The Weather Station @ The Grand Social - 28th Jan 2018

The Weathers Station’s last appearance in Ireland was as a two-piece performing at The Kilkenny Roots Festival in 2016. This time around Canadian singer songwriter Tamara Lindeman is accompanied by a full band and delivers a very short but hugely impressive set with material drawn in the main from her current self-titled album and it’s predecessor Loyalty released in 2015. Will Kidman on guitar and keyboards, Ben Whitely on bass and drummer Ian Kehoe provide the perfect rhythm section to compliment Lindeman’s distinctive semi spoken vocal delivery.

Having had to cancel a show  earlier in the tour due to laryngitis the Dublin show had been in some doubt but fortunately Lindeman’s vocals and determination won out ("the ferry was so expensive there was no way we were turning back!"). In fact, her vocals were stunning throughout even if it was obvious she was struggling during her occasional chats between numbers.

Referring to her first visit to Dublin playing support some years ago, she jokingly recalls attempting to navigate to the venue (most probably The Workman’s Club) with the assistance of her tiny Google Maps mobile phone screen, unfortunately driving on the opposite side of the quays to the venue "it possibly took me three hours to arrive at the venue due to the traffic restrictions and congestion!"

She eases her way into the set with Personal Eclipse and Way It Is Way It Could Be from Loyalty before raising the tempo with Free, the excellent You and I (on The Other Side of The World) and the uncompromising Kept It All To Myself, all three from her current album. Her songwriting has always avoided the conventional verse and chorus structure, instead offering short stories put to music, delivered with a vocal refinement that is gentle yet displaying quite a powerful edge. Her latest album suggests an artist growing in confidence as her career develops as is equally evidenced by her live performance this evening. Reinforcing this point, later in the set Lindeman comments that she used to write ‘quiet’ songs up to a few years ago ‘which just isn’t right now there’s so much going on’ before she and the band pump up the volume to deliver at full throttle Floodplain and the highlight of the evening Thirty, their last two songs before leaving the stage. An encore of Tapes finishes a set that lasts only fifty minutes but quite understandable given the circumstances.

Also performed were Don’t Know What To Say (after a few false starts), I Mined, Complicit and Floodplain by an artist with the ability to write candid, personal and dynamic conversational pieces and to execute them with corresponding brilliance.

Ena Brennan’s solo project Dowry performed the opening earlier in the evening. The multi-instrumentalist’s set included a stunning loop pedal assisted violin intro together with some equally experimental and impressive vocal and guitar looped pieces. 

Review and photograph by Declan Culliton


Tradfest @ Printworks, Dublin Castle - 28th Jan 2018

The Printworks at Dublin Castle is an unlikely venue for a live music event. It is used on a regular basis as a Conference Centre where delegates attend business-oriented activities. And whereas the music business is indeed a 'business', the sight of musicians creating art from their reservoir of talent, does not make a natural fit in such a space. There is a sterile feel to the building with the audience not displaying much outward display of enthusiasm for the large room. With many back rows not sold, the stage manager, who is involved in the filming of the show for TG4, asks that any spaces be filled in the front rows, in order to reduce the possibility that the cameras may pick up gaps.

The musicians certainly give their all with strong performances and Irish band, I Draw Slow, start things off with a set of nine songs that display high energy and great musicianship. The natural warmth from lead singer Louise Holden is appealing on all levels and her singing and relaxed communications add much to the performance. Her brother Dave shares harmony vocals and leads his band mates through dexterous work outs and up-tempo arrangements that highlight the fine playing of Adrian Hart on Fiddle, Colm Derham on Banjo and Konrad Lindy on Upright Bass.

The songs are introduced by Louise with stories of their creation and the themes involved; whether murder ballads, apocalyptic doom, drug addiction or mining town working girls! The songs are taken from their 4 releases to date and Apocalypso, Valentine, My Portion and Goldmine are very well received by the home crowd. Hide & Seek is a standout with the fiddle of Adrian Hart really lifting the arrangement and tempo. This band go from strength to strength and long may they continue to build their impressive career.

Martin Harley is a talented guitar player from England who is making an Irish debut and is accompanied by his music partner, American upright bass player Daniel Kimbro, who is also a member of the famous Jerry Douglas band. Harley plays guitar and a Hawaiian lap steel guitar called a Weissenborn. Together, the two artists play a storming set across eight songs, including Trouble, One For The Road, Sweet & Low, Feet Don't Fail Me Now and Nobody's Fault But Mine. On the excellent Dancing On The Rocks the freedom in the playing is quite awesome as the two artists extend into jazz-tinged, free-form soloing and reach great heights in the performance. Kimbro also plays impressively on guitar and his tune, Loyston, is another special moment as the two musicians interplay around the rhythm with solo runs. A very impressive set and I am sure that we have not seen the last of this duo on our shores. They also display a wicked sense of humour during the songs which adds a great dynamic and is the source of much laughter.

And so, to the head lining act of the night, sisters Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer. With 25 recordings between them we are dealing with Country music royalty here and their collective back catalogue is filled with so many high points and stands against any of their contemporaries at the top of the music tree. Their band tonight is comprised of three seasoned musicians, Joe McMahan (guitar), Rick Reed (drums) and Jason Weinheimer (bass) and they perform with great ease across the ten songs that are mainly taken from the recent duet album, Not Dark Yet. This is the first full collaboration between the sisters and the live performance of songs that span from the Louvin Brothers (Every Time You Leave) to The Killers (The List) gives a new perspective on the project they have completed.

Whether the selections all work on the record is open to individual opinion but witnessed in a live setting, a number of the songs take on a greater resonance with Into My Arms (Nick Cave) and the Bob Dylan title track really catching fire with superb harmony singing from both sisters. Their past is something that will always travel with them and the new song, Is It Too Much, refers to the pain suffered by the shocking experience they shared in losing both parents to a violent act of great cruelty.

Allison rocks out with Hurricane/Thunderstorm, a song she wrote about her sister Shelby. Her other song in the set, Alabama Song, is also one of the highlights of this short set and Shelby contributes Where I'm From, another song that references their upbringing in Alabama and the influence of music in the family.

The show ends with I'll Hold Your Head, a song from Shelby's autobiographical album Revelation Road. Again, it deals with their childhood experiences and Shelby gets very emotional in the pre-song introduction, which leads to an uncomfortable few moments for both artist and audience. One can only guess at the pain that must surface at certain points in the lives of these two sisters as they pour themselves into their art in increasingly personal ways and the hug that Allison shares with Shelby at the Song conclusion says it all really; together we are strong and together we can carry on. Honest performance at all points even if the short set left little room to build a real atmosphere in the venue. 

A word for compere on the night, Lonesome Highway founder and all-round excellent person, Stephen Rapid. He introduced each of the three performing acts with typical enthusiasm and matter-of-factness. Never an easy thing when so much is going on around the stage with artist change-overs. Much admired within the Irish music scene, Steve delivered an easy link between acts and maintained a sense of calm among the busy and mobile camera crews and stage technicians.

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


Hayes Carll @ The Oh Yeah Centre Belfast - 25th Jan 2018

You don’t have to be long haired, bearded, denim clad and gravel voiced to make the cut as a genuine outlaw troubadour but it certainly helps. Hayes Carll qualifies with distinction on all fronts but more importantly has the songs and stories to match. Sixteen years into a career that has yielded five albums to date and the Texan remains the most authentic apostle of the late Townes Van Zandt.

Fortunately Carll does not possess the same self-destruct tendencies as his master and even if his vocals do suggest a partiality for good whiskey and tobacco, his reputation for delivering stellar live shows goes before him as evidenced by  tonight’s performance before a large crowd at the OH Yeah Centre in Belfast. There was not a weak moment from his opener the confessional ballad  Good While It Lasted , through  his rousing  Drunken Poets Dream (a co-write with Ray Wylie Hubbard he informs us) and his closer the priceless She Left Me For Jesus ("She says I should find him and I'll know peace at last -If I ever find Jesus, I'm kickin' his ass!").

He entertains the pin drop quiet crowd with tales and songs across his complete back catalogue, while also managing  to include a few new song titles including Times Like These, performed on stage for the first time. Confessing that ‘you can get pulled over by the cops an awful lot when you look a certain way’, he introduces the hilarious Bible On The Dash, advertising the advantages on strategically placing the holy book on your dashboard when crossing certain States in America. It’s a practice used by Carll and the co-writer of that song Corb Lund when they are on what Carll calls their "Outlaws on A Budget" tours.

Introducing Beaumont he describes it as your average South East Texas town, adding that he won a gun in a raffle playing in a bar in the town some years previously. The Magic Kid, he explains, is a co-write with Darrell Scott inspired by a simple card trick performed by his son. It’s a simple yet beautiful song written from the heart. Wild As A Turkey, I’ve Got A Gig, Bad Liver and A Broken Heart all get an airing but the highlight of the evening is a rattling delivery of KMAG YOYO ("Here I am standin' in the desert with a gun, thought of going AWOL but I'm too afraid to run"), not an easy song to perform solo given the speed at which the lyrics are delivered but absolutely nailed on the evening. Jesus and Elvis (written with his partner Allison Moorer) also features, it is a song that was subsequently recorded by Kenny Chesney.

Notwithstanding the ease at which he recounts his tales and delivers his songs, the standard of his guitar playing is wonderful as is his harmonica playing, particularly on the gorgeous Love Is Easy.

Carll’s career will continue to be underpinned by more main stream artists picking up on his songs (Kenny Chesney, Lee Ann Womack, Jim Lauderdale) and deservedly so as he remains to be one of the most intelligent, creative, descriptive writers bar none. Few songwriters nowadays have the ability to successfully mix their art with humour, Carll has the talent to combine both effortlessly.

Eight years since his last visit to Belfast, it’s a pleasure to see him once more in such stellar form and in a super venue among similar music loving folk. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait another eight years for his return.

Thumbs up also to Ciara O’Neill who opened the show in style with a collection of songs from her debut album The Ebony Trail and newer material to be included in her next recording.

Review and photograph by Declan Culliton


Malojian @ The Set Theatre Kilkenny - 9th December 2017: A Rollercoaster Records Presentation 

"There's so much love in this room," a beaming Wilie Meighan whispered in my ear as he perused the crammed attendance at The Set in Kilkenny, enjoying a rocking performance by Malojian. The date was 15th October 2016 and the occasion was the album launch of This Is Nowhere, the first album to be released on Willie's Rollercoaster Record Label. The majority of those in attendance had probably not heard of Stephen Scullion (aka Malojian) twelve months previously, or at best may have come across his previous incarnation Cat Malojian. Not intent in taking the safe option and celebrating the album launch in a smaller venue, Willie had the confidence and foresight to select The Set as the venue, comfortable that the near 400 capacity venue was the correct location and that the occasion would be suitably supported.  

Willie had previously realised the potential in Stevie Scullion’s Malojian, got on board, put his money where his mouth was and kick started the Malojian journey that continues to go from strength to strength to this day. There was an intense pride in the whole project for Willie and his delight was clear to see as he glanced around the room at the smiling faces, a scene which no doubt meant so much to him. From the moment he introduced the band from the stage that evening as "the greatest fucking band in the country," to the moment at the end of the show, when he was persuaded to return to the stage and accept a cake baked in recognition of his achievement, his euphoria was there for all to witness and enjoy.

Barely fourteen months later and many of the same crowd are gathered at the same venue for another performance by Malojian, this time under entirely different circumstances. We were all aware how ill Willie was over the past months but were shocked to the bones by the tragic news that he lost his fight on 28th November, at the all too young age of 48.

A huge turnout attended his funeral at St. Mary's Cathedral on 30th November, a most dignified yet heart breaking occasion where his great friend Malcolm Noonan spoke so eloquently about Willie, recalling his early days as a bass player with Crawl Babies, his twenty-eight years as head honcho at Rollercoaster Records, his unfaltering loyalty as a friend and so much more. The Malojian show at The Set had been arranged some months ago by Willie and we all in our hearts hoped and expected that Willie would be present at some stage to enjoy the occasion, sadly not to be. In other years it would have been the much-cherished Rollercoaster Christmas Party which Willie arranged each year with various bands performing and the legendary Willie and Dave Holland's disco kicking on to the early hours after the live music ended.

In many ways it was fitting that the occasion had been arranged as it gave so many people the opportunity to gather together and celebrate the very thing that Willie had provided for years in Kilkenny and what he particularly cherished, live music, smiling faces, togetherness and love. All those ingredients were there in abundance on the night. There were tears of course but the overall sense was one of celebration and remembrance. The opening act was Mark McCambridge, the founding member of Belfast band Arborist and an act also very special to Willie. The gentle acoustic delivery was the perfect evening opener and set the scene for what was to follow. In what must have been a difficult personal challenge Stevie Scullion delivered a faultless set, choosing material actually perfectly suited to the occasion, accompanied by an outstanding band of musicians. No thumping drums or screeching guitars this time around but instead some gorgeous strings and keys delivered by Rachel Boyd on violin, David Murphy on pedal steel, Una McCann on accordion, Laura McFadden on cello and Stephen on acoustic guitar and occasional piano. Backing vocals were contributed beautifully by all.

Emotionally explaining that he only knew Willie for three years but reinforcing the impact both musically and personally in that three-year period the first half of the set concentrated in the main on material from his earlier albums including Whittle Me Down, I’ll Be Alright and Lean On Me from This Is Nowhere, Communion Girls and Crease Of Your Smile from Southlands and a note perfect cover of Neil Young’s Out On The Weekend.  Moving yet always tinged with humour, (the piano temporarily dying a death mid song was greeted by a ‘Willie’s in the room’ comment), and the sense of loss always prevailed but was eclipsed by the sense of togetherness and relevance. More recent material featured in the latter half of the evening with the excellent Ambulance Song, witty Beard Song, Damp and Purity Of Your Smile all featuring from Let Your Weirdness Carry You Home his current release on the Rollercoaster Records Label.

However, the most sombre inclusion was the traditional farewell song He Was A Friend Of Mine, immortalised by Bob Dylan and on the lips of everyone in the room. Tear jerking, mournful, sentimental but more than appropriate. I glanced around the room and thought of Willie, in another world looking down and saying to himself "There’s so much love in that room."

Willie Meighan RIP 

Review and live photography by Declan Culliton


John Blek @ The Hot Spot, Greystones - 26th November 2017

A Sunday afternoon gig may seem alien to many people but for me it brought back memories as a young man when such events were weekly occurrences for a number of years with numerous choices of venues in Bray and South County Dublin.

John Blek dropped by to play a late afternoon set in Greystones on his way back to his native Cork having performed the previous evening in The Workman’s Club on Dublin’s Wellington Quay. Joking that the sparse attendance at the wonderful venue brought him back to his early career days as a busker, he proceeded to deliver the perfect afternoon’s entertainment with selections from his back catalogue, his recent album Catharsis Vol.1; a few well selected covers and a couple of new additions intended for his next project. His current album was conceived in an unorthodox manner while he spent over two months earlier in the year hospitalised, having been struck down by a virus. The two positives to emerge from this episode were, first and foremost, his return to the best of health but also the inspiration to create a body of work which over  nine tracks visits mortality, freedom, materialism and survival.

The material on the album is stripped to the bone, often featuring only vocal and acoustic guitar, perfectly suited for the live setting. He begins with the calming Lace, the opening track from the album and follows with The Night and The Liquor from his 2016 release Cut The Light. Salt In The Water, a highlight from his recent album, was inspired by a late night session with a casual Dutch visitor to Cork, who invited Blek back to his boat for a few nightcaps following a gig in Cork. Its delivery is captivating, making as much impact performed live as it does on the studio version. Also featured is Needle and Thread, whose lyrics visit adoration from an individual who lacks the financial means to materially express it. The studio recording includes only vocal and mellotron but with restrictions on the amount of equipment he can physically accommodate on tour, Blek substitutes the mellotron with a more elementary  and compact wind instrument named a Shruti box,  which achieves the desired effect, despite being christened by his disapproving trad-music girlfriend - in unprintable terms.

Compass and No Surrender also from Catharsis Vol.1 are performed with Blek explaining that he unwittingly included the latter in his set at a venue in the North of Ireland to the expected response. His stage banter is relaxed with references to suffering from mid-life crisis when he reached thirty last year (fifteen years too early for that John!) and to the number of musicians that have played in his band; testament to how difficult he must be to work with.

Little Sparrow and the Andy M. Stewart song, Where Are You Tonight? from his 2016 album Cut The Light, also get an airing together with The Barman, The Barfly and Me from his work with his band The Rats; resulting in an observation from the floor about the recurring alcohol theme in many of the songs!

Two new songs Hannah and Blackwater are auditioned to gauge approval for inclusion on his next album, with both very much getting the thumbs up from the floor. They Killed Joe Henry, written by Justin Townes Earle, is up next  before he winds up the afternoon with the timeless Townes Van Zandt classic, Pancho and Lefty, Hand On My Heart from his Rats repertoire, (requested from the floor), and on a more upbeat note, Tim Hardin’s classic love song If I Were A Carpenter.

Driving home I reflected on the quality of music recorded by Irish artists in recent months. The Remedy Club, Malojian, Dovecote, Seamus Fogarty and Ritchie Healy all spring  to mind but the standout album of the year, for me, by our wealth of local talent is definitely Catharsis Vol.1 by John Blek. Get yourself a copy and more to the point take any opportunity you get to see these acts live, you won’t be disappointed.

Review and photography by Declan Culliton

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