Mark Olson @ Whelan’s, Dublin - 24th October 2017

Nearly three years previously at the same venue Mark Olson took to the stage accompanied by his wife Ingunn Ringvold and performed a set mostly comprising material from his album Good-Bye Lizelle, released earlier that year. Quite experimental by his standards, the album was recorded using non-mainstream instrumentation, full of Eastern and Asian influences and suggested a new departure for Olson.

Three years and one album later the pair return to the same venue and the advancement is quite noticeable in many ways. Olson’s latest album Spokeswoman Of The Bright Sun does not abandon the worldly feel of its predecessor but instead blends flawlessly with his talent as an inventive songwriter and creator of so many distinct songs.  It also retains the cottage industry feel of Lizelle with both his and Ringvold’s personalities firmly stamped on it. 

What has not changed is their interesting choice of instruments and the distinctive sounds they create as a two piece, whether it be a combination of Olson’s trusted Fender and Ringvold’s echoing Djembe drum or the sonic bonding of his Appalachian Dulcimer and her harpsichord sounding Armenian Qanon. Their chemistry on stage is sincere and uplifting, two people on stage quite obviously cherishing what they are doing and managing to create a house concert atmosphere in the room.

The set comprises of sixteen songs in total, six taken from his current album, three from Lizelle, six from his Jayhawk days and one from his career changing classic The Salvation Blues, recorded ten years ago. Introducing material from the current album, Olson points out early in the evening that it is genuinely his most favourite of all his work adding "Ingunn and I have a really good thing going at the moment." Their stage banter is gentle and relaxed, Ringberg explaining the lush floral landscape on the current album cover- photographed at their desert home in Joshua Tree - and how that greenery only occurs rarely and for a very short time while Olson recalled how he blocked up all the windows in their house and barricaded himself indoors in advance of the recent eclipse with dread of blindness on venturing out of the house, a sentiment not embraced by his wife who, ignoring the warning signs, boldly ventured outdoors and returned unscathed.

Seminole Valley Tea Sipper Society, Dear Elisabeth from that album feature early in the set with Olson on guitar and Ringberg on percussion before she switches to Qanon on the album’s title track, creating a delightful sound that falls somewhere between harpsichord and sitar. The selection of Jayhawks material is a reminder of the quality of Olson’s writing for the band with favourites Blue, Clouds, Over My Shoulder, Pray For Me and a particularly impressive remodel of Two Angels all featuring.

Somewhat apprehensively and solemnly he announces that the second last song is challenging to perform and that its "important I get this one right." The song in question is You Are All from his current album and you got the impression that his concern was not in a technical sense but that the song is dedicated to his wife and that the delivery is valuable to him.

Clifton Bridge from The Salvation Blues closes the show, ("We Came Here To Live, There’s A Hope In Our Hearts"), a touching and timeless melody and sentiment, fittingly written when Olson was recovering from rock bottom and about to rebuild a career that thankfully has gone from strength to strength since then. He is an artist that has certainly proven throughout his career that there is much to be gained by following your instincts and not merely settling for the easy option when navigating the numerous sign posts met along the journey. This leg of that journey unquestionably finds Olson as creative and vital as at any other stage of that musical pilgrimage.

Earlier in the evening the most impressive Wexford duo The Remedy Club played a storming and very well received opening set featuring material from their debut album Lovers, Legends and Lost Causes, released only two weeks ago. The duo consists of Aileen Mythen (vocals and percussion) and KJ Mc Evoy (guitar and vocals) and their combination of gorgeous harmony vocals, slick guitar playing and striking stage presence shone brightly on Big Ol’Fancy, Last Song, When Tom Waits Up, Bottom of the Hill and their current single Come On. Certainly an act worth checking out and further reassurance of the wealth of local talent that we are blessed with at present.

Full marks and a big shout out to local promoter Ray Rooney who continues to bring in a host of excellent artists that we may otherwise not get the opportunity to enjoy.

Review and photography by Declan Culliton and Paul Mc Gee