Musician, author, illustrator, cartoonist, film director and all-round Southern culture aficionado (Colonel) JD Wilkes played a rare solo set in Dublin, thanks to sympathetic music promoters Ubangi Stomps. Wilkes is on a European tour with his band the Legendary Shack Shakers and took the time out to pay a visit to Dublin. Normally he’s a consummate frontman with the band, but even when stationed on a chair centre stage, he is a self-contained ball of energy. Seated in front of two banners, made by his sister, Wilkes begins his show with an inquiry as to “how’s everyone doing?” Gob Iron Stomp is the opening salvo and it underscore once more just how good a harmonica player he is. Nor is his banjo playing any less accomplished, equally full of inherent punk attitude, a testament to his understanding of the techniques of early banjo picking. He jokingly referred to the banjo as the “hillbilly birth control device.”
Over the next hour or so Wilkes plays a selection of self-written songs from both his solo and band back catalogue. Included is the tale from his most recent release Will I See You One Day In God’s Glory Land. Tennessee Dog Attack was inspired by a news item he heard on a brief TV segment that stood out for him as something out of the norm in that type of broadcast. He also included a couple of songs he had written and recorded with Charlie Stamper, alongside some classic material like I’ll Fly Away, Coo-Coo Bird, Jack Of Diamonds and the Bob Wills associated Liza Jane. Between songs throughout the show he talked about such diverse topics as the similarities between Kentucky and The Emerald Isle, The Andy Griffith Show, role playing teenagers who wanted to be Victorian vampires and how he was kicked out of his role playing group who were into Dungeons & Dragons. The influence of his grandfather and getting some banjo lessons from Lee Sexton, a banjo player who predated bluegrass and who had a very individual style, also featured in his narrative. He recalled how he’d tried to track the man down with no luck for several years, until one day it dawned open him to perhaps just try and ring enquiries to see if he was listed. Wilkes soon found himself speaking to the man himself. Asking if he still gave banjo lessons he was told to” come on over.” Which he gladly did, as he was when he was given the opportunity when a young man, to meet some of the elder statesmen of the blues, such as Junior Wells, from whom he got some valuable tips and advice.
The combination of his voice, banjo and harmonica as well as good-natured chat, is that of an artist steeped in the traditions and folk lore of the South. Wilkes both enraptured and entertained the audience who, after the main set, called Wilkes back to the stage for a final encore. The perfect finale to an evening shared with a man whose undoubted talents should be so much better known and lauded. No doubt everyone fortunate to have attended will eagerly await the next visit from JD Wilkes either solo or fronting his equally talented band.
Review by Stephen Rapid