Monday
Feb192018

Anna Mitchell @ Whelan’s - 16th February 2018

What a difference a few years can make. Almost three years ago to the day Anna Mitchell launched her debut album in a small room upstairs at The Workman’s Club to a modest attendance. Fast forward three years and Mitchell and her band are launching a new album and selling out gigs on her mini-tour in support of this excellent newly released self-titled album.

Tonight’s well attended gig Upstairs in Whelan’s features two support acts, Harrisburg Pennsylvania indie folk singer Marie Danielle and the Cork based Patrick Freeman Band, who also feature on stage with Mitchell. Both perform really impressive sets before Mitchell and her four piece band – Brian Hassey on bass, Patrick Freeman and Alan Comerford on guitar and Fionn Hennessy Hayes on drums - take the stage. Mitchell is positioned centre stage behind her characteristic Nordpiano 2 keyboard. Kicking off her set with the closing track on the new album Come Home it's instantly noticeable how far she's progressed in those short few years since her debut album launch.

What is particularly impressive with Anna Mitchell Mark 2 is the mix of her trade mark ballads with more aggressive full on material and this evenings offers the perfect mix of both. Aided in no small measure by the strength of the material from her new album and by a super tight band, her self-assured stage presence combined with her honey sweet vocals wins the audience over from the word go. Never Learn, All These Things, Radio Waves, Get Out from the latest album all feature alongside Better Life, a song which particularly showcases her wonderful vocal range. The Sarah Siskind song Lovins For Fools – also from her current album -is one of four covers featured in the set alongside The Carpenter’s Superstar, Mary by Big Thief and the Jefferson Airplane classic White Rabbit.  She revisits her debut album Down To The Bone by performing both What’s A Fool To Do and When My Ship Comes In but the biggest cheers of the evening follow her delivery of her latest single It Pours and the raucous/care free set closer Dog Track.

Mitchell always had the vocals and the talent, she's now got the songs, band, work ethic and most importantly the confidence that has seen her grow from a young lady with tremendous potential to the finished article. Get the album and get to see her live, it’s most unlikely she’ll be playing venues this size for much longer.

Review and photograph by Declan Culliton

Thursday
Feb082018

The Mavericks @ Vicar Street, Dublin  - Wednesday 7th Feb 2018

Returning in triumph to the venue they played a couple of years back (a somewhat less than successful visit at that time) The Mavericks again re affirmed their status as one of the world’s best live bands. The band came onstage to a suitable musical introduction that sets the tone for the following performance. Much of the material was taken from their most recent albums Brand New Day, Mono and In Time. There were a few back-catalogue numbers during the set as this version of the band largely rely on the material they recorded since reforming in 2012. Songs from their earlier phase are largely unknow to their current US audience, a predominantly younger demographic than the UK it would seem. Over here it is more likely to be the opposite with the pinnacle of their recognition being the big hit single Dance The Night Away (taken from their 1998 album Trampoline).

Many of the songs tonight also featured in their live album All Night Live from a couple of years back. That album and this show highlights the Cuban, Mexican, Ska, Roots and Rock elements of their music all underpinned by the powerhouse drumming of Paul Deakin. The band played Bruce Springsteen’s All That Heaven Will Allow and Neil Young’s Harvest Moon alongside their own inventive and inviting material written, in the main, by Raul Malo solo or as a co-writer. A rarely played song included in the early part of the show and one much appreciated by this writer was the early CMT favourite What A Crying Shame. It was a point of recognition for many in the audience, one that remind them how much they appreciated the band’s varied musical career.

Aside from the lead vocals of Malo which were, and have always been, a stand-out of their shows it was the combined talent on display that struck home time and time again. The twin guitars of Eddie Perez and Malo duelled throughout the even and often added a hard edge to the sound. Also crucial is the keyboard playing of Jerry Dale McFadden who also brings moments of levity with his onstage dancing and corralling the audience to clap in time. Add to that the undeniable contribution made from long-time live accompanists Michael Guerra on accordion and acoustic guitar, Max Abrams on saxophone and Ed Frieland on upright and electric bass. They were joined on this tour by Cuban trumpet player Julio Diaz. All got their turn in the spotlight and on the stage. The interaction between all of the players allowed then to extend and jam on the songs to bring the best out of them and for everyone the obvious enjoyment they got playing together. 

It was only after the tenth song that Malo addressed the audience and he did so by referring to the current state of division and disunity in America. Stating how important it was that everyone “ keep the conversation going.” He also addressed gun violence in the States and specifically the recent massacre at a show in Las Vegas. He dedicated the next song to the victims of all such mindless violence with a passionate and heartfelt version of the Bee Gees song How Can You Mend A Broken Heart? For the encore Malo returned to the stage and sang two songs accompanied by his acoustic guitar and both of these showed just what a powerful instrument his voice is. The first song was agin another pointed assessment of the current political turmoil that exists in America with Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A Changing followed by the hopeful message of the title song Brand New Day from their last album.

The band rejoined him then for the final set of songs that was extended due to the fact that all were having a good time here tonight. There was a high-octane version of Chuck Berry’s You Never Can Tell followed by an all-action, full on All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down to round off an exciting evening. The Mavericks were without doubt on top of their game and showed themselves capable of playing whatever music they cared to perform but that their Latin-tinged Americana is unique to them.Everyone went away tonight in the knowledge that they had witnessed something rather special.

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

Thursday
Feb082018

Celtic Connections Glasgow 3rd & 4th February 2018

It's Saturday night at the most distinguished Oran Mor on the Byres Road in the West End of Glasgow and Sam Outlaw is feeling good, in fact feeling very good indeed, he tells us. Having played the previous evening to a full house in Aberdeen he seems genuinely taken back that the venue this evening is also heaving. Oran Mor is a converted church which was built in the 1860’s for the spiritual well being of the growing population of residents settling in West Glasgow. These days it caters for the social needs of many as one of the most prominent music venues in Glasgow, combining restaurants, bars and event rooms, having been converted to its current status between 2002 and 2004.

Explaining another reason for his particularly tiptop mood Outlaw continues "having played over a hundred dates with my full band over the previous months, it’s a joy to perform on stage with just Molly and this guy from London and perform songs we want to play and the way want to play them." Molly Jensen, a recording artist in her own right and a fellow Californian of Outlaw’s, has been a regular in his touring band over the past few years as a co-singer and equally talented guitarist and the Londoner that Outlaw tongue in cheek refers to is Matt Park, a multi-instrumentalist who adds stunning pedal steel and electric guitar to tonight’s show.  In fact, anyone regretting the absence of a full band on stage is swiftly won over a few songs into the set with note perfect - and vocal perfect – deliveries of It Might Kill Me, Diamond Ring and Angeleno. Very much the revivalist not only in his music but also his style, Outlaw’s is decked out in short sleeved cowboy shirt, red neck scarf, black trousers, cowboy boots and white Stenson. Jensen and Park are also suitably attired, in appearance the trio could have been plucked off the stage from The Grand Ole Opry in the 1960’s.

Featuring material from both his current album Tenderheart and Angeleno, released a few years back, the songs come hard and fast with She’s Playing Hard To Get Rid Of, Tenderheart, Ghost Town, Bottomless Mimosa all getting an airing. Also included are the Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman classic Juanita and Ryan Adam’s Oh My Sweet Carolina, while noting that Adams had recently said some nice things about him. That said its Jesus Take The Wheel (and Drive Me To A Bar) that gets the biggest cheer of the evening, the sentiment seems to particularly strike a chord with the Glasgow audience. His one hour twenty-minute set, interlaced with humorous banter between songs, concludes with Outlaw off stage, in the middle of the audience, guitar in hand and singing his final notes, much to the approval of the surrounding crowd. He could be accused of being chameleon – and most probably would agree himself – but what can’t be denied is his striking vocal, song writing talent, phenomenal stage presence, absolute attention to detail and on the evidence of this evening, his ability to provide a hands down killer display of classic country music.

The support act is Justin Osborne, frontman of South Carolina band SUSTO. Osborne’s solo set in support of Outlaw is most impressive but the full bands performance on the following night – their UK debut – in support of Sam Baker, is on another level. The venue is the quite stunning Mackintosh Church at Queens Cross, the only church in the world designed by the famous Scottish architect and artists Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Impressive as the venue is, playing on an alter to a full house of punters seated elbow to elbow on church pews, is not the ideal environment for a young psychedelic indie folk band. However, they play a blinder even if their sound echoing around the church felt somewhat out of character. Included in their set are Hard Drugs, Cosmic Cowboy and Jah Werx, all from their current album & I’m Fine Today, which continues to earn consistently impressive reviews in the music press. Cigarettes, Whisky and Wine from their debut album together with some newer material also feature.

Sam Baker’s two hour set, which follows, finds the Texan songsmith abandon his familiar acoustic laid back delivery in favour of a more electric and percussion driven sound. Playing electric guitar on this tour and joined on stage by percussionist Mike Meadows, he treats the full house to a journey through his impressive back catalogue with Steel, Iron, Odessa, Broken Fingers, Waves and Angel together with Margaret, Summer Wind and Land Of Doubt from his latest album of the same name. It’s certainly a departure from the previous occasions I had seen him where his delivery was closer to the gentle and delicate studio treatment of the songs. However, the genuine passion and delightful lyrical quality of the songs remain. My colleague Paul Mc Gee’s more detailed review of his set the previous evening at The Naul, Co. Dublin is also on our live review page.

And so concludes another whistle stop trip to the beautiful city of Glasgow and Celtic Connections which continues to be one of the premier music festivals staged in Europe. Great also to meet up with local music loving friends Iain Mac Leod, Paul Hughes, Murray Anderson and Mike Ritchie whose Radio Show hosted every Sunday on Celtic Music Radio was deservedly voted Best Radio Show in the U.K. in a recent Americana UK Readers Poll.   

Review and photographs by Declan Culliton

Tuesday
Feb062018

Sam Baker @ The Seamus Ennis Arts Centre. The Naul - Sat 3rd Feb 2018.

The Seamus Ennis Arts Centre (SEAC) is located at the Naul in North County Dublin and serves the local community well in providing an eclectic mix of live performances, cultural events, exhibitions, sessions, workshops and classes weekly. The room for tonight’s gig has an intimate feel and the small capacity sees few empty seats as Sam Baker makes a welcome return to the Centre.

It has been 5 years since his last visit but the warmth and genuine affection with which he is greeted is testament to his enduring popularity on these shores. His road travelled has been littered with challenges and obstacles to be overcome and in truth many would not have made it through with the same sense of perspective and thoughtful reflection.

His back story has long been the subject of media attention and the manner in which he survived a terrorist bomb in Peru while touring the country. The injuries he suffered would have stopped many in their tracks but his enduring will to move beyond and make something of his life drove Baker to re-learn much of the coping skills of life, plus the ability to play guitar and write songs of beautiful, heart-breakingly honest treatises on life, love and our human condition. His story songs are sharp dissections of everyman and the daily struggles we all face in our lives. Many of his observations are ground in personal experience but his empathy with people and his kindness always shine through to point the way on our spiritual journeys into tomorrow.

Playing electric guitar and with the sensitive and sublime drumming skills of Mike Meadows for accompaniment, we are given two separate sets in which Sam Baker visits all five of his releases to give a very engaging performance across the 20 songs chosen on the night. He has an endearing charm onstage and his funny quips and ramblings on various subjects are greeted with much laughter and smiles among the audience. He even takes a moment to stop the gig in order to sing Happy Birthday to his good friend and colleague Mike Meadows, who we learn is a producer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, classically trained and much sought after as a session player by a large number of artists.

A couple of cover versions are included by John Stewart (Some Kind Of Love) and Paul Simon (Duncan) in addition to firm favourites like Waves, Broken Fingers, Boxes, Iron, Slots, Isn’t Love Great and Odessa. His latest release is well received and the title track, Land Of Doubt is a poignant look at the state of affairs in America currently.

However, the abiding theme throughout the night is one of forgiveness and no little grace as Sam Baker and Mike Meadows weave around each other with an ease and freedom that brings these poignant tales to real life.  There is a lasting aura of emotion in the room when the gig concludes with the sweet optimism of Go In Peace. 

Go in peace, go in kindness

Go in love, go in faith

Leave the day, the day behind us

Day is done, go in grace

We leave with a sense of having witnessed something fragile and beautiful in the magic created by such sensitive playing and heartfelt performance. 

Review by Paul McGee   Photography by Kaethe Burt-O'Dea

Saturday
Feb032018

Willy Vlautin @ Whelan’s 29th January 2018

Willy Vlautin has performed at Whelan’s on numerous occasions, whether with his band Richmond Fontaine or as part of different projects, including his current band The Delines. 

This evening’s appearance takes on a somewhat different format with Vlautin promoting his fifth novel, Don’t Skip Out On Me, which has recently been published to very positive reviewsHowever, far from merely a book reading, this appearance offers so much more than merely a marketing event for the book’s release. In fact, Vlautin only reads two short passages from the novel which documents the ambitions of farm hand Horace Hopper, half Irish and half Paiute Indian, to pursue a career as a professional boxer.

 It’s no surprise that the event is a sell-out, given the fanbase he has developed on these islands as a songwriter, musician and author. Vlautin's first novel The Motel Life ended up as a feature film in 2013 starring Emile Hirsch and Stephen Dorff and the film based on his third book, Lean On Pete will be screened during The Dublin Film in late February.

The format tonight includes Vlautin performing songs and instrumentals, accompanied by Cork maestro David Murphy on pedal steel guitar. In addition to reciting the two passages from the novel, Willy is interviewed on stage by Hot Press commissioning editor, Roisin Dwyer.

The show commences with a track from the instrumental soundtrack - included with the first print edition of the book - titled Horace and The Trophy and is followed by Wake Up Ray and Whitey & Me from Richmond Fontaine’s memorable swansong album, You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing To Go Back To. The book’s title, also a track featured on the same album, follows. Vlautin cites the inspiration for material on that album being friends from his teenage years still living at home with their mothers and who never moved on despite being in their 40’s ("Guys I cut the ties with but always end up hooking up with again!").

The stripped-down versions, with only Vlautin’s vocal and acoustic guitar, together with Murphy’s quite stunning pedal steel playing, capture the atmosphere of the songs to perfection and it’s noteworthy that Vlautin comments later in the evening how proud he and his band members are of their final album. When Roisin Dwyer enquires why the band split up he simply replies "we got out while we were ahead and before any of us had to leave."

Having invested three and a half years in writing the novel, which initially contained over six hundred pages, he jokes about having to edit it to just over three hundred pages, a process that resulted in casually discarding eighteen months work in a short period of time. Most impressive throughout the interview is Vlautin’s naked honesty, delivered humorously and attributing his story telling skills and selection of characters ("why can’t the janitor or the car park attendant or the nurse be the main character in a novel") to escapism and his vivid imagination, describing himself as a complete dreamer since childhood.

A follower of professional boxing since his childhood and an avid reader of The Ring magazine, he speaks comically of his near obsession with Welch welterweight, boxer Colin Jones, who fought the undefeated Detroit ‘Ice Man’ Milton Mc Crory in Vlautin’s home town Reno in 1983. Jones was notorious for his gruelling lifestyle pattern of running five miles to and from his work as a gravedigger, before going training in the evenings. Vlautin admits tongue in cheek of "wanting to be Colin Jones, without the running and digging or maybe a James Bond or Sam Shephard just cruising in paradise, wearing shades and looking cool." Instead and in reality, a lot of time was spent in his room listening to Yes, Rush and Japan records and dreaming of starting a band.

Before continuing with a couple of songs written for his current band (The Delineshe recounts how he would listen in awe to Amy Boone singing in the dressing room before she went on stage as a backing vocalist on tour with Richmond Fontaine. Having spent seven months writing songs for her, he eventually convinced her to try them out and to take centre stage as lead singer. Asked if he was comfortable taking a background position with this band he immediately responds "playing in a band where I’m not nervous as shit going on stage is a dream come true!"

On that note he candidly recounts tackling his stage nerves by performing tanked up on beer up to the age of 34. On one occasion he was practically unable to function on stage after a particular bender. Discovering the next morning that one punter had driven sixteen hours to the gig and slept in his car, unable to afford the price of a room, his shame was the wake-up call to get his act together. He also explains how Amy Boone was involved in a bizarre accident two years ago having been struck by an out of control car while walking in a car park, suffering horrific injuries. Her recovery continues to the extent that she is still attempting to walk again, but Vlautin expressed the sincere hope that she would be able to perform material from their forthcoming album on stage later in the year. The Oil Rigs At Night and Colfax Avenue follow, both stand out tracks from The Delines debut album.

Material from earlier Richmond Fontaine albums are also performed. The Boyfriends from We Used To Think The Freeway Sounded Like A River and Northline from Winnemucca were regular inclusions in their setlists over the years and they both work equally well stripped back. Vlautin also dedicates "our only poppy song" Post To Wire from the album of the same name to the memory of the late George Byrne "the first mad red-haired Irishman we encountered in Kilkenny on our first trip to Ireland in 2004."

Noting how much he was in awe David Murphy’s pedal steel playing, the atmosphere it created and his fascination with the instrument from his early career he jokes "I love great playing like David’s and not the wild honky tonk playing by some of the wild men at home", before the pair launch into a guitar and pedal steel instrumental duet. The evening ends with A Night In The City and Lets Hit One More Place, two more superb tracks from Richmond Fontaine’s final album.

The Gutter Bookshop in Temple Bar had set up a stall at the merchandise desk and given that the novel was selling like hotcakes Vlautin must have spent at least an hour meeting, greeting and signing copies at the front of the stage.

What a pleasure to observe the genuine warmth and entertainment generated by Vlautin to every person in the room and an endorsement that sometimes the really good guys do get their just rewards in the end.

Review and pictures by Declan Culliton

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