diverse and Paul McCartney, Robert Plant, Eagles of Death Metal and the Queens of the Stone Age have all played in the venue.  

Though I have known about the venue for some considerable have never had the opportunity to visit. On a recent trip to the area it was a must visit. The first night we made the trip the acts playing were The Banditos, Lillie Mae and Tyler Childers. A large area of the venue is take up with those who have booked a reservation table to eat, drink and enjoy the show. As in many such venues the stage is not raised from the floor and so once a number of punters gather in front of the stage it’s pretty much impossible to see anything other than on the monitor that hangs in the restaurant. The sound however is good.

The Banditos to these ears sound like a Southern rock version of the Janis Joplin band. Singer Mary Beth Richardson is upfront while the boys boogie behind her. Reviews have also mentioned ZZ Top and the Alabama Shakes so that should give you an idea of the overall feel. Not exactly my thing but effective and well received. 

Next up was a short set from Lillie Mae. The four piece band included her brother Frank and her sister Scarlett on great Telecaster and mandolin respectively. They were joined by a bassist (Tanner Jacobson) and ran through some songs from the debut album plus a couple of new numbers. The half hour set was a little too short really get fully into the band.

Tyler Childers and band were the headlines (Mae was touring with him) and its interesting to see how quickly Childers has gained fans and headline status. His album was produced by Sturgill Simpson and it was obviously well known with the fans there who cheered and recognised many of the songs. Indeed the slightest mention of any relation to drink and/or drugs garnered a huge cheer. This was Americana and in the singer/songwriter tradition with the band (including the night’s only steel player) able to rock out as the song dictated. Childers spoke between songs telling stories and anecdotes but due to his accent and the rowdy audience it was often difficult from our position to make out what was being said. Whatever it was well received and he had the audience up dancing by the end of the set. An act to catch if they come your way.

The next night was one I was looking forward to as the opening act was Casey James Prestwood and The Burning Angels. A traditional country act whose album Born Too Latewas one of the year’s best. Prestwood has released several album in the Bakersfield/ LA Country Honky Tonk sound although the band are from Denver, Colorado. The band arrived onstage decked out in Manuel (or similar) suits and opened the evening with a set of original songs and well-chosen the covers. longtime bassist and drummer Jeff Martin and Kevin Finn were a spot on rhythm section with guitarist Andy Hamilton and steel player Dave Barker filling out the sound with all the right licks. Casey James Prestwood has the requited nasal twang to his voice and is an animated frontman who gives a good all round performance. At the end if the set they were joined by the night’s headliner Leslie Stevens for a couple of songs including a spirited Ooh, Las Vegas.

Leslie Stevens and her all woman band were up next, although headlining that took the middle slot. They were joined by a guest steel player who played on a couple of tracks with the band. A number of additional guests joined the band on vocals. They did an acapella version of Neil Young’s Helpless as well as such songs as Depression, Can I Sleep, Everybody and Old Times. There was a strong vocal female presence in the audience for the band who largely dissipated when they finished playing. A varied set that would be hard to place genre wise but one that was well received by the audience.

The final act was a singer/songwriter Isaac Opatz. He played with a guitarist, bassist and drummer and the sound was again more like indie rock than anything vaguely roots but what they did they did with an enjoyable quirkiness. The set included an enjoyable if slightly off the wall version of Warren Zevon’s Carmelita. The audience had noticeably thined out by this time andf we also need to head out so we made our exit for a long drive back to our base.

Review by Stephen Rapid  Photography by Kaethe Burt O'Dea

Tuesday
May152018

Ten Stand Out Performances and Songs @ Kilkenny Roots 2018 

Rachel Baiman & Molly Tuttle Wicked Spell (1)

Perfection personified both vocally and instrumentally by these exceptional young artists. Wicked Spell from Baiman’s Shame album was one of many peaks but anything from their setlist could have been highlighted. Faultless!

Birds of Chicago Love In Wartime (2)

The title track from their recently released album that will certainly feature in our Best of 2018. Gorgeous vocals courtesy of  Allie and J.T. and the first act to sell out both their shows at Roots. For anyone that missed their Kilkenny gigs the good news is they are back in Ireland in July for more of the same!

The Blasters One Bad Stud (3)

Anyone even thinking for one minute that these guys would be only going through the motions were left in no doubt for the word go. Vocally Phil Alvin sounded no different than decades back, rhythm section of bassist Jon Bazz and drummer Bill Bateman set down a killer groove throughout and Keith Wyatt got the Lonesome Highway nod as guitarist of the festival with his blistering solo on their closing number One Bad Stud! 

(left to right 1,2,3)

The Sleepwalkers Wichita Lineman (4)

It felt like being transported from Kytelers in Kilkenny to Robert’s Western World on Broadway in Nashville for this master class in Western Swing and Country Classics by our very own recently formed supergroup of David Murphy, Clare Sands, Kevin O’Shea, Cian Heffernan and Declan O’Shea.  A rendition of the classic Jimmy Webb song that Glen Campbell would have been proud of.

Mary Gauthier Soldiering On (5)

A performance that even surpassed her normal excellence with songs and tales that both moved and enthralled and appeared to be savoured equally by the artist and audience. Material from her recent album Rifles & Rosary Beads was outstanding, in particular this opening track from that album.

Bennett Wilson Poole Ask Me Anything (6)

A performance that fully lived up to expectations from these three amigos with the collective adroitness to create lyrically astute songs with hooks and rhythm that catch and reel you in on first listen, all enriched by killer jingle jangle Rickenbacker playing by the most senior of the trio. This particular song has been on Lonesome Highway’s playlist since the release of the album and they delivered it to perfection.

(left to right 4,5,6)

Prinz Grizzley and his Beargaroos Wide Open Country (7)

Austria may be better renowned for classical rather that country music but it has struck gold with these honky tonkers. One of the busiest acts of the weekend playing three sets including a double helping at the ‘wind down’ friends and promoters afternoon session at Billy Byrnes. Also voted best looking band of the festival by the large female contingent by all accounts! 

Seamus Fogarty Carlow Town (8)

Festival opener Fogarty has suddenly become a cult hero with his witty and poetic song writing. The opening act of the festival and an act much loved and encouraged by our great friend Willie Meighan. His live shows more than justify his growing fan club and his yarn of an overnight in Carlow Town with its jocular lyrics and electronic loops and beats brought the house down.

Whitney Rose You Don’t Own Me (9)

Melting heat and melting hearts at Billy Byrne’s for Whitney Rose’s first Irish dates. A throwback to late 50’s and early 60’s Nashville sound when the use of the two words pop and country in the same sentence did not send you scrambling for the pause button. Her extended version of the Lesley Gore hit from the early 60’s was stunning.

Peter Oren Throw Down (10)

The perfect lunchtime set from the affable and articulate young man with the dreamy baritone vocals and equally engaging stories and songs to match. Shades of Bill Callahan in his low fi set list that not surprisingly included most of his excellent recent album Anthropocene. Throw Downjust about shaded Canary in a Mineas the highlight of his set.

(left to right 7,8,9, 10)

Special Achievement Award

The festival offered so many musical highlights but the highpoint of the weekend was without doubt Del Day, Con Crean, Alan Treacy and Sinead Fitzgerald arriving at Cleere’s on Friday afternoon after their epic and €10,000 + fund raising cycle. Extraordinarily they did not encounter a single rain drop on their eight-day adventure.  No doubt Willie Meighan was still working his magic and looking after them. Heroes one and all and testament of how the festival has in the past - and continues to – create friendships, bonds and camaraderie way beyond our collective love of music. 



Review and photography by Declan Culliton

Wednesday
May092018

The Legendary Shack Shakers @ Grand Social - Dublin - Friday 3rd May 2018

JD Wilkes led his Legendary Shack Shakers onto to the stage before a healthy gathering of the faithful to deliver another exhilarating show. They opened in acoustic mode with Wiles on banjo, new guitarist Gary Siperko on acoustic guitar, upright bassist Fuller Condon and Preston Corn on percussion complete the line-up. The later pair appear on the band’s latest album After You’ve Gone and have both toured with the band previously while Siperko has replaced the departed Rod Hamdallah. He immediately makes his presence felt from the start with some fast and furious guitar breaks that bring comment from Wilkes who plays up the guitarist’s skill with mock jealousy. 

The material played on the evening came from all parts of the their career to date including the most recent album After You’ve Gone and the solo JD Wilkes album Fire Dream as well as traditional songs and blues covers. Sugar Baby was a Dock Boggs song. Others included Silm Harpo’s Hip Shake which was an extended showcase for Siperko, one that allowed all the band to stretch out. As with many of the best live bands these songs take on a whole different persona when performed in front of an audience. Songs came from the debut album Cockadoodlerdon’t which was released back in 2003 (Devil’s Night Auction, Hip Shake), through The Southern Surreal (Mud), Swampland (Old Spur Line), Pandelirium (Jipsy Valentine) as well as from the Dirt Daubers’ album Wake Up Sinners. All given, with this current line-up, a new lease of life and a different musical patina.

Without losing their edge these songs were somewhat less visceral than of yore - a fact that Wilkes noted when asking the audience to come closer to the stage front stating that their drinks would be safe from sprayed bodily fluids that were a feature of the band’s shows over the last 20 years. Since founding in 1995 there can be no doubt that the intensity and sheer volume of the stage show has changed since that time but the performance still retains that exciting edge that sees Wilkes remain one of the most underrated frontmen of recent times. He is compulsive, a can’t take your eyes of him, band leader. He is continually throwing shapes, pulling faces and making contact with his audience while giving those onstage with him space to deliver their end of the bargain. No less so than when Siperko switches to a big red Gretch for the main part of the show and displays a speed and fluidity of playing that perfectly matches Wilkes hi-energy delivery. 

Wilkes is a top notch harmonica player and the smallest of instruments again showed how it can be, in the hands of a master, a sonic match for any other instrument. His first instrument he told us came from his Grand-father and he wondered how many other mouths had it been in before he got it! He is also a collector of vintage harmonicas and brings out one from his collection that has mini-horns attached to increase it’s volume pre amplification! He also plays the banjo on a number of songs. At one point he summons a young lady friend up to play banjo and add backing vocals for a couple of numbers. 

The Legendary Shack Shakers lived up to their reputation and delivered a set of blues and roots songs that displayed an evolving entity and testament to an other worldliness, steeped in regional musical history where entertainment and story telling were a fundamental element of a live performance. This they achieved with style, and in Wilkes’ case, no little sweat and toil, creating a performance that demanded the audience forget their day-to-day worries and lose themselves in the time that stood before the stage. 

Set list in JD's hand writing.

 

Review by Stephen Rapid  Photography by Kaethe Burt O'Dea


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