Reviews by Declan Culliton



Anna Mitchell ‘Down To the Bone’ - Self Release

2015 has been a very busy year for singer songwriter Anna Mitchell. Performing and recording as a member of John Blek and the Rats, touring in the States as a duo with Simone Felice, playing keyboards and backing vocals on Felice’s live album From the Violent Banks of The Kaaterskill and also recording her debut solo album and what a gem it is. Recorded at Monique Studios Cork it presents ten self-penned songs by the versatile Cork based musician.

The album features Mitchell on vocals, piano and harmonium, the album also includes contributions from the various members of John Blek and the Rats. As the album titled suggests many of the songs are stripped back allowing Mitchell’s beautifully fragile vocal and piano playing to dominate throughout. Melodic and radio friendly ballads such as When My Ship Comes In, Tennessee and Let’s Run Away have been deservedly enjoying national radio airplay. The richer sound of What’s A Fool To Do is a departure from the more country and folk orientated material on the album and brings to mind a young Tori Amos with its piano driven structure. Other highlights on the album are the opening track Paradise and the charming Long Time Gone.

Mitchell was named Irish Artist of the Month earlier in the year by Galway Bay FM and Highland Radio in Donegal and on the evidence of this debut certainly has the potential to make a commercial breakthrough whether it be in Ireland or overseas. It has been a number of decades since Irish female singer songwriters such as Mary Black, Mary Coughlan and Maura O’Connell were household names, regularly appearing on national television, radio and further afield. Of the current generation of talented female artists Mitchell appears to be the most likely to emulate them.

 John Blek and the Rats 'Borders' - Tonetoaster Records  

John Blek and the Rats follow on from their promising debut album Leave Your Love at The Door with Borders, an altogether more mature and cohesive album which combines lead singer John O’Connor’s imposing song writing ability with the collective musical talents of the Cork based six piece band. In contrast to the more folk and country leanings on their debut album, Borders finds the band successfully experimenting with a much fuller, lusher sound, complimented by the quality of the musicianship within the band. The end result is an excellent album which, if given the airplay it deserves, should introduce them to a much wider audience.

The stand out track on the album is the delightful, if somewhat dark, Funeral Home, where O’Connor tells of his encounter with a perceived but unfortunately deceased lover. The song would take pride of place on any Jason Isbell album."I met my love in the funeral home, she was pale as the sheets that adorned her, I could see in her eyes cold reflections of mine, as I pondered what ill wind had brought her”. Indeed much of the album, though sounding musically upbeat, is lyrically quite dark, with tales of death, illness and infidelity predominating on tracks Dead Friends, Infirmary and Wandering Child 

 David Murphy, who recently toured with Willy Vlautin’s latest diversion The Delines, contributes delightfully on pedal steel guitar and equally impressive is Robbie Barron’s guitar work throughout. Worth nothing also is the piano and backing vocals of Anna Mitchell. One of Ireland’s superior live acts, John Blek and The Rats have recreated that energy and togetherness in the studio with this very impressive piece of work. 

O’Connell and Love ‘Minesweeping’ - Self Release

Minesweeping could not possibly be any further from the acid house country material normally associated with Alabama 3 lead vocalist and songwriter Larry Love. The album is a collaboration between Love and Brendan O’Connell, who co-wrote Love’s solo album Ghost Flight, recorded in 2006.

It is produced by Love and O’Donnell under the watchful eye of Greg Fleming, better known as Wizard, whose previous work includes The Chemical Brothers, X Press 2 and DJ Fresh. It boasts a most impressive list of guest vocalists including Rumor, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Aurora Dawn and June Miles-Kingston. The closing title track also includes a spoken rendition by Pete Doherty of the Wilfred Owen’s poem "Dulce et decorum est ." No less impressive is the quality and diversity of the musicians involved in the recording, including Segs Jennings (The Ruts), Seamus Beaghen (Madness)  and Jay Darlington (Madness).

Given the ingredients it’s surprising that the album is actually much closer to late night bedsit listening than the dancefloor, and saddens, stimulates and soothes in equal measures. A reference point would be the Mark Lanegan and Isobel Campbell trilogy of albums Sunday at Devil Dirt, Ballad of The Broken Seas and Hawk. Love and Lanegan could have been separated at birth given the similarities in style, content and delivery on this album. The beauty and the beast framework created by Lanegan and Campbell is equalled here by the melodic and gentle contributions, in particular by Rumor (Shake Off Your Shoes, Hangover Me) and Buffy Sainte-Marie (Call a Cab Cinderella), a contrast to the whiskey soaked, sixty a day sounding baritone drawl deployed by Love.

Country folk and blues has seldom sounded darker yet sweeter

Robert Chaney ‘Cracked Picture Frames’ - Self Release

Gothic tales in the rural swamp lands of South Florida dominate this impressive debut album by Florida born Robert Chaney, now residing in the UK.

In typical troubadour fashion, Cracked Picture Frames features only vocal and acoustic guitar as Chaney relates hard hitting tales of wife beating, infidelity, relationship breakdowns, filicide and unrequited love.

Carrying a torch for his predecessors Woodie Guthrie and Townes Van Zandt, the songs have a timeless quality and feel to them as the writer succeeds in condensing what sounds like a short story in to a few simple verses and choruses. Chaney’s lyrics even without music or melody would be formidable. We hear of the cowardly serial wife beater in Black Eyed Susan. "And they turned to her and she spoke not a word, and I was relieved when they turned to leave, I said one of these days I’ll quit this for good, but did I mean the woman, or did I mean the beatin’, or did I mean the seemingly cowardly being, crumblin’ under a burden of choosin.” While Cyclist speaks of rural infidelity and its inevitable consequences "I’ve only had one love in my life, and she and my brother were married, but her eyes they were mine and the same with her heart, and the same with the babies she carried.” 

 It is an album that could quite easily be dismissed on first hearing, reveals itself, with the lyric sheet in hand, to be the work of an extremely talented young songwriter and story teller.