Wednesday
Sep122018

Gretchen Peters @ Liberty Hall, Dublin - 7th Sept 2018

In trying to review a concert from such a special talent, what was shared across the 90 minutes will always lead to thoughts of what was left untouched. The problem for Gretchen Peters is having a body of work that includes so many favourites and so little time! I guess it all comes down to the feeling that it’s not what you leave out, but more what you leave in…

What we do get is a beautifully balanced performance with superb musicianship from the talented band that comprises Barry Walsh (accordion, keyboards), Conor McCreanor (Electric & upright bass), Colm McClean (guitars) and Gretchen herself on acoustic guitar. The understated playing is so beautifully realised, always serving the song and adding just enough interplay to allow for the spaces between the notes. Also, the harmony vocals are very strong and augment a vocal performance from Gretchen that shows her voice to be in superb shape, singing from the heart in a honeyed tone that seduces and soars in all the right places...

The set tonight leans heavily towards the latest release, Dancing With The Beast and this is fully justified. It remains one of the best albums of 2018 and the current tour is in support of this release. Eight of the eleven album tracks are featured during the show with Truck Stop Angel, The Boy From Rye, Arguing With Ghosts and Disappearing Act all coming from very different places but connecting so poignantly; from surviving in a male dominated World to the loss of innocence and youth; ageing and Alzheimer’s - all the way through to taking the decision to disappear from it all.

Gretchen speaks of living with these new songs on tour over recent weeks and says that they have become a supporting band of sisters that accompany her on the road. The new album features songs about females in all different guises and situations, whether dealing with abuse or disillusionment or  deciding to take action and control over their own circumstances.

Fragile, yet strong women, some from the margins of society – others the real backbone of middle America in grappling with the reality of trying to rear a family and try to scrape a decent living in a country that has turned mean and spiteful. 

The references to Trump’s America are veiled behind the stories of the characters in these songs and the ability to endure and maintain dignity is captured with razor like precision in the poetic words of Gretchen as she holds a mirror up to daily constraints and compromise.

Say Grace is a key track tonight and the words, ‘the bible on the table says be of good cheer, but the tv in the corner is screaming you’re not welcome here’, resonate as an echo of the malaise within American society right now. Another key line is contained in the words to Lowlands with ‘but a man who lies just for the sake of lying, he will sell you kerosene and call it hope’. 

Such a vital and honest writer and so much on the pulse of everything that is real.

She speaks of the division and suspicion that was instantly present after the General Election result and the caginess of people wondering which side others were now on… All reflected in the song, Lowlands.

The Blackbirds release from 2015 gets 2 songs included, with the title track itself and the excellent When All You Got Is A Hammer. There are a further 4 songs from the 2013 release Hello Cruel World and the audience greet Woman On The Wheel, Five Minutes, The Matador and Idlewild like lost children returned to the fold.

Earlier in the set there is a Tom Russell song, Guadalupe, which was recorded on their co-release from 2009 and which Gretchen reckons is his most beautiful song. She talks about her coming to Ireland since 1997 (or so) and the fact that her visits are forever wrapped up in memory with the song, On A Bus To Saint Cloud, which she duly performs with a flawless melancholy that would melt the heart of the hardest cynic in the room.

The encore is another cover version, this time the Rodney Crowell song Ain’t Living Long Like This. It includes an extended band workout and a duel between Barry Walsh and Colm McClean as they trade licks and runs on their weapons of choice. At one point, Barry even plays the keyboard with his right foot! 

With the audience giving a standing ovation and fully deserved lengthy applause, Gretchen returns and leaves the stage to stand in front of the crowd to sing Love That Makes A Cup Of Tea. A perfect message of comfort and fellowship upon which to end what was a fine evening of all that is good in live music these days. A masterclass from one of the true greats. 

Review by Paul McGee   Photography by Ronnie Norton

Thursday
Sep062018

Brent Cobb @ Whelan’s, Dublin - Tue Sept 4th 2018

Tonight,Cobb returned to play Dublin and this Whelan’s gig was entirely different from his last gig which was at the Bello Bar in May last year. He had his band with him this time around, excluding the keyboard player, who was unable to make the trip. The three band members made an immense contribution to the music throughout the show. Sospecial mention to Mike Harris on guitar, Jay Kott on bass and Olajuwon Jackson on drums. They could be as heavy or light of touch as the song required. Something that distinguished them from other bands whose southern style rock often became heavy metal in the live setting. 

Brent Cobb was an engaging front-man who was full of chat and stories, in fairness something he said he would be from the start. At times it was difficult, for this listener anyway, to catch all of the tale with his Southern Alabama drawl. But enough was deciphered to catch the general drift and to enjoy what was being imparted. For the last few weeks the band had been playing short sets opening for Chris Stapleton and Marty Stuart and the Fabulous Superlatives. So,this show gave them the opportunity to stretch out for the first night of their European tour. The set featured songs from Cobb’s recent Elektra/Low Country Sound albums.

There were two support acts on the night with the first, Sands & Hearn, from Cleveland, playing songs from their debut album that was given a big thumbs up at Lonesome Highway. The duo offered sweet harmonies and insightful songs, including American Mind, Crazy Carl, Bus To Abilene and the title track, Time Is A Line. Given their recent arrival in Dublin and the onset of jet lag, they performed their short set with plenty of energy and spirit.

Zack Logan,a Mississippi based country singer,was next up. He was accompanied by a fiddle player and bassist from London who he had only just met. They had learnt the songs from his debut CD, Raised By Wolves, in advance and they did add to his overall delivery. Logan is not yet totally comfortable on stage or else comes across a little shy and had little in the way of easy stage patter with the audience other than allowing that the beer and shots were good. But he had a strong voice and some good songs, including Annalee, Dogs Chase Cars, I’m Coming Home and the title track, Raised By Wolves. Definitely one to watch.

The same cannot be said of Cobb who showed an engaging character and humour throughout the show. The songs were taken largely from Cobb’s recent releases,(Shine On A Rainy Day and Providence Canyon). Dave Cobb (his cousin) produced both albums. One of the songs, King Of Alabama,was dedicated to the late Wayne Mills who was murdered in tragic circumstances and the song, he related, included a writing credit for Mills' son Jack (aged ten). A gesture that seemed very much in keeping with Cobb’s natural empathy and understanding. There was also a highly energised version of Dwight Yoakam’s Guitars, Cadillacs And Hillbilly Music which worked a treat amid his own material. 

There was an obvious empathy between the players and a sense that they were enjoying themselves as much as the audience. Many of the songs were extended and gave Harris a chance to display his skill on Gibson SG, Telecaster and Stratocaster. Particularly some atmospheric slide guitar. While Jackson and Kott underpinned everything with some weighty and dexterous drums and bass. All in all, this four-piece, with Cobb on effective acoustic rhythm guitar,were firing on all cylinders. Cobb did try an electric guitar for one song but said it wasn’t really his instrument and switched back to his trusty Gibson acoustic.

Although the audience was not big in numbers they enthusiastically responded to what they heard. The band didn’t show any disappointment with the sparse attendance and gave a fully-fledged performance including a reluctant encore at the end as Cobb said he disliked false encores where the best songs are saved for such an ending. Whatever the reason it capped a great night of music that leaves one hoping for a return visit in the near future. C2C perhaps?

Review by Stephen Rapid & Paul McGee  Photography by Kaethe Burt O'Dea

Wednesday
Aug292018

Jim White & Clive Barnes @ Whelan’s Dublin - Sun 26th Aug 2018

An artist that can truly be defined as one of a kind. Jim White has a portfolio of six solo records and a number of collaborations since he first appeared on the radar back in the 1990’s. His wealth of life experience is drawn from stints as a professional surfer, comedian, fashion model, cab driver, boxer, preacher and any variety of other jobs such as dishwasher, landscaper, lifeguard, cook, road builder.

Somewhere along the line, he developed as a self-taught musician and has gone on to produce records and had his songs feature in such TV shows, such as Breaking Bad and Rectify. He also exhibits in art galleries and museums across the US and Europe and writes fiction.

As a singer-songwriter, his observational tales are drawn from real life experiences, insights on the human condition, ruminations on the propensity of mankind for self sabotage and a whole bag of other flights of fancy that find their way into his idiosyncratic view of our attempts to make sense of life on this mortal coil.

His live shows are as much spoken word as they are about the music, with the stories behind each song coloured by his wonderfully incisive wit and penchant for the bizarre in the details of each experience. His life has been lived on the edge and this is reflected in his championing of those fated to live on the margins of society. Ironically, we are left with the inescapable truth that the real bums, thieves and villains are living within the social norms of society and responsible for building up the very walls that keep the disenfranchised and fragile souls on the outside. 

His generosity of spirit is shown in the simple fact that he auctions his performance shirt each night at the shows and gives the proceeds to the ‘doctors without borders’ charity. Tonight, his fine blue shirt made €80 as a member of the audience won the stage-side auction after the gig.

The set list is taken from all his releases with five of the songs featured on the latest release from 2017, Waffles, Triangles & Jesus. The other releases get a few songs each and there are two tracks included that he has yet to record. The topics cover his daughter (Bluebird, Sweet Bird Of Mystery), death/murder (A Perfect Day To Chase Tornados, Objects In The Water, The Wound That Never Heals), gimmick songs (Playing Guitars), lives on the edge (A Felony Report Song, Handcuffed To A Fence In Mississippi), relationships (Epilogue To A Marriage), survival (Here I Am, Chase The Dark Away, Prisoner’s Dilemma) and just being alive in the present (Silver Threads, Wonders Never Cease). These are moments of treasured insight, reflection and just great fun. 

Clive Barnes supports on acoustic and electric guitars and performs to his usual high standard of interpreting the songs and embellishing them with a sensitive and restrained dynamic in his delivery. Clive also sings a song of his own, Down To The Crossroads, with Jim sitting in on harmonica, which he plays on a number of other songs to great atmospheric effect in a ‘less is more’ way.    

Jim describes himself as a Pantheist and whatever about trying to identify God in nature, Jim states that writing songs is like therapy for him and that they should reflect who you are. If a great record results from this process then that is a bonus along the way, but it should not be the reason for writing. This was a warm, wonderful evening of songs born from a unique talent and vision. Intimate setting and inspiring to witness it all.

Review and photograph by Paul McGee

Sunday
Aug262018

The Lone Bellow @ Whelan’s, Dublin - 23rd August 2018

There are special moments that linger in the memory and remain, over time, even if we can never fully do justice to their elevated place and presence in the recounting.

Experiences that warm the soul and ensure that we continue to believe in the power of music to heal the spirit and lift the collective to a place of elevated awareness. Call it spiritual or just a bloody good night of spontaneous connection; all that seems important is the sense of community in being present at an event where something special happened.

Tonight, was one of those moments. When you marry a capacity crowd with a band whose power is at a creative peak, then the sprinkling of angel dust is palpable in the room and all are touched by the experience. A Lone Bellow gig has real fervour and intensity and the utter conviction in the performance of the music gives everybody present a sense of place in the grand scheme of things. We are somehow invited to share in the knowledge that our lives are bound by the same Universal glue.

To define the music of Lone Bellow as entirely celebratory is to miss the point that there are deeper emotions behind the words that fuel the revivalist, soulful performance of Zach Williams on lead vocals and acoustic/electric guitar; Kanene Donehey Pipkin on mandolin, bass, keyboard, vocals and Brian Elmquist on acoustic/electric guitar, vocals. The added talents of Jason Pipkin (bass and keys) and Julian Dorio (drums), provide a superbly tight base from which everybody can expand the song arrangements and Kanene switches instruments with husband Jason on a few occasions.

There are hidden layers of pain and life lessons learned behind the swell of melody and vocal harmony that leave the audience in admiration of a band that commit to a level of performance that is often breath-taking in its powerful delivery. The vocal dexterity of all three members is something to behold as they feed off the electric atmosphere and deliver fully on the art involved in creating a communal experience through the medium of music. 

The band visit all three releases, concentrating more on the latest, Walk Into A Storm, from last year. The set powers along with new heights being scaled on songs like Deeper In The Water, Green Eyes And A Heart Of Gold, Feather all the way along to the wonderful encore, Then Came The Morning. 

There are so many highlights that it seems churlish to pick out one over another, but the acoustic segment probably sums up the band ethic more than anything, with renditions of Call To War, Watch Over Us and Pink Rabbits (cover of The National song), stealing the moment, especially when the trio leave the stage and mix with the audience to sing off-mike. It is a perfect example of communal sharing and trust and a key element in the warmth shared. It was a privilege to be there.

Review and photograph by Paul McGee

Wednesday
Aug012018

Rosanne Cash @ National Concert Hall, Dublin - 28th July 2018

Certain things just continue to improve with age and judging by the flawless performance by Rosanne Cash this evening, she certainly deserves honorary membership of that club. Looking resplendent in a bird embroidered Nudie influenced blazer (a Stella Mc Cartney creation for the fashion inquisitive among you!) , Cash and her husband John Leventhal enthralled the large attendance at the National Concert Hall tonight with a one and three-quarter hour set that hardly had a weak moment, vocal or chord (to be honest Leventhal does strike one bum note during Forty Shades of Green to both his and his wife’s amusement!). Cash and her husband are regular visitors to Ireland and she refers fondly to her last appearance, when she was invited to take part in a music spectacular at The Bord Gais Theatre in March 2016 to commemorate the 1916 Easter Rising Centenary

With the acoustics at the Concert Hall more sympathetic to acoustic rather than more electric arrangements, both Cash’s stunning vocals and Leventhal’s wonderful guitar work are crystal clear throughout her well-chosen set, which in the main delves into material from her more recent albums, but also includes a few covers and a couple of songs from her early career. She is also due to release her next album in October titled She Remembers Everything and if the song she performed from the album, titled Rabbit Hole, is an indication of what to expect, it will match the lofty standard of her previous three releases. 

Her 2014 album The River and The Thread, was inspired both personally and historically by the Mississippi Delta. Arguably a career best, she opens the show with three selections from the album. First up is Modern Blue, a song of travel and love, written in both Memphis and Barcelona.The Sunken Lands,swiftly follows, written about an area in Arkansas which sank during the earthquake of 1811. She continues with material from the same album by including A Feather’s Not A Bird, inspired Cash tells us, by a visit to her friend Natalie Chanin’s fabric studio in Florence Alabama. While Chanin was threading her needle, she commented ‘You have to love the needle’, immediately giving Cash the idea for the song title.  

While travelling on tour with Johnny Cash in the early 70’s - Rosanne was immersed in rock music at the time – her father was astounded that his daughter was unaware of what he considered, classic American songs. He spent some time listing for her, what he called, 100 Essential Country Songs.  Rosanne’s 2009 album The List, featured songs from his recommendations and she performs both Long Black Veil and Sea of Heartbreak (dedicated to her young niece in the audience). Commenting that she duets with Bruce Springsteen on the album track, she joked that in the absence of Bruce her husband will have to do the honours tonight. Bury Me Under The Weeping Willow from the same album also features later in the set. Blue Moon With Heartacheis is introduced as ‘a song older than my youngest daughter,’ taken from her 1981 Seven Year Itch album. The Bobby Gentry classic Ode To Billie Joe is next, another Delta inspired classic, with Cash recalling how her husband and her visited Tallahatchie Bridge during their travels through the Delta researching for her 2014 album and the haunting feeling the location brought about. A further cover follows, at Leventhal’s insistence Rosanne jokes, with Leventhal switching to piano for an eloquent adaptation of Bob Dylan’s Farewell Angelina.

‘Do you actually think I wasn’t going to play this song’ is the introduction to Forty Shades of Green, following Cash recounting how she visited a second-hand bookshop in Dublin a few years back when she was playing a show at Vicar Street. High on a shelf was a large book titled History of Irish Music. Taking it from the shelf and dusting it down, she randomly opened a page in the book and the title of the chapter was, of course, Johnny Cash. Recalling the tale and singing the song proves particularly emotive for her and she is visibly tearful after the last chord.

Introducing WhenThe Master Calls The Roll, written by John Leventhal and her ex-husband Rodney Crowell, she explains that she begged them to allow her to record it, only to be told ‘it was written for Emmylou’. A few months passed without the song being recorded so she decided to bite the bullet and ask Crowell to rewrite the lyrics with her, which he agreed to do. It’s a beautiful love ballad inspired by Cash’s discovery that she had ancestors on both sides of the Civil War and her delivery is one of many highlights this evening. Seven Year Ache closes the show, remarkably written almost four decades ago before a standing ovation brings the pair back on stage for two encores. First up is Tennessee Flat Top Box which again showcases Leventhal’s exceptional guitar skills before she closes the show to a further standing ovation with 500 Milesfrom The List. 

It’s not an overstatement to describe Rosanne Cash as music royalty. Her song writing ability and vocals aside, she is a spokesperson for artists rights in the industry digital age, a long-time supporter of many charitable organisations, a decorated author and holds a doctorate degree from the Berklee College of Music. That aside, this evenings performance is further evidence that, like a vintage wine, she continues to improve with age. A night to remember.

Review and (sneaky) photo by Declan Culliton

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