iPhone photograph by Ronnie Norton
Forced by outside circumstances into a hiatus since the recording and release of their excellent Jim Lauderdale/Leo Pearson produced album Let It Ride Bray Vista played a rare gig at The Cobblestones. With members now living in different continents it meant that only 8 of the 9 members were available, but with such a large line-up, featuring three lead vocalists, meant they had it covered. The lack of gigs and rehearsal, not unexpectedly, showed in places but not to the overall enjoyment of the evening. The solid rhythm section powered the songs along and piano and mandolin added depth, even though the latter was inaudible at times. But special mention must be made of Johnny Evans whose Telecaster and Steel guitar gave the band its direction and focus and he contributed several fine solos to the proceedings. Lead vocalist Neil Tobin writes some strong songs, usually on the nature of love and relationships and in the 25 song set they played many of these including L.O.V.E, First Impressions, Keep On Keepin’ On and the encore Reprise which pledges the friendship of the Bray Vista Social Club, something that is evident onstage. Co-vocalist Alison Byrne also impressed with her soulful voice and took the lead on a number of songs including If It’s Alright, a song she co-wrote with Tobin. Brian O’Dwyer added another vocal texture when he took the lead for a couple of songs and also contributed to the overall sound on rhythm guitar and accordion. Along side their own songs they peppered the set with a number of classic cover including Byrne’s emotive take on Loretta Lynn’s Rated X. Other audience favourites included songs from the Louvin Brothers through to Gram Parson’s Ooh Las Vegas and on the songs of influences like Bill Monroe with Blue Moon Of Kentucky and Waylon Jennings' Good Hearted Woman. The set ended with the song they usually close their shows with, that was Will The Circle Be Unbroken with featured most of the band taking lead vocal on a verse and with the audience joining in on the chorus, as they did on the final encore You Are My Sunshine. That they are not playing regularly is a loss all round as they are that rare band that plays with integrity and passion and with a eight piece band money is definitely not the main focus here. One can only hope that circumstances will change to allow the various members the time and proximity to perform and to record more regularly. For now this one-off gig show how ragged but right good Irish country (rather than Country & Irish) can and should be.
Review by Stephen Rapid