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

Sam Baker @ The Seamus Ennis Centre - 14th Sept 2013


This gig was a perfect example of why I would always prefer to be in a small intimate venue (like the Seamus Ennis Centre) than in a much larger location even with a commercially bigger act brings in a bigger production. It is the economy of scale of course, but that scale balances when you are at close quarters with a performer.

On this occasion Sam Baker is accompanied by Chip Dolan a seasoned sideman (and recording artist in his own right) playing electric piano and accordion and singer/songwriter Carrie Elkin. (Incidentally Elkin's last album Call It My Garden was recorded in Sam Baker's house). This trio had an obvious ease with each other that encouraged their playing and how they delivered the songs.

Elkin mainly added harmony and counterpoint vocals but she also played clarinet (an instrument that she only took up in the last few weeks) and guitar. Dolan excelled on the piano and on the accordion.

At the start of the show Sam Baker tuned his guitar through his tuner but wryly told us that he didn't need it as he only had to look at the expression on the face of either of his companions to know if he was in tune or not. Throughout the evening there was many asides and stories that enhanced the evening. An evening that included songs from across his four albums. Among them Slots, Pretty  World, Change and, naturally, from the new album came Say Grace, Ditch, White Heat, Migrants. The latter a song that featured to great effect Dolan's accordion and was based on a story that Baker had read and was in the same vein as his hero Woody Guthrie's classic song Deportees. In other words an event that only barely gets mentioned in the press as the victims in the song were themselves migrants, Isn't Love Grand, The Tattooed Woman and the closing song Go In Peace

He did a trio of songs that related to love, something he said he doesn't do that often, jokingly telling us "when you hear it you'll know why". Like all his material it took us through a window and into the lives of the song's subjects. Tattoos and teenage abuse were more often on his radar he commented. As are the terms of endearment between couples which may not actually be what the words spoken seemed to mean. There is a great deal of humour in his songs that balances with the occasional more tragic consequence that reveal themselves as a particular story unfolds.

Anyone who knows Sam Baker's music knows that he would not likely pass any "formal" audition voice test. He has a limited voice range. But that voice is who Sam Baker is and with that voice he connects. In fact his delivery, like that of a poet, allows every word to be savoured and understood. His crafted songs tell of hard times full of, more often than not, people who are not hard. They're making the best of their lives. He is an astute observer of life. Pictures painted with words, which here (and on record) are enhanced by the contributions of his fellow performers. Elkin's crystal voice is a delight throughout while Dolan's piano playing is also integral and when he delivers a solo his skill and dexterity are obvious.

At one point tour manager Rebecca joins Elkin for a short unaccompanied song. Another vocal highlight was provided by the audience who joined in on several occasions and completely broke down the barrier between the artist and audience. Not that Baker ever allows one in any real sense. He never puts himself above his fans. After the show he allowed the audience as much time as they wanted to say hello, and goodbye.

Review by Stephen Rapid. Photograph by Ronnie Norton

Ed Romanoff & Band @ Whelans Oct 23rd 2012

With his debut album being one of the year’s best, it was interesting to see how Ed Romanoff would deliver his songs live. Although his first Dublin performance was sparsely attended, the show delivered and was engaging and entertaining. Romanoff proved to be a natural performer,  both of his songs and with his introductions. He has a charismatic warmth that immediately has the audience on his side, and you know that the next time he comes the audience will be bigger as the word spreads.

Unusually for a first visit Romanoff brought a full band with him. They brought much to the overall delivery of the songs, adding depth and texture and bolstering Romanoff's vocal prowess. For a man who only started writing songs in the last few years, he has a talent that many would envy. The band was led by guitarist John Putnam whose Telecaster leads lines were effective and engaging. Benjamin Champoux provided subtle percussion and Dublin based Kim Porcelli added much with her cello and backing vocals. For three numbers Romanoff brought up local singer Sharon Murphy, whom he had spotted busking on Grafton Street, and invited her to join him for the show.

The songs were mostly from his eponymous debut, including his take on the Hank Cochran/Harlan Howard classic I Fall To Pieces, which takes thefamiliar lyric to darker places. His own songs include his tale of being abandoned by a girlfriend in Ireland on July 4th (Breakfast For One on the 5th of July), his discovery that his Russian parents had adopted him and that on taking a DNA test he had discovered that he was 50% Irish and related to Niall of the Nine Hostages, or as he said "nine sausages" which brought laugher all round (St. Vincent de Paul). There was a humourous element to the evening even though most of the songs tend to hale from the darker side of life. 

Other songs included Potholes, Curveball and I Must Have Done Something Right. Two Yellow Roses was written, he told us, from the perspective of a guy who has lost everything. When You're Dreaming was written with his former flat mate Josh Ritter. Many of the other songs had been written with the album's producer Crit Harmon. All are good songs and well worth hearing. He closed the show with a solo acoustic rendition of Sacred Wreck which showed that even without his worthy band, Ed Romanoff can put across a song with feeling. One new song was titled I'm A little Less Broken Now and was inspired by a comment of a colleague who had gone through surgery. When he went to see her he was afraid to give her a hug in case it would hurt her and she said that she was ‘a  little less broken’.

Romanoff will be back soon, as he felt very much at home here. Make sure you get along next time as it is a powerful, yet enjoyable evening out.

Review by Stephen Averill. Photography by Ronnie Norton