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

Drive By Truckers @ Vicar Street - February 28th 2017.

Vicar Street sees the welcome return to Ireland of this much-loved band who have been visiting these shores on a regular basis over their career. Formed in 1996 and with 12 studio releases to their name, Drive By Truckers deliver a show that is as rousing and vibrant as any since they first formed. Despite a number of rotating musicians and personnel changes over the years, the creative axis of Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley has remained firmly front and centre when it comes to driving this uncompromising collective ever-forward.

Tonight, we are treated to over 2-hours of energetic and passionate performance from Hood and Cooley, together with the superb playing talents of Jay Gonzalez (Keys/Guitar), Brad Morgan (Drums) and Matt Patton (Bass). The band members are perfectly in tune with each and every direction that the 24-song set list takes throughout the evening.

Starting with the new record and Ever South, which mentions Irish emigration to America, the band could do no wrong as they spun the enthusiastic crowd into something of a frenzy. Old favourites were interlaced across the newer songs in order to keep the momentum building and the sonic attack of three guitars was quite something to witness.

It can sometimes be just a bit too much in terms of the sound quality and the vocals certainly suffered on certain songs as a result. However, take nothing away from the overall energy in the room and the cathartic quality of songs such as Puttin’ People On The Moon, Zip City, Sinkhole, The Living Bubba and Women Without Whiskey kept the crowd singing in unison and punching the air.

The latest release, American Band, gets plenty of attention with the inclusion of Ramon Casiano, Surrender Under Protest, Darkened Flags On The Cusp Of Dawn and others. In fact, the band revisit seven of their previous albums across the evening and the performance of all five musicians is a real treat to experience; players at the very top of their collective game.

No doubt there were fan favourites that were not given an airing but with the body of work this band has produced, that seems to be inevitable. The pace was unrelenting and the excellent song-writing talents of Cooley and Hood really stand strong against any of their peers.

Finishing with a rousing version of Neil Young’s Keep On Rockin’ In The Free World, the Drive By Truckers leave the stage to prolonged applause and the hope that they return again soon – perhaps to one of our Summer Festivals (here’s hoping).   

Also worthy of a mention are opening act Eyelids. Considered to be one of the finest recent bands to come out of Portland Oregon, they are fronted by John Meon (Decemberists) and Chris Slusarenko (Guided By Voices) and their energetic forty five minute power pop set is the perfect warm up for what is to follow.

Review by Paul McGee  Photograph by Declan Culliton

Eric Taylor @ Live at the DC Club, Dublin - Friday 25th September 2015

Returning to Ireland for the first time in a few years, Eric Taylor plays to an audience of long time admirers at this intimate city centre venue. His finger playing style is somewhat compromised on the night with the loss of his favourite picks ,but he soon puts such setbacks behind him to deliver a show of understated skill and sensitive touch in a 'less is more' performance that has the hushed room hanging on his every move.

Sitting in a chair and thumbing through his song book while tuning his guitar, Taylor speaks of his past in extended and elaborate storytelling, punctuated by an occasional grin and laugh while he remembers a specific moment.

His interest in the lifestyle of vagabond troubadours who never really found a settled home, colour his songs and the characters that he captures in the lyrics he writes. He sings about the free spirits and characters of the independent highway, living a code that defers to no man. His tales of whiskey nights and mornings of regret are the stuff of novels and short stories from the parts of living that only brave or crazy men inhabit.

Texas, Texas tells of adventures with Townes Van Zandt in a storm and of riding borrowed horses. The song, Strong Enough for Two references the fragile journey from Mexico City to Houston Medical Centre of a little boy and his family, hoping for a miracle cure and was the subject of a documentary in 1981.

Prison Movie is a song about a life spent behind bars and having to walk always in a line as an inmate. Cover These Bones (a Tim Grimm cover), Reno and Adios are taken from his latest release and visit such areas as Native Indian inequality, failed relationships and dangerous men who turn to a life of crime.

'Carny' is a slang term used in North America for a carnival employee, nomads on the highway of life and such is the restless spirit. He speaks of his early days in the Circus with a fondness and a longing, remembering them as the happiest of days. The song Carnival Jim & Jean captures the bond of such relationships, if not the almost claustrophobic nature of spending too much time together.

Louis Armstrong's Broken Heart tells of the great man at the twilight of his career and the sadness of seeing him used as some dressed up prize. Dean Moriarty is a look at the Beat Generation, inspired by Kerouac in aspiration and hippie ideals, heading out West in search of some illusory American Dream. A cover of Where I Lead Me by Townes Van Zandt is particularly moving and the nameless faces who toil for the simple basics of life are shown compassion and understanding in these vignettes as penned by Eric Taylor.

A Texan storyteller with a fine body of work to his name, Eric Taylor is a very accomplished guitar player and song writer and this was an absorbing night of music and tales that are long removed from the daily experience of Dublin inhabitants on a night of reflection and wistful memory.

Review by Paul McGee. Photograph by Vincent Lennon.

Joel Plaskett @ Whelan’s, Dublin - 22nd September 2015

It has been a few years since this contemporary Canadian folk artist from Nova Scotia has played in Ireland and this short tour is in support of his recent release, The Park Avenue Sobriety Test.

The show is well attended, with plenty of expatriate support from the Canadian contingent on the night and it is a timely reminder of the great talent that we have been deprived of on a more regular basis.

Something of a national treasure in homeland, Joel Plaskett has been releasing quality music since his solo debut in the late 1990’s. Whether as part of the more rock orientated Joel Plaskett Emergency or as a solo performer, he has maintained a consistently high standard of song writing with a keen turn of phrase and an observational style that has highlighted his craft and increasing maturity.

Tonight he concentrates on the new release with excellent acoustic versions of The Last Phone Booth, On a Dime, Song for Jersey, Broke and Captains of Industry instantly finding favour and adding to the list of his impressive body of work. A fine guitar player, Joel also presents a very strong stage presence with his easy manner and amusing comments and stories which lend added weight to many of the performances.

A great version of Hard Times, the famous Stephen Foster song, is particularly poignant in its humanity and timely message. We are also treated to On the Rail, a song he was commissioned to write about the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton. Nina & Albert is a fictitious love story and I Love This Town is always a fun song to hear live.  

A request for old favourite True Patriot Love is granted and the title song of the new release is a real gem. Finishing the encore with Rollin’ Rollin’ Rollin’ is an upbeat way to say goodnight to the enthusiastic crowd, who loved every minute of this intimate performance.

Support on the night was from young Canadian artist Mo Kenney who has been gaining critical acclaim for her talents and who joined Joel for part of his show on guitar and harmony vocals.

Hopefully Joel Plaskett will return in the near future and share his fine musical and song writing talents with us – an artist with much to offer and recommend to any discerning music fan.

Review and photograph by Paul McGee

Ed Romanoff @ Whelans, Dublin - Wed 25th Sept


Back at Whelans Ed Romanoff this time out played in the downstairs room. He again brought with him some accomplished players - Deni Bonet on violin and backing vocals, Seth Woods on cello as well as the ever excellent local boy Clive Barnes on steel and electric guitar. Clive will be familiar to may through his own solo work. All three added a subtle but highly effective atmosphere to balance with Romanoff's voice and guitar centred songs. He will freely admit the limitations of his voice but gigging has definitely improved his tone and timbre. He appeared earlier in the evening to sing a song with his special guest Rachael Yamagata during her short set. She returned the compliment and joined Romanoff later in his set.

The songs were mostly taken from Romanoff's debut album. Between the songs he told some stories and anecdotes about the backgrounds and inspiration for the songs. He told us how while on a cab he had come across a dead man lying in the street who had a small dog who was staying beside the unfortunate man and he wondered who would look after the dog but that neighbours had come out to take care of the dog. This led on to how he had found his own dog Freckles and how he brought him back into the States from Costa Rica. There is a mix of humour and warmth along with some darker tones in his tales of what is the human condition that features in Romanoff's music. He is an entertainer who is on this chosen journey of expression, using words in different forms to tell the real and imagined stories.

For the song Two Yellow Roses he was joined by a singer Sharon, a singer he had encountered while walking round Dublin on his last visit to Dublin and who he had asked to join him onstage. She repeated her vocal harmony again tonight. He related a story of a singer who had been sent a letter from John Lennon telling the singer to always pursue his dream but that the letter never got to him at the time but turned up years later. It is this sense of the storyteller that is at the heart of what Ed Romanoff does. He is further exploring that aspect of his own life with a book that will tell the story of his adaption. That tale is the subject of St. Vincent De Paul on his album and here live. 

Rachael Yamagata joined him then for a song and used Romanoff's guitar and they sang together Lost And Gone. A new song not on the album. She later came back on stage at the end of the set and played piano and added vocals. There was an obvious rapport and friendship between the two. Less Broken was written for a friend that Ed had visited in hospital who was recovering and who had said she was "a little less broken now". Which shows again a songwriter always needs to have a ear open for little expressions or phrases that can spark off a song.

The show ended with a version of Orphan King, a song that Romanoff had written with Mary Gauthier, which he has subsequently rerecorded with Rachael Yamagata and released as a single to benefit the Chernobyl Kilkenny Outreach Group. It was a fitting end to an intimate and warm show and was followed by Romanoff coming off stage to meet those in the audience who wanted to speak to him.

There's no doubt that Ed Romanoff will be back in Ireland before long as he feels a strong affinity with the country and those who have heard his music will likely be happy to have him back here to.

Review by Stephen Rapid. Photography by Ronnie Norton

CMA songwriters session@ Whelans - 23rd Feb. 2012

The CMA (Country Music Assocation) was back to Dublin for another of its outreach events. In the past they have brought in (then) upcoming acts like Jace Everett, Julie Roberts and Dierks Bentley as well as holding their AGM meeting in Dublin in 1995. This time out it was a trio of songwriters, Bill Anderson, Clint Black and Bob DiPiero, who were here to play some of the many songs they had written and to expand on them with stories about how they were written or about their own lives and times. This was as much about the repartee as it was about the music. To some it was an odd paring in that both DiPiero and Bill Anderson are predominantly songwriters although Anderson has had a lengthy career as an recording artist in his own right. Clint Black, who emerged at the same time as Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson, has not released an album of new material in some time and is not really known as a writer for other artists. But in the end the balance worked and the audience were enthralled.

Black arrived on stage a little later than the others as he had picked up a flu virus along the way and was trying to give his voice as much chance to recover as possible. This gave him time to show his skills as a guitarist and harmonica player. He impressed on both and played on songs by both the other participants. Anderson commented that "my guitar doesn't have all the notes on it that yours does" in recognition of his dexterity. He was particularly poignant on harmonica on a couple of Anderson's classic country songs. Anderson was indeed the most obviously "classic country" of the trio and he played a selection of songs from his "deep" catalogue. These ranged from Five Little Fingers, a song that was a hit here in Ireland by Frankie McBride, from his early years through to Whiskey Lullaby, a CMA song of the year in 2005, though it was written years earlier by Anderson and Jon Randall, it was eventually recorded as a duet by Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss. DiPiero acted as MC and called on the other two sing or to tell a particular story. They took it it in turns to deliver the songs and tell tales and, as is befitting a veteran artist we are unlikely to see playing live again Bill Anderson was granted a couple of extra choices. DiPiero told us that Bob Dylan had been asked in the documentary Don't Look Back which songwriter he most respected and he had named Bill Anderson. That's some respect.

For a man in his 75th year Bill Anderson has an uncanny memory of his songs and lyrics and has a gentle humour and is still in good enough voice to give life to his songs. These included Po' Folks, Still and the Ken Dodd covered Happiness and a song he opened his selection with titled The Songwriters which pretty much summed up the vocation with humour and insight. Anderson told us about touring in Ireland back in the day with Loretta Lynn and he remembered the review he had received from one disgruntled critic who was non-too-partial to his mid-song recitations. The reference to their sentimentality he said had the effect of tour mate Conway Twitty referring to him as "Hallmark" for the rest of the tour. Another story he told was of a couple who were watching television in bed and the husband had the controller and was constantly flicking channels between and x-rated show and a fishing channel. This exasperated his wife who told him to "stick with one channel or other". "Which one" the husband said, to which his wife replied the x-rated one as "you already know how to fish"! He played us a more contemporary song called Give It Away that he had written with Buddy Cannon and Jamie Johnson that was build around an explanation of the title that Johnson had said was a drawn from the experience of going through a divorce. At a later award ceremony Johnson had thanked his wife for divorcing as he had gotten this song from it.

Bob DiPiero's songs have been covered by a wide range of country artists but in person he delivers them more in rockin' acoustic mode. His first cut was by, then newcomer, Reba McIntire. He explained how when he got the cheque he went out and spent it only to realize after that he had not kept anything back for tax. Writing about theis experience gave him the song American Made, which was covered by The Oak Ridge Boys, and also the title of his current solo album. He also told how the experience of watching Forrest Gump had inspired him to write Blue Clear Sky and hiw he had to defend it's title with the artist who recorded it, George Strait, from changing it to Clear Blue Sky. He stuck to his guns and it stuck to the top of the charts. 

Clint Black, had a more caustic wit that he aimed at his fellow artists and the audience on occasion. He told us how his song Code Of The West was inspired by those in uniform who put themselves in harm's way, such as those in the military or the fire service. Black told us he was raised a Catholic and his middle name was Patrick and how, as a kid, he had kept snakes but had lost a poisoned one in the house but it had turned up, dead, in the washing machine. He got a great response from the audience for his 1989 hit A Better Man, his first single. Black had been requested, via Facebook, to play the song A Bad Goodbye. This he put off till later in the show when he felt his voice was warmed up enough to tackle it. He told us how he had got Wynonna Judd to sing on the recorded version but tonight maybe Bob would fill in. Bob declined to, so he started to sing it solo when the lady who had requested it was heard singing along in the audience. Her name we discovered was Michelle and he brought her up on stage where she, despite her nervousness, delivered it well and it was one of the evening's magic moments. 

The evening closed with the trio delivering a rousing version of Will The Circle Be Unbroken with the entire audience singing along and a standing ovation for three individualistic personalities who showed some insight into their skills as songwriters and singers as well as communicators. It was a master class in how the art of good songwriting can cross boundaries and decades to connect with a sympathetic audience.

Review by Stephen Rapid. Photograph by Ronnie Norton

TransAtlantic Sessions @ National Concert Hall Tues 7 Feb 2012


While it might have seemed an unusual venue for the Celtic Connections crowd the Concert Hall worked just fine as the musicians transformed it from a formal setting into a casual evening with music from a bunch of companions who all happen to be superb musicians. There were (I’m pretty sure) 16 musicians with 7 featured singers. I won’t attempt to list each number but will pick out my personal highlights.

The band opened with a fast tune – unannounced, but sizzling, which left everyone eager for more – and they were followed by Tim O’Brien who was, as always a delight. Ruth Moody of the Wailin’ Jennys beautifully sang Nest from her album and a Jennys tune, Asleep at Least switching neatly from guitar to banjo. Eddi Reader was a crowd delight with her perfect voice; she started with a Burns song before singing Declan O’Rourke’s Love is the Way and introducing Declan himself who received a rousing reception, as a home-town boy should before he went into Galileo.

Aly Bain led the amazing ‘band’ - although it is almost silly to count musicians of their calibre as merely band members – through a set of tunes before turning the stage over to the great Karen Matheson who triumphed with Si Kahn’s Aragon Mill which Karen noted she had learned from Andy Irvine.

The extraordinary Raul Malo came next and his two songs here were, for me, the highpoint of the night. He opened with JD Souther’s You’re Only Lonely making me feel that JD had written it for Raul and then blew me away with a version of Every Little Thing about You. Raul Malo’s voice over Jerry Douglas’ lap steel and the astonishing Michael McGoldrick’s uillean pipes was a perfect experience for me in what was a powerful night of music. Tim O’Brien wrapped up the first half with a singalong version of Woody Guthrie’s This Land is Your Land to honour Guthrie’s centenary.

Eavesdropping at the interval I heard that some thought last year was better, some thought this year was much better. And someone else was…bored. Bored?! Please.

The second half started with a rippling Jerry Douglas resonator solo followed by Bruce Molsky’s 2 lovely old time songs – I only wish I could have worked up the nerve to introduce myself to him – followed by Raul crooning, as only he can, Around the World, the theme to Around the World in 80 Days a choice that puzzled many. Perhaps it was the mention of County Down? All the singers came out again, we had guitar wizard Russ Barenburg’s jazzy Hallowe’en Rehearsal which featured all the musicians . Phil Cunningham, who had only joined the tour the night before, gave us a lovely, wistful Cajun flavoured Lake Charles Waltz just before Karen Matheson again triumphed with Diamond Ring.  The band then ripped into Frankie/The Crossing before the encore when Paul Brady and Ciaran Tourish joined the multitude for a Raul Malo led romp through Hank Williams’ classic Hey, Good Lookin.

It was a great evening for music and it is hard to convey how  amazing musicians were throughout. Guitarist John Doyle was both rocksteady and imaginative, a hard combination he carried off superbly. The fiddlers – Aly Bain and John McCusker, occasionally joined by Tim O’Brien and Bruce Molsky – were both sweet and tough. Danny Thompson on bass was, as expected, magisterial and perfect. Tim O’Brien, Russ Barenberg and Bruce Molsky played (I think) 5 or 6 different instruments amongst themselves switching around without a care. Phil Cunningham switched between accordion and piano with Donald Shaw and drummer James Mackintosh was a subtle yet constant and necessary  presence.

I thought it was a night of exceptional music and also great fun. Bring on next year

Thanks to Denis Finnegan for the set list.

 Review by Sandy Harsch. Photography by Ronnie Norton

Sarah Savoy and the Francadians @ Whelans, Dublin - Sat 21st Jan 2012

Cajun came to Camden Street in the formidable shape of Sarah Savoy and the Francadians - a quartet of David Rolland on accordion, Manolo Gonzales on upright bass, Vincent Blin on fiddle and the larger than life Sarah Savoy on vocals and guitar. Savoy is the obvious leader and focal point of the band (and from an illustrious family steeped in the cajun traditions and music) but this is a fully integrated band not a backing group and vocalist. Something that was highlighted in the opening song Little Bitty Girl that played with double entendres and ended with the line that “we all play together”. This was one of the few songs delivered in English but that didn’t in any way affect the overall enjoyment of the evening as French is the natural language of cajun and at least half the band are native Frenchmen. This was their first time to play Dublin although they had been in the city before. Many of the songs they featured in tonight’s set were taken from their current Allons Rock ‘n’ Roll album. It takes a mix of classic country songs and one original all delivered in smokey French. For instance the Tex Williams, Merle Travis song Smoke, Smoke, Smoke That Cigarette is now Fume, Fume, Fume. Johnny Can’t Dance and Folsom Prison Blues were two others, the latter got an especially warm response. Savoy who was dealing with a shot voice due to a series of gigs and some bad PAs had to drop the keys of some songs in order to be able to sing them. However her natural exuberance carried her through and won the day. David Rolland took the lead on some songs too and provided a nice balance between the two. It was one of those gigs where both sides of the stage seemed to be enjoying the evening which ran to two sets and ended with the curfew. Throughout Savoy translated the essence of the songs and had an entertaining and funny stream of between song banter. Telling us that “there are blondes, brunettes and girls whose hair is so dark that even the devil don’t want them!” ... Savoy has jet black hair. She has an expressive face that makes her a natural on stage and has a band that are equally adept at what they do. She confided that all have very different tastes and agreeing on what to play in the van is difficult and usually comes down to some classic George Jones, something that they can all agree on. She also told us that cajun music is a very masculine music and so she had written High-Heel Two-Step to help redress the balance. The subject of many of the other songs though revolved around the consumption of alcohol and its subsequent results. Although space didn’t allow it and it only briefly broke out for the last song this is music made for dancing and the whole audience was caught up in its infectious rhythms. They said that they wanted to move to Dublin but true or not they would be welcome back anytime.

Review by Stephen Rapid. Photograph by Ronnie Norton

Steve Earle@The Olympia Theatre Dublin - 6th Nov 2011

Review by Stephen Rapid, Photograph by Ronnie Norton

Bringing the Dukes (and the Duchesses) with him for the first time in an age Steve Earle delivered a two part set that was an appropriate mix of old favourites and new songs from his extensive reportaire. It featured various vocal turns from the band as well as from Earle who's own distinctive and forceful vocals were as powerful as ever. A prompt 8pm start (" Sometimes we are are own support band") was followed, as usual, by a set of back to back songs before Earle spoke to the audience and began his first introductions to the band. The songs in this part of the set included some songs from his MCA days - Hillbilly Highway, My Old Friend The Blues and Someday as well as songs from his latest album. He then introduced his wife Alison Moorer, who had up to this point been playing keyboards. They sang a duet Days Aren't Long Enough after which Moorer sang solo, including a version of Sam Cooke's A Change Is Gonna Come and again proved what a fine vocalist she is, and has always been. The band switched instruments throughout the show with Moorer playing accordion, acoustic and electric guitars. Guitarist Chris Masterson, something of a revelation, played pedal steel, mandolin as well as a variety of six and twelve string guitars and also sang harmony. He is a member of The Mastersons along with partner Eleanor Whitmore who tonight played fiddle, mandolin and guitar, as well as backing vocals. Both were versatile, adaptable and essential parts of the band's sound adding the twang factor when neccessry. The rhythm section was completed by Will Rigby on drums and the only surviving member of previous Dukes line-ups long time bassist Kelley Looney, who also took a turn at the microphone to sing Free Men. In his between song introductions and explanations Earle referenced the Occupy Wall Street campaign and it's Irish offshoots. Indeed the bass drum carried a "We are the 99%" sign. He also prefaced The Devil's Right Hand by telling a tale of how he used to keep a loaded pistol around the house until his son Justin misappropriated it and the lengths which followed to find out where it was. He further talked about the American Civil War and how there were 58,000 casualties at Gettysburg and how even today "the people who start these wars aren't fucking going" before playing Dixieland. This was followed by a rousing Galway Girl and a more acoustic version of The Mountain. Meet Me in the Alleyway had an rough-edged dirty blues sound with Earle playing harmonica and sing through a distorted mic. Another duet from Earle and Moorer, Heaven and Hell was from the current album I'll Never Get out Of This World Alive. Another small point that yet again Earle and band had no onstage mointors. The enthusiastic and invigorated audience demanded and got two encores which included a new song written for Treme, the TV series set in New Orleans that Earle has starred in as well as Taneytown, Johnny Comes Marching Home and Copperhead Road. Steve Earle is a captivating performer in any form but with the Dukes (and Duchess) it encapsulates his career in a better way than any other. This show was up there with the best I've seen him do and after the show they band met fans in the lobby to meet and greet and sign, which was an added bonus for hardcore fans

Eilen Jewell @ Sugar Club, Dublin - 3rd Nov 2011

Queen Jewell told us how excited she was to finally play a date in Dublin, something she had wanted to do, it was she enthused "a magical event". Her previous visits were only to Dublin Airport on the way to other venues. The audience in the Sugar Club were equally delighted to have her and her superb band there. The rhythm section of Jason Beek on drums and backing vocals and Johnny Sciascia on upright bass were solid and sympathetic to the songs throughout, laying down a solid musical bedrock. Because of his role in the music guitarist Jerry Miller gets a lot of attention, and deservedly so, he is an dexterous and dynamic player. This is a band as Jewell says that are "capable of playing anything" and that is proved as the music then touches on classic country, rockabilly, blues and honky-tonk. This tightly focused outfit played songs from all of their albums including a couple of songs from the gospel side project the Sacred Shakers. The 22 song set included two songs from her Loretta Lynn tribute album- Fist City and Deep As Your Pocket - the latter song described as a public service warning. Her relaxed introductions including telling us that cupid wasn't all he was cracked up to be with his scattered aim as outlined in her song Bang Bang Bang, that Jameson is their favourite whiskey before playing High Shelf Booze. That the first song she learned was a blues song that they had adapted their take from previous versions as Nobody's Business. Other covers outside of Miss Lynn's still relevant songs included Arthur Alexander's The Girl That Radiates That Charm, Bob Dylan's Trouble In Mind and the Miller showcase, the Johnny Kidd and the Pirates classic, Shakin' All Over which saw Miller include a slew of riffs from 60's songs like Paint It Black into the mix and the audience singing the chorus. Her own songs are every bit as good and included Sea Of Tears, Boundary County, Santa Fe, Warning Signs and Heartache Boulevard. Eilen Jewell is far more than just a queen of the minor key, the music played before an audience by this tight and thoroughly engaged and engaging quartet is an ideal live experience. They breathe new life into these songs in this setting. Both sides of the stage had fun, which is exactly how it should be.

Review by Stephen Rapid, Photograph by Mark Averill

Brad Paisley @ The Olympia Theatre, Dublin 19 August 2011

Brad Paisley onstage with Darius Rucker (inset) using a local beverage bottle to good advantage.

If there was ever any doubt that a healthy market for Nashville’s country music existed in Dublin it would have been blasted out of existence Friday night. It was a first come, first served downstairs-standing-up gig and the crowd was queuing neatly for 150 metres down Dame Street at twenty past five. And the doors didn’t open until 7.

I can’t say much about the Darius Rucker gig as I was stuck backstage for most of it, but from what I did hear he was in amazing voice, had a tight band – he’s far too experienced for anything else – sang some of his hits and the crowd loved his show. And it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy – he’s a sweetheart with a fabulous voice and is a great songwriter who loves what he does.

Brad Paisley was instantly at home with the crowd and if they loved Darius Rucker, they adored Brad, singing along with every word of every song. He played for roughly 2 hours with two acoustic solo numbers to break up the almost overwhelming power and sound of the band. The solo numbers were Whiskey Lullaby and When I get Where I’m Going To and showcased his acoustic playing and voice.  Brad is known for his amazing guitar playing and his reputation was thoroughly burnished, not tarnished by the gig. It’s true: he is a spectacular guitarist and in regard to his other talents, songwriting and singing he fully deserves his CMA Entertainer of the Year title. The band are versatile and very, very good, particularly Kendal Marcy on keyboards and banjo and the flamboyant Ben Sesar on drums, although to be fair, the steel player (Randle Currie) sounded great when we heard him, but the sound varied from place to place.

Working on a Tan was dedicated to a sun-starved Ireland – and we need it! Other highlights were  This is Country Music, title track to Paisley’s most recent album, Celebrity , I’m Still a Guy, I’m Gonna Miss Her (aka The Fishing Song), and the night’s climax was a full stage – crew and Darius Rucker included – rave up of Alcohol.

Enterprising promoters take note: the audience is there, even in these parlous economic times we have the time and the money for good music – just bring it in and we’ll be there.

Review by Sandy Harsch. Photography by Ronnie Norton

Brian Setzer Rockabilly Riot Vicar St. Dublin 27th July 2011

Still walking the walk, Brian Setzer joins his upright bassist and drummer onstage in his stylish rockabilly threads and they proceed to rock the town with a set of uptempo workouts that see cohorts Noah Levy on drums and Johhny Hatton provide a solid foundation for Setzer to display his undoubted prowess as a guitarist of the highest calibre of Gretch rockin' twang. Songs for that segment of the show included '49 Mercury Blues, Drive Like Lightening, Crash Like Thunder and This Cat's On A Hot Tin Roof. He then slowed things down with Slow Down. They band were also joined by pianist and acoustic guitarist Kevin McKendree who played some fine Jerry Lee style keyboard skills. Setzer understanding of pacing allowed things to build in an organic, if fairly frantic pace. He did a nice segue into a countryish Folsom Prison Blues early into the set. It should also be noted that Setzer is a strong vocalist able to handle the different tempos and styles with ease. The initial rhythm section then left the stage to be replaced by original Stray Cat drummer, singer and all round showman Slim Jim Phantom and a second double bassist Chris D'Rozario. Phantom's kit was a stripped down snare and cymbals set up. The bass drum providing a platform for Slim Jim to stand on rather than being used as an actual rhythm instrument. None the less this partial Stray Cats reunion was much loved by fans and Phantom and Setzer seemed to enjoy playing off each other. Old favourites were played including the theme song Stray Cat Strut. Phantom enthusiastic playing saw the destruction of one snare skin along the way. Johnny Hatton then rejoined the stage and the two double bassist began a slap string showdown and some gymnastic displays with the instruments which then led to Setzer joining them with his own silver sprayed double bass and the trio then worked together in harmony and competition. The Rockabilly Riot tour undoubtably is as much a spectacle of skill and showmanship as it is pure rockabilly. But that doesn't detract from the general audience enjoyment who were obviously delighted to see these guys up on stage together. An extended Fishnet Stockings was soon followed by an encore which included all band members on stage for a fitting. They did and we smiled.

Lucky Bones @ The Sugar Club, Dublin - 24 Feb 2011

This new Dublin band were using this date to launch the album Together We Are All Alone. The album was recorded in Barstop,Texas by singer/songwriter Eamonn O'Connor and some session players. O'Connor then put together this band on his return to do full justice to the songs which show O'Connor to be an interesting and intelligent writer. The music covers several bases and influences, including country and roots rock, celtic soul and '60s based melodic pop. In the live context these disparate elements are drawn together by the versatile band. With a solid rhythm section of Leon Kennedy and Ben Clark powering the songs over which keyboard/banjo player Conor Miley and guitarist Billy Morley added texture and grit to the songs. This made the live band renditions of the songs rougher edged and punchier than the recorded versions. Songs like their debut single Longshot, Toward The Setting Sun, Stand So Tall, Unbelieving Eyes, Frank Sinatra and the extended, intense closer Commercial Presentation are all memorable and melodic. Eamonn O'Connor is convivial frontman who leads the band from the front and is a captivating singer. This is early days for Lucky Bones who have only played a handful of gigs to date, which included opening for Marty Stuart as an acoustic trio, and sound issues with monitors and small tuning problems should soon be eliminated with experience and confidence. That two of the stand-out songs, including the song of infatuation bordering on stalking - , are new songs shows that this band can only get better. These are tough times for any new band, especially one making its own way in the world but the signs are that these guys, if they hold their nerve, will be lucky.

Marty Stuart & The Fabulous Superlatives @The Helix, Dublin. Feb 2nd 2011

Sparkle and Twang. That may well sum up Marty Stuart and the Fabulous Superlatives as they gave a masterclass in how to keep a tradition alive and healthy. At the outset Marty Stuart said that "the most outlaw, most outsider thing you could do in Nashville today is to play country music". How right he is, and as someone who has been at the heart of the music, its people and its rhinestone look he knows what he's talking about. In his first visit to Ireland in quite some time he captivated the audience in the intimate Helix Theatre. It was his first visit with his current and longtime band which includes 'Handsome' Harry Stinson on drums and vocals, 'The Apostle' Paul Martin on bass and vocals and 'Cousin' Kenny Vaughan on guitar and vocals. The "and vocals" shouldn't be underestimated as all four deliver distinctive and dynamic contributions either on harmonies or stepping up to the mic themselves. Each member showed themselves more than capable of holding their own. Vaughan sang Country Music Has A Hold On Me, while Handsome Harry sang a song from his Who Is This Man? mini-album, Paul Martin sang Bluegrass Express. It also was a gig that emphasized what a talent Marty Stuart himself is; from his exemplary vocals, his lead guitar playing - using Clarence White's B-Bender Telecaster, alongside his acoustic guitar and mandolin dexterity, highlighted in a section of the show that he played solo. The full band played songs from the early days like Tempted and Hillbilly Rock to a selection of songs, often prefaced with stories of how the came into being, from Ghost Train and Badlands. They also played several songs from the CD that is only available at gigs and from their website Cool Country Favorites. These included the theme from the Marty Stuart Rural TV Show La Tingo Tango as well as his Johnny Cash tribute, a song which he had explained he had attempted to write in several occasions, Dark Bird. He also sang Merle Haggard's Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down, an audience request, and a part of obvious and warm interaction between the audience and the band throughout the show. The music covered all aspects of what makes country cool to those who know and believe in it's merits. From bluegrass to Bakersfield, from honky-tonk to gospel they covered it all with skill, humour and commitment that made it a perfect show in so many ways. Mention should also be made of Mick Conley's sound mix, as all too often in the past gigs have been too loud and volume does not replace dynamic, here they got it right in every aspect. Something that was expressed by many of the audience who waited to have a CD signed, have a picture taken or just to say "hi". The foursome sat for an hour after to make sure that anyone who wanted to had the opportunity to meet them. Now that's country.

Justin Townes Earle, 25th January 2011, Whelans, Dublin

"Alright, Ladies and Gentlemen, how are we doing?". Justin Townes Earle greets the house-full audience and launches into a 25 song set that covered songs from all three of his albums. He prowled the stage like a caged tiger, full of pent up energy and the need to express himself. This was frustrated at times by a temperamental tuner "technical difficulties" but otherwise Earle was in top form. Most songs were prefaced by anecdotes relating in some way to the song he was about to play. They Killed John Henry was prefaced by a mention of his grandfather Jack Earle. Mama's Eyes, a song for his Mother who he told us stood over 6 foot tall and managed to detach one of his father's retinas with a single punch. He also mentioned she was now using Facebook and said that if "she ever gets on Twitter I'm through". Earle live is quite a different prospect to the JustinTownes Earle on album where he utilizes a full band and range of instruments. Live he uses his considerable guitar technique that sees him playing both a hard rhythm as well as melodic lead lines that sound like there is more than one player. A second player would have undoubtably added depth to the sound, as was the case on his last visit when he had Cory Younts accompanying him. A point emphasized here when he brought support act James Walbourne and his brother Rob on for a set closing Harlem River Blues, the duo played mandolin and washboard and added vocal support. Being solo however gives him the freedom to play whatever song he felt inclined to. His set included covers of "the great" Bruce Springsteen's Racing In The Streets as well as a Texas blues song from Lightening Hopkins. He noted that Townes Van Zandt had said that there was only "the blues and zippity do dah" and that no set would be complete with a blues. That music genre undoubtably informs Earle's own songs as well as the covers he played. He didn't shy away from his own blues, telling us that his weaknesses included "young ladies and fried chicken", but he noted that while fried chicken had given him less problems than women it also gave him less to write about. His father he said noted that he was "a hard dog to keep under the porch". He mentioned his recent and ongoing problems with chemical dependence and incarceration. His love of vodka ("I like to drink it in the morning") as well as cocaine and pills were cited. This tour follows a much reported spell in rehab and one can only hope that this talented artist can keeps that side of his nature under control and that it doesn't diminish him as a live performer and recording artist. Because he is capable of a lot of insight and tenderness as with songs like Learning To Cry as well as the more driven hell-raising songs in his set. Make no mistake Justin Townes Earle is very much his own man and this audience loved him for everything that he is.

Review by Steve Rapid. Photography by Ronnie Norton

Ryan Bingham & The Dead Horses - 20th November@ The Sugar Club, Dublin

The Sugar Club was not perhaps the best venue for Bingham  who seems to prefer the audience upfront and personal and Bingham got everyone on their feet at the show's end. Indeed, due to a 10:30 nightclub curfew, the audience  made no move to leave instead demanding the band return for an encore which they duly did. The encore really rocked with both Bingham and guitarist Corby Schaub playing electric bottleneck slide on a bluesy extended workout.

The show opened with Bingham playing solo with harmonica. The band then launched into Day Is Done with gusto and the gig took off. Front and centre was Bingham's aged gravelly voice, an amazing sound that belies his years. He acknowledged the audience with "How you guys doing? Alright?"before delivering a set that featured songs from all three of his Lost Highway albums which included "a songs for all the mothers out there" Tell My Mother I Miss Her So. Those expecting something akin to his Crazy Heart co-write may have been disorientated by the sheer energy and noise that this band makes. Key to this is drummer Matt Smith and bassist Elijah Ford, both of whom shonebut special mention must go to Smith who drove the band and the sound. Schaub played mandolin and a variety of guitars that blistered in raw intensity. As with many bands the live set is harder and more powerful that studio versions of the songs could ever be. Perhaps the most interesting section of the set was Bingham talkingof learning to play the guitar with Malaguena,  a mariachi inspired version that featured Schaub on mandolin. This largely instrumental number was full of atmosphere and ability and showed Bingham as a skilled guitarist too. Requests came flying from the audience with South Side of Heaven from his first album being a particular favourite. Hard Times from that album also featured. The song Strange Feeling In The Air was prefaced by Ryan's remark that there was a lot of discrimination in the world but that this songs says "fuck to all that". 

The set proper closed with a dynamic cover of Townes Van Zandt's Highway Kind which also featured opening act Australian singer/songwriter Liam Gerner on electric guitar. If that had been the closing it would have been a fitting tribute to a hero as well as a great song to end on. But then the audience, as mentioned stayed put and we got that encore. There's not doubt that all there were pleased with the show and that Bingham and the boys will be back.

Review: Steve Rapid    Photography: Ronnie Norton

John Hiatt - 17th November@The Academy, Dublin

I’ve seen John Hiatt live on a number of occasions in Dublin, the last time being an acoustic set with Lyle Lovett, and he has never put in a bad show. This though was one of the more vital and electric shows. It was the last gig of a four week European tour which made Hiatt comment that they were feeling somewhat “giddy” but couldn’t think of a better place to finish in than Dublin. His current band rejoices in the moniker of The Combo and includes bassist Patrick O Hearn, longtime drummer Kenneth Blevins and for this tour making his Irish Hiatt debut, following in the strings of many a noted guitarist, Doug Lancio. Lancio may be the best one yet. Playing a variety of guitars and mandolin he had no trouble in adding to the nuances and tones of Hiatt’s memorable songs. With a few selections from his latest album, including the title The Open Road, it was largely a case of delivering some classic Hiatt from through the years. Opening with a full force Perfectly Good Guitar he played a 20 song two hour set that included Just Like Your Dad Did, Master of Disaster - dedicated to his friend and former producer the late Jim Dickinson, Thing Called Love which was dedicated to Bonnie Riatt who Hiatt said helped him get recognition as a writer when she covered the song. Other songs coming from across his multi-album catalog were Alone In The Dark, Real Fine Love, Slow Turning, Drive South and the set closer an extended and robust ‘running down the road’ version of Tennessee Plates. The audience who were largely of Hiatt’s vintage and were obviously long-time fans who loved every minute of the show. There were some slower songs were Lancio switched to mandolin and Hiatt to a blond Gibson that included Cry Love. On other songs he also played a Telecaster adding to the overall sense of fusion in the air. He played my favourite song too - Icy Blue Heart  - a classic of failed relationships. Throughout Hiatt was in good form with between songs talk of his mild disappointment with the iPad. He reckoned it should have be a $30 full body suit that messed with all the senses. As is the norm in the live situation the band stretched and extended the songs on several occasions allowing Lancio to shine and show what a versitile player he is. No the more so than on the two song encore of Have A Little Faith and the lengthy guitar-driven pure energy of Riding With The King from the 1983 album of that name. Hiatt has been making great music for a long time. He still is. This night was just more proof of that.
Review: Steve Rapid  Photography: Ronnie Norton


The Tallest Of The Tall? - Whelan's 10 June

The Tallest Man On Earth 'The Wild Hunt'

I heard about this show via a MySpace (yes, remember MySpace?) link forwarded around.

Arriving to a sold out show is always a good feeling. On arrival at Whelan's Dublin I could taste a healthy dose of anticipation in the air.

Oddly enough, I noticed a large number of tall men in the audience. Perhaps they had seen the billing out front & thought to themselves 'I'll show him'. We were there, after all, to see The Tallest Man On Earth.

Cue the arrival of a very normal sized man stage left to a raucous cheer. Opening his set with the album opener 'The Wild Hunt' was a great place to start.

With a look of  Emile Hirsch from Into The Wild Kristian Matsson (Tallest Man's real name) was not going to let guitar pedal technical difficulties interrupt his opener, despite battery failure 3 times during the song. Matsson used the opportunity to show us his ability to stay in the moment - taking up exactly where he left off a minute earlier. He proved a humorous soul too, quipping "F*ck you Duracell!".

Firstly, let me say what a beautiful & intense performer Matsson is. A brilliant guitarist complete with vocal control is not something one comes across every day. And while the comparisons to early Gaslight period Dylan abound, Matsson is a far better guitar player than Dylan ever was & arguably a far more engaging stage presence (A big call, I know).

Secondly, I'd like to mention the fact that sometimes it takes more than technical ability & stage presence to really move an audience. Don't get me wrong. This crowd was being manipulated by Matsson as if we had all been invited to his house for a party that only he could throw. However, a friend & I commented that mid-way through the set, we felt we had heard the same song repeated over & over again - with different lyrics.

My major criticism of The Tallest Man On Earth would be this: he only ever got to 3rd gear. And 3rd gear is a good & sound gear. But what about 4th & 5th? At a show like this we want to be taken not just down the side streets, but we want to gush onto the highway in 5th gear & really hear the performer's musical engine take to the road.

Having said that, without a doubt, the anthemic 'King Of Spain' was a crowd favourite prompting a loud sing-along & the haunting 'Burden Of Tomorrow' reminded me of putting on a Dylan vinyl for the first time. Only this time, it was live & perfect in it's execution & vocal reach. 

The highlight of the evening was unquestionably the sublime rendition of Dylan's 1964 tune 'I'll Keep It With Mine' performed by Matsson & a mystery female guest invited up on stage. Positioning themselves very intimately on stage around one microphone with one guitar the duo cast a spell on the crowd.

Asking the sound man who the girl was he replied with a witty "The TM (Tour Manager), Girlfriend & Rodeo (I think he meant Roadie) all rolled into one!". If anyone knows who this mystery woman was, we'd be interested to know!

All in all, a fine show. I'd like to see Matsson again perform with a small ensemble. A small kit with brushes, an upright bass & a banjo (much missed from the album renditions) would be a welcome addition - just to get us out onto the highway of folk where we belong by the end of a set.

Check out The Tallest Man On Earth on MySpace here

Buy his album 'The Wild Hunt' here