Mary Gauthier @ The Venue, Ratoath, Sat 11th May 2013


This was the last night of a long tour,  but Mary Gauthier was happy to be playing in this intimate venue. She was joined throughout by violinist Michele Gazich who added some strong additional textures to the songs. The set was drawn from across Mary’s albums and she open with several songs played back to back, including the much loved I Drink as the third song, before she declared she was warmed up and then started her dialogue with the audience. Mary told us she would like to play us a happy song but couldn't as she hadn't written one yet. She said her songs are not miserable, but rather more bitter/sweet. Mary said that happy songs on the radio tended to make her miserable.

That certainly wasn't the case here as the audience picked up on the passion, pain and perception of Mary Gauthier's songs. She explained the origins of many such songs, as the execution of Karla Faye in the song of that name. Mary spoke of walking around on Christmas day in Key West, Florida and seeing a bunch of homeless men with a Christmas Tree celebrating the day under a bridge, an experience which produced Christmas In Paradise from her Filth & Fire album. She read about Steam Train Maury in a New York Times obituary which became the inspiration for The Last of the Hobo Kings. Can't Find the Way is a lament for the people who were displaced, and worse, by Hurricane Katrina. Gauthier draws from many sources for her finely crafted songwriting and is, above all, a gifted storyteller who can engage and hold an audience with ease. Mary also has a distinctive voice, one that she has learnt through experience to make the most of and it is now a strong instrument that perfectly captures the nuances of her writing.Other songs in the set included Between the Daylight and the Dark and Our Lady of the Shooting Stars.

Support for the tour was the talented singer/songwriter Ben Glover whom Gauthier called back to the stage for the last part of her set. Their two voices blended well and with Gazich's playing they created a very compelling sound. There were a couple of new songs included in the set too, one of which was written to explore the legend of Robert Johnson and the effects of selling one's soul; Oh Soul is a future classic. Glover also returned for the encore of Mercy Now and traded verses with Glover on the song.

It was a good way to end to what had been another enjoyable show. Mary Gauthier always gives what she has to any audience that really listens and an evening with a songsmith of her calibre is not going to disappoint. and she hasn't yet. So here's to the next chapter in the unfolding story.

Review by Stephen Rapid. Photograph by Ronnie Norton

Petunia and The Vipers@Seamus Ennis Centre-Saturday 8th February 2013

The Vipers open with an instrumental that immediately lets you know that these guys mean business. This is the second to last date on a tour of the UK and Ireland and they are tight. With players like Jimmy Roy and Stephen Nikleva   (both veterans who played with Ray Condo) in the band you wouldn’t expect otherwise. Add to that a subtle, swing rhythm section and you have one hot band;  a band fronted by the man known as Petunia - a legend in the making. He draws inspiration from his travels and all the music he has heard and funnels it into a meaty stew of country music that leaves a lasting impression. In a two hour set they played 29 songs, including encores, that covered songs like the yodel fuelled The Cricket Song, the hopped up Maybe Baby Amy, The Ballad Of Handsome Ned - all self written - alongside classics like Stardust, including  all the tracks from their self-titled album. This master class also included Petunia solo and turns at the mike from each of the band members bar drummer Marc who sang harmony throughout.

Steelie Jimmy Roy sang a wonderful Crazy Arms, a song "written by one of my favourite steel players Ralph Mooney" he informed us. He also sang White Lightening with Petunia and the audience joining in on the chorus. Bassist Patrick Metzger sang a song that Petunia had written with his first band, a bluegrass band as it happens, while the versatile Petunia played the upright bass. Other songs in the set included Folsom Prison Blues for which Petunia placed a bank note under the strings of his acoustic guitar for that authentic boom-chick-boom Cash sound. His voice adapted to a lower range with ease. He also gave us a great version of Marty Robbins Big Iron as well as versions of   Fever and Hadacol, the latter about the infamous Hank William-touted cure-all mixture. Their song choices suggest that these guys could do anything from the canon of good traditional country music with ease and panache. Marc L'Esperance’s drumming show exactly how you can drive the music without dominating it, something a lot of drummers now playing country music can't do. 

More than once Petunia encouraged the audience to get up a shake a tail feather as it would "help us out and help you out". That didn't happen, but the audience was very receptive and loved the show, which ended with a five song encore that had Jimmy, Marc and Stephen all taking turns on lead vocal. The songs included Can't Find the Doorknob,   the Jimmy and Johnny hit as well as Hank's My Bucket's Got A Hole In It and they finished with their own Mercy.  A great night,  a great band and great music.

Rodney Crowell @ The Seamus Ennis Centre 19th October 2011

In a perfect listening setting Rodney Crowell brought his solo Chinaberry Sidewalk tour to the intimate surrounding of the Seamus Ennis Centre. This show was a mix of newer material, old favourites, reminisces and readings from his memoir Chinaberry Sidewalk. As he tuned up he made the comment "I Know what your thinking... I tune with style and panache". He then began a 21 song set that included songs with humour like It's Hard To Kiss The Lips At Night That Chew Your Ass Out All Day Long and poignancy like 'Til I Gain Control Again, songs that show sympathy for others as in Ridin' Out The Storm. His first reading was about his mother's epilepsy and how a group of ladies came to their house to exercise the demon that they considered the affliction to be. It was told with humour, understanding and insight. He was in fine voice and held the audience in his two hour show that included also a slightly unkempt duet with his daughter Chelsea (his opening act) on Why Don't You Love Me Like You Used To Do, the Hank Williams Jr. song. He also took some audience requests that saw him trying a version of I Walk The Line (Revisited), a song he said he doesn't often do for obvious reasons. Other highlights include Closer To Heaven his song that lists the things he now finds favour for and with, Leavin' Louisiana In The Broad Daylight, Ain't Living Long Like This, The Rock Of My Soul and a cover of his friend and mentor Townes Van Zandt's Pancho and Lefty. Two other readings from his book were about his grandfather in his grey wool suit and fedoro and going for a haircut! He also described a fight his parents had that became a turning point in their relationship. All of this highlighted that, though it had taken a long time to finish Chinaberry Sidewalks it is a work that is as rewarding as his songwriting has proved to be on record and live through the years. 

Review by Stephen Rapid, photography by Ronnie Norton