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