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November 23, 2007

The promotional flyer invited recipients to come along and view, at close quarters, a pair of fine Canadian songbirds, rarely seen in these parts and only just flown in for a fleeting winter visit.  A not insignificant crowd heeded what turned out to be excellent advice, taking up all possible vantage points at this increasingly popular roost, now well used to hosting its fair share of fine, international songbirds, to enjoy yet another superlative night of top class entertainment. 
It was a close run thing but I resisted the temptation to include ‘warble’ in the description.  Alana Levandoski and Lynn Miles, on a short joint tour, each played individual sets only coming together for a brief encore.  If the appreciative crowd had had its way, they would have continued long into the night, such was the warmth of their reception.  First up and making a very welcome return visit was Alana who made quite an impact during her all too brief support slot (for Blue Rodeo) last year. 
In my opinion, she has matured like fine malt since then.  Her set contained a mix of songs from her only release to date, the excellent UNSETTLED DOWN, as well as some new tracks destined for a new CD, as yet unnamed, but due for release in the spring of 2008.  Judging by tonight, it will be well worth a listen on its eventual release.  I particularly enjoyed Song for a Cougar and Calvary Road, the latter receiving its premiere live performance at the Brontë.  Alana felt compelled to explain that the ‘cougar’ in the title of the former is a Canadian term to describe women of mature years who frequent night spots with the single aim of hitting on younger men.  Sounds ok to me.  Clearly, no subject is exempt these days. 
All in all, a great set from an artist I expect to be entertaining appreciative crowds in good music venues (like this) for years to come.  Then, as if we weren’t already spoiled enough, Lynn Miles, whom I have long admired as a recording artist, stepped on stage for only her second ever show in Ireland.  Sporting a locally made Lowden guitar, she launched her set with Flames of Love and again delivered the pick of her recorded material over the last few years from an extensive back catalogue, including one of my personal favourites, You Don’t Love Me Anymore.  Tracks also flowed from the current LOVE SWEET LOVE and, sensing correctly that she was among friends, she even felt comfortable enough to test a few contenders, including the gorgeous Cracked and Broken, competing for spots on her own new CD, again untitled, due out in late spring. 
Primarily well known for her melancholy song content and her plaintive delivery, Lynn did not disappoint her large audience and her anecdotes and the stories prompting the songs were an absolute delight.  Both ladies joined forces on great arrangements of, maintaining the Canadian link, Neil Young’s Helpless and Hank’s I’m So Lonesome before Lynn brought the curtain down on a superlative night with Emmylou’s Those Memories of You (TRIO Vol One).  If only proper twitchers could always be this well rewarded for venturing out to view songbirds on similar fleeting visits. 
Cathal McLaughlin


September 29, 2007

Within a few short weeks of Tom Russell’s sold-out first appearance at the Brontë, the red carpet was once again rolled out and additional seating installed for yet another musical colossus, the legendary J D Souther, on his debut at this great rural venue whose reputation, judging by those artists happy to appear, is constantly rising. 
Although he is considered to have performed largely more of a supporting role in the emerging country rock scene of the 70s, penning many songs for Bonnie Raitt and Linda Ronstadt, for whom he also produced several albums as well as appearing on harmony vocals, and later James Taylor (Her Town Too) but primarily associated with the singular sound and music of the Eagles.  Although contributing modern classics such as New Kid in Town, Heartache Tonight and Best of My Love among others to the Eagles’ long list of hits, JD should not be regarded solely as a songwriter extraordinaire, he is an excellent and successful performer in his own right, a fact which tonight’s sell-out crowd witnessed at first hand.  Not only did he have several acclaimed, although not commercially successful, solo releases in the ‘70s and ‘80s, the self-titled John David Souther (1972), Black Rose (1976), You're Only Lonely (1979), and Home by Dawn (1984), now unfortunately hard to come by, he also collaborated on a couple of albums with luminaries of the calibre of Ritchie Furay and Chris Hillman with whom he toured extensively in the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band.  Sporting a new, personalized baby Gibson guitar, only the best will do, on this shortened tour as he returned to States following the death of his father, he treated the crowd to a selection of old and new.  On NKIT, he explained that the lyrics didn’t refer to anyone in particular since each great band on reaching the top is always looking over its shoulder trying to spot the pretender to its crown emerging from the shadows. 
Apart from the inevitable standards, one of the best receptions of the night was reserved for Faithless Love, which narrowly missed out on the 1985 Grammy (to the late Steve Goodman’s seminal City of New Orleans which also spawned an interesting little anecdote).  This was closely followed by my personal favourite, White Rhythm and Blues, the sort of song you wish you had written yourself, before JD brought it all sort of up to date with How Long, (even though it first appeared on his 1972 self-titled album) and now included on the Eagles first full studio album since 1979, LONG ROAD OUT OF EDEN, and chosen as the first single release from that new album. 
A sign of the esteem in which this paragon is held was evident by the numbers of those of a certain vintage queuing to have photographs taken and CDs signed – some well cared for 70s vinyls were also produced for signature.  Certainly, this was a night not to be forgotten but hopefully one to be repeated sometime in the future.  The lovely Eilidh Patterson, whose voice has gained so much depth and maturity since I first came across her a few years ago, provided the support for the evening and indeed all JD’s dates on his Irish tour.  Quite an accolade.  Her short set of six of her own songs were perfectly delivered to a very appreciative crowd. 
Cathal McLaughlin

November 2, 2007

At the outset, I have to say that this was without doubt the best night’s musical entertainment I have enjoyed in ages.  It had absolutely everything.  I cannot imagine anyone leaving a concert by these guys, and gal, complaining that they hadn’t been thoroughly entertained.  Were that the case, I would have to recommend a check for a pulse plus a quick glance in the nearest mirror — just to confirm a reflection!  Lovers of good music in Leicester were very unfortunate that the gig scheduled for The Musician was cancelled while all those who caught the guys at the Perthshire Amber Festival, as well as the three sold-out dates here, can count themselves extremely lucky. 
Although this was the penultimate date of a short European tour and despite being extremely tired from the extensive travel, there was not a hint of this from the stage as Celtic, bluegrass, country and several other styles were pitched into the Mexican-Latino blender from which exuded a sweet, unique sound which filled the room to the obvious delight of the packed crowd.  Having played here as recently as May, word of that stirring gig had evidently spread far and wide since, long before the scheduled start time, the venue was filled to overflowing. 
Although on this trip, without the lovely Kendel Carson, currently on tour with Chip Taylor, stunning redhead, Miranda Mulholland, stepped into the breach and cut a very neat figure in bright green top and striking tartan trews.  Her prodigious fiddling skills and delightful harmony and backing vocals ensured she was a more than proficient replacement, gelling seamlessly as if she has been playing with the guys for years.  Performing tracks taken mostly from their acclaimed latest release, THE ROAD TO ELLENSIDE, recorded in the Lake District and which I urge you to seek out, sit back and enjoy and then tell all your friends. 
Even your enemies should be told!  It’s that good.  Hard though it is to highlight any tracks from a peerless set, I have to mention La Primavera, heavily influenced by the distinctive sound of the Mexican jarana in the hands of Tom Landa, and the superb Geoffrey Kelly on flute.  One could almost imagine a balmy evening in southern Mexico, cerveza in hand, tapping along to the zapateado steps of some dusky dancing maidens. 
Then there was Waiting, verging on ceilidh rock, not to mention the beautiful, Fall Down With You.  We also enjoyed great covers of John Prine’s little known, but thought provoking, Take the Star out of the Window (from DIAMONDS IN THE ROUGH), Into the Mystic (Van would have been bowled over) and an incredible, extended version of All Along the Watchtower, the band’s contribution to Dylan’s 60th birthday tribute album, A NOD TO BOB, before all present joined in on a rousing finale of Will the Circle Be Unbroken.  Magic! 
With the excellent support of Brad Gillard on banjo and bass and Matt Brain on drums, a night out with Juno award winners, the Paperboys, will be the best fun you will have with your clothes on.  Make a point of seeing when they return to the British Isles in May 2008 to perform a full programme of dates.  Miss them at your peril.  You have been warned!! 
Cathal McLaughlin

March 16, 2007

I'm sure some of you must have reflected how this band arrived at its unusual name! Wonder no longer. In the course of a labour dispute involving New Orleans streetcar drivers during the Depression of the 1920's, two ex-transport workers, Clovis and Benjamin Martin, showed their support for their former colleagues by providing filled sandwiches - what we would call baguettes - very cheaply, often free of charge, from their successful restaurant business, to the poor boys on strike. And so the Po' Boy sandwich, still popular today in those states bordering the Gulf of Mexico, was born. The strikers wives and girlfriends by association then became known as the Po' Girls and both names have now passed into the English language.
That's the history lesson and the origin of the name sorted out. What about the music? How do you like yours? A bit country or alt folk, maybe with a hint of jazz or blues? Then again you might prefer it with a mild touch of rock or enjoy a bit of gospel folded in for good measure. If you like any, or all, of these styles, then Po' Girl ticks all the boxes. This very young band, both in terms of time together and the line-up is, as they say, the business. All are exceptionally talented musicians and vocalists, multi-instrumentalists, including washtub bass, a first at the Bronte current line-up of Trish Klein (Be Good Tanyas), Allison Russell (ex-Fear of Drinking), Diona Davies and the girl with not only
a beautiful name but a subtle blend of Irish and Portuguese blood coursing through her veins, Awna Teixeira, wowed all present with a varied set from their three albums to date, the self-titled PO' GIRL, VAGABOND LULLABIES and, the most recent, HOME TO YOU, reflecting their travels and homesickness on their hectic touring schedule, as well as some yet unreleased diamonds, especially Tumbleweed and Jesus Etc. All three albums are thoroughly recommended. Allison got the set off to a sweet start with the beguiling Lullabye, one the many Russell/Klein collaborations performed in the course of one of the most relaxed evening's entertainment I can recall at this venue. We were immediately hooked.
As the evening progressed, these Canadian sirens held all enchanted as did Lorelei those ancient sailors on the Rhine, with their lazy melodies, sweet harmonies and all round mellow sounds. Allison Russell has got to possess one of the best voices I have heard in a long time. It's difficult to believe that her slight frame can deliver such an awesome sound. She has attracted comparison with Norah Jones, quite an accolade in itself. In my opinion, she is better, with the bonus of an infectious laugh and a smile to melt you. Delicious!! Even when one of the stage mics played up, the girls kept the crowd entertained with little anecdotes until running repairs were carried out. Chicago born J T Lindsey, who is supporting the band on this tour, joined the girls on stage for his own composition, Til It's Gone, which features on HOME TO YOU. Po' Girl, as their name might imply, needn't attract pity, only enjoyment.
They say that time flies when you're enjoying yourself.
That being the case, we knew we'd had a great time long before Allison closed out the evening with Ain't Life Sweet. Life just couldn't get much sweeter. If you didn't catch them this time, don't be guilty of making the same mistake twice. You won't regret it.Jeremy Lindsey, as already mentioned, filled the evening's support slot performing a short set of his own material, with the exception of the opening number, an unusually strange, falsetto version of John Prine's Everything is Cool. Interesting, but I think I still prefer the original. Thanks

October 17, 2008

Rod Picott was clearly delighted to be standing on the stage of what has been billed as Ireland’s premier music venue. The 18th century chapel complete with pulpit and dummy preachers is certainly unique and lends itself to a terrific atmosphere.  Touring to promote his new album ‘Summerbirds’ which has a fuller feel to it than the previous, stripped down offering ‘Girl From Arkansas’, it was fitting that Rod was backed by a tight three piece band The Gun Shy Dogs featuring Chris Cottros on guitar, Jay Turner on bass and Rich Malloy on drums.
Hailing from Maine, but based in Nashville (where else?) Rod Picott is a seasoned troubadour who is respected as much for his song writing as for his performances. He has written with Fred Eaglesmith and good buddy Slaid Cleaves as well as touring with Alison Krauss. Rod now has four fine albums to his credit and he dipped liberally into all of them to serve us up with ninety-plus minutes of pure blue collar Americana bliss.
Tall and lean and looking slightly crumpled, Rod filled the stage with his presence and the room with his songs that ranged in mood from bitter and forceful to gentle and reflective. The play list kicked off at a blistering pace with Stray Dogs and later included Wrecking Ball and Broke Down both co-written with Slaid Cleaves. Something in Spanish and On and On, were both introduced with references to Bob Harris, whom Rod credits for his breakthrough on these islands. Circus Girl and Need You Bad were wistful and gentle in contrast to Torn in Two and When Your Bird Won’t Fly, which upped the ante and made room for some neat guitar solos. He finished off with a great song, Down to the Bone from ‘Arkansas Girl’, which had more than a hint of the personal about it. Coming away from this gig you realised just what all the fuss is about.
The support act was the highly talented Stewart Agnew from Dundalk who played a couple of numbers from his latest album ‘Gasstation’ which features Ron Sexsmith. Keep this up Stewart and your time will surely come.
Patrick Donaghy

August 14, 2007

Tom Russell’s phenomenal pulling power is boundless.  This was borne out by the fact that some unlucky patrons, who chose to ignore the extensive pre-gig publicity and failed to book for this gig, had to be turned away - an unwelcome first for this venue.  Among the packed crowd eagerly awaiting the master’s appearance was Susan, a young lady from Bristol,  who based her Irish holiday around Tom’s four dates here, both North and South; a sextet of folks from Finland and Holland and, by complete coincidence, a couple of visitors from Tom’s own backyard near El Paso.  Incidentally, a great cover version of the Marty Robbins classic is included on the 2004 release INDIANS COWBOYS HORSES DOGS. 
With no support artist, the stage was set for a great night and we weren’t disappointed.  Just after nine, dressed in black suit, open-neck black shirt, slicked back hair and eyes secreted behind dark shades, TR stepped menacingly onto the stage to rapturous applause, looking every inch like he had just stepped off the set of The Sopranos, a candidate for the natural successor to the original Man in Black.  Supported on this tour by ace guitarist, San Antonio’s Michael Martin, TR treated all to about two dozen songs, old favourites as well as new songs invariably destined to fall into that category in time, were included in the set. 
In addition to the ever popular Gallo del Cielo and, in my opinion, the much underrated The Road It Gives, the Road it Takes Away, TR also included a great interpretation of Rock Salt and Nails by the legendary Steve Young, with a very amusing accompanying little anecdote too involved to repeat here.  Russell is a man of great principle and this is very evident and generally characterised in many of his songs.  The Death of Jimmy Martin (WOUNDED HEART OF AMERICA) his anthem to the great bluegrass legend, is a less than thinly veiled swipe at the perceived great and good of the Nashville music scene, recalling the raw treatment Martin received at their hands.  Tom Russell’s Revenge on Nashville could easily be an alternative title. 
The thought provoking lyrics of Who’s Gonna Build Your Wall also takes a well aimed pop at the American establishment and urges ordinary Americans especially, although the sentiments expressed therein are easily transferable to many nations, to take a long look at themselves before empowering politicians to implement dubious policies, particularly those which adversely affect those vulnerable, ethnic groups with limited political clout. 
With the serious political references out of the way, a further yarn about the many characters frequenting Scottish Mike’s Oslo bar – it must be some place – and the always welcome rendition of old Irish favourite, Carrickfergus, concluded this evening in the company of one of America’s greatest songwriters and an all too brief insight into his vast library of songs, for this occasion anyway.  Let’s hope the Brontë can welcome him back in the not too distant future. 
Cathal McLaughlin

October 6, 2006

Some years ago, I read the account of an interview that Bill Mallonee had given shortly after the split from the Vigilantes of Love and he had just started to pursue his solo career.  His ‘new’ music was somewhat removed from the roots-rock music genre of VoL but no less thought provoking.  I recall in that interview he said that he “preferred the band thing” as performing solo is only good for about 45 minutes.  Maybe for him - certainly not for his audience.  The man is a largely undiscovered genius.  In musical terms, I am a relatively recent convert to the Mallonee magic and am thankful to friends, who were already devotees of VoL and its driving force, for their spiritual guidance in his direction.
Accompanied on stage throughout by his new, and very lovely, wife, Muriah Rose, who also provided excellent background vocals and, given that they are only newly weds, some very close-up and personal harmonies, Mallonee performed eleven faultless numbers, each preceded by a thoughtful, personalized introduction.  This, despite damage to his guitar, hastily repaired with duck tape, which prevented him from his usual stand up delivery and confined him to sit for the full expanse of his hour plus set.  Neither damage nor his enforced posture could detract from either the quality of performance or crowd satisfaction.  Deliveries of new, recent or standard tracks, ranging from November Ghost to the poignant Lucifer, a tribute to a young, former cocaine addict acquaintance, to my personal favourite, Solar System, a collaboration with Buddy Miller, and in my opinion, a song best savoured late at night in complete darkness with player set on ‘repeat’, were lapped up.  If you haven’t yet seen this artist ‘live’, I recommend you remedy that when he is back your way, hopefully, in spring 2007.
Next on stage came Stewboss, a band with whom I was unfamiliar, but not any more.  Playing a mostly acoustic set, the boys bore a marked similarity to and reminded me of an early Blue Rodeo.  However, I sensed that, in deference to the venue, they were somewhat restrained and in constant struggle with their self-control against unleashing their normal, upbeat rock delivery.  Self-control won out and they confined themselves to more appropriate tracks.  However, I think we could have coped with their norm, for a few tracks anyway.
Looking very much at home, the boys were very relaxed on the small stage. and enjoyed a bit of witty repartee with the receptive crowd, as well as among themselves.  The Brontë has a distinct advantage over many other venues with its intimacy and, as John Prine once said (though unfortunately not about the Bront? – perhaps one day!), its ‘regular crowd’.
Playing a cross-section of their back catalogue, including Fill Station, the Bob Harris favourite, and despite being a relatively new phenomenon, Gregg on vocals, Jano (drums), Luke (bass) and Frankie Lee (everything else) produced a performance of high quality, good enough to follow Bill Mallonee.  The majority of tracks emanated from the early SWEET LULLABYE and the latest CD, TAKE YOUR PRETTY HANDS OFF MY HEART.  Stewboss is a band well worth seeing again, but I suspect their style of music is possibly best suited to a larger venue where they can really let rip.  However, you would travel some distance to meet a more down-to-earth, genuine set of boys, who are just enjoying playing music and bringing pleasure to others.  The gig was once again sponsored by Banbridge District Council
Cathal McLaughlin

November 25, 2006

A small, albeit select and knowledgeable, crowd turned out on a cold, stormy evening to spend a while in the company of one of the roots music scene’s elder statesmen, singer/songwriter par excellence, Clive Gregson.  Clive – I feel I have attended a sufficient number of his gigs to be on first name terms - never gives anything less than a top notch performance, irrespective of audience numbers.  This evening was no different.  If anything, I find each gig appears better than the last.  Either that or I just appreciate the intricacies of his absolute musical brilliance more on each occasion I hear him!  The latter is probably nearer the truth.
Clive has collaborated with so many performers, all household names which would fill a musical edition of Who’s Who? on their own.  Therefore, I needn’t bore you with details of his undoubted credentials.  Suffice to say that if you have not attended one of his shows, a gap in your musical edification needs urgent, remedial attention
The evening was kicked off with a couple of new, and as yet unreleased, songs, Right Back to You and The Door is Open, both right up to the standard of lyrics and arrangement scrupulously maintained throughout the years.  Over the succeeding almost two hours, we were treated to selections from his many solo albums including LONG STORY SHORT, COMFORT AND JOY and HAPPY HOUR as well as a few classics from his days touring with the sublime Christine Collister.  The first two albums from their collaborative years, HOME AND AWAY and MISCHIEF have just been re-released, with another four set to follow soon.  Either, or even better both, of these would make a very acceptable gift for that someone inadvertently forgotten at Christmas.  The tracks on both, combining Clive’s accounts of the vagaries of love with Collister’s heartrending vocals, are legendary amongst those who appreciate their respective, and complementary, talents.  What a pity that commercial success, as well as mainstream recognition, did not accompany the undoubted esteem in which both were held during this period and beyond.
Andy Williams’ Music to Watch Girls By, including a memorable guitar solo, which as Clive himself commented, “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing”, was so warmly applauded that I quickly glanced over my shoulder to confirm that a busload of late arrivals had not tiptoed in and occupied the empty pews behind me.  Home is Where the Heart Is was delivered with such feeling, seeming to indicate that, although now Nashville based, Manchester, for all its grey, gloomy days, remains his spiritual home.
The set closed with two special audience requests, unplugged renditions of Dimming of the Day, in my opinion only just behind Linda Thompson’s definitive version, and The Beatles’ Here Comes the Sun.  I am now out of appropriate superlatives!  Yet another special evening at the Brontë sponsored by Banbridge District Council.  The stayaways missed a musical masterclass from a peerless performer.  I had arrived home when I realised that the brilliant Fingerless Gloves hadn’t featured in this evening’s set.  An excuse, if one is needed, to look forward to Clive’s next tour.  Support for the evening was provided by local Belfast based quartet, City Folk, whose varied set was very well received. 
Cathal McLaughlin

February 29, 2008

As a direct result of the Lost in the Ozone article (Maverick No. 66 – January 2008), profiling the Carolina Chocolate Drops’ first release, DONA GOT A RAMBLIN’ MIND, which reinforced the many good things I had already been hearing for some time, I sought out the album to judge for myself.  What a great decision this turned out to be.  Black string bands wouldn’t normally be my scene but, based on the quality of the album, when the chance arose to see them ‘live’, I thought it would be an opportunity lost not to go along, especially since it ain’t too often a feller gets a chance to see a good ole string band first hand round these here parts!  Another excellent decision.  Probably my quota for the year. 
The gig doubled as a cultural lesson in the origins of the music as Dom (Flemons) and Justin (Robinson) provided an interesting tutorial throughout the course of an exceptional evening’s entertainment.  This music originated mainly around the Piedmont region of the Carolinas and accounts for part of the band’s name, the rest is, in part, homage to the great Tennessee Chocolate Drops, pioneers of the genre, prevalent during the Great Depression years of the 1930’s, when the American Dream, for most, turned into a living nightmare. 
While money was scarce, along with other cheap pursuits, people kept their spirits up through participation in and the enjoyment of music, more often than not characterised by a folk and roots mix.  In Piedmont style, the banjo takes on a more prominent role, alternating with the fiddle as the lead instrument.  Flemons is a great champion, as well as a superb exponent, of the banjo, all too often, in his opinion, dismissed as the poor relation to the guitar and not given the prominence it deserves.  It certainly wasn’t the poor relation on this occasion. 
All three, including Rhiannon Giddens, with the voice of an angel, gave an enthralling performance of musical dexterity as well as performing their own sound effects and harmonized handclapping.  Witnessing the playing of a moonshine jug was a first for me too.  Rhiannon’s solo dancing, in true 20’s flapper style, in the aisles of this old church was a novelty as was Dom’s guitar juggling.  I expect that by the time you read this, they will done long gone from these shores but that shouldn’t stop you sampling the album already mentioned as well as the latest release, SANKOFA STRINGS: COLOURED ARISTOCRACY, which includes a great track, Viper Mad, from the excellent soundtrack of Woody Allen’s 1930’s jazz biopic, Sweet and Lowdown, among the many other gems.  The Carolina Chocolate Drops will be warmly welcomed back for a return visit at this venue. 
Filling the support slot, and fresh from his successful appearance at the recent Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival, was Belfast native, Gerry Creen, who, having served his sentence at the front of the classroom, is now concentrating on his first love, music.  Gerry performed a short set of five of his own songs, including Ask Me No Questions, his green movement anthem containing the plea, “don’t let Mother Nature become just a memory”, written in an era when environmental matters were neither fashionable nor sexy, long before the cause became such a global, political issue, and the sensitive Lennie, about a young, homeless lad forced to live on the dangerous and uncaring streets of Belfast during the troubled 70’s - truly poignant. 
The set closed with The Eagle and the Dove, an analogy with clever lyrics on the abuse of power and well worth a listen.  You can catch up with Gerry’s output on www.myspace.com/gerrycreen.  Try it - you won’t be disappointed. 
Cathal McLaughlin

May 9, 2006

You have to hand it to Andy Peters who for the last couple of years has been devoting nearly every minute of his spare time to bringing in quality performers to play in this part of the world, firstly in the Frontier Music club in Newry and more lately in the Bronte Centre in the foothills of the famous mountains of Mourne. And they come to these gigs from far and near – in fact judging from tonight’s show they came mostly from afar. Andy commented on the irony that despite the fact that the Bronte is just a few miles from his home patch Rathfriland, only a few natives from that fine municipality were in attendance at this gig. The rest of the audience was made up of citizens and music lovers happy to travel many miles to see and hear the wonderful Eliza Gilkyson. And fair play too to the good people in Banbridge District Council’s Tourism Department – especially Karen - who sponsor these gigs in the Bronte, they must have been delighted to see this wonderful little venue packed to capacity.
Anyway enough of the plaudits and on to tonight’s show which nearly got full marks from yours truly and would have but for the odd omission of one of Eliza’s best known songs Hard Times In Babylon – a minor gripe which at my time of life I am entitled to! The last time I had the pleasure of seeing and hearing Ms Gilkyson was in May 2005 when she was accompanied by the redoubtable Jeff Plankenhorn mainly on acoustic guitar and Dobro. Tonight we had the pleasure of the company of Robert McEntee (Carole King, Jimmy LaFave, and Dan Fogelberg) whose electric guitar gave the music a harder, edgier feel. So it was great to get the two sides of Eliza.
As I sat enjoying the music I realised that Eliza’s songs could be divided into three main themes, spiritual, political and compassionate. Sometimes you get all three in the same song. That her late father is a major influence on her is beyond doubt. He was a little known but influential folk singer/songwriter in the 50s and 60s who wrote many songs including The Bare Necessities and Tell the Captain, which is better known as Sloop John B.  
We aren’t long into the show before Eliza references her father in Beauty Way, which is a semi-autobiographical song about the plight of the guitar player who has plummeted to the depths of despair and grief. It clearly reflects emotional turmoil caused by the break up of a relationship and the death of her father. Green Fields was written by Terry Gilkyson and there was real emotion in her voice as Eliza said that he had written it as a song of love and despair when his wife (Eliza’s mother) left him. Eliza’s rendition was soft and gentle and you could have heard a pin drop. The family connection continued with Jedidiah 1777, which is based on letters written by her ancestor Jedidiah Huntingdon who was a Major General who fought in the American Revolutionary War in the 1700s. Huntington described this in one of his letters as a ’necessary war’ which is in stark contrast with the sentiments expressed in Eliza’s own searing Man of God, which can best be described as an open attack on the great white leader who sits in the White House:
The cowboy came from out of the west
With his snakeskin boots and his bullet proof vest
Gang of goons and his big war chest
If you don’t know the song I am sure you get the picture.
The theme continued with the politically charged Highway 9 whose subject is the innocents caught up in the war in Iraq and the moving Tender Mercies about suicide bombers. No Eliza gig would be complete without a nod to Bob and she obliged with Love Minus Zero/No Limit. By now if anyone in the audience hadn’t cottoned on to the fact that that Eliza is not a recent arrival on the folk/Americana scene she set the record straight and demonstrated both her vintage and her pedigree by performing a song called Tennessee Road which she wrote in 1977 about a certain Mr Presley. A fascinating song was the epic, almost biblical The Great Correction which sounded as if it could/should have been written by the great Mr Dylan. Maybe it was but I haven’t been able to find any reference to it – maybe someone reading this has the answer? It seemed to be about the need for mankind to wise up and sort itself out before “the great correction comes.” Wonderful stuff.
A word about Robert McEntee – his guitar at times blazed then soothed and occasionally delivered a mesmerising solo, especially on the Texas love song True Companions – not to mention his 3 opening solo numbers that showed he is no slouch when it comes to writing and delivering a good song. 
Having started the show with a reference to her father it was fitting that she should close it with another. This time it was the sing along Bare Necessities, which he wrote for Disney’s Jungle Book. It was a happy way to end a very enjoyable evening and I am already looking forward to Eliza’s return visit.
Patrick Donaghy

October 28, 2006

Tonight may have signalled an official end to British Summer Time for 2006 but if future gigs maintain the high calibre of performance by both tonight’s artists, it looks like it will be summertime all year round at the Bront?
First up were the Believers, Craig Aspen and Cynthia Frazzini, making a welcome, second return visit.  Cynthia, alluringly attractive, with her dark, flowing hair, resplendent in a calf length, vermillion red dress, with bootlace shoulder straps I seem to recall, though I have to confess I wasn’t really looking that closely, kicked off the night’s proceedings.  Capable of delivering deeply poignant lyrics as well as heavier rocky sounds, I think she is worth the admission on her own.  Craig also has his good points.  Well, he is a big guy and no doubt our paths will cross again when the Believers next come back this way.  During the course of their hour long set, seamlessly swapping lead vocals and harmonising delectably on tracks from their two album releases to date, ROW and the critically acclaimed CRASHYERTOWN, both gave the sort of quality performance their many fans in this part of the world have come to expect.  They also treated the crowd to some new material, destined for the new album, due out in early 2007.  All contributions were warmly received by an appreciative crowd who know quality performers when they see them.
Craig and Cynthia are both excellent in their own right with specific personal qualities, great vocal chemistry with that essential edge.  All of this blends together into all expected from a gig; meaningful lyrics delivered with passion and pathos in equal measure, as appropriate, and top notch accompaniment.  The Believers have all of this in abundance.  Cynthia rounded off the set with the superb Sugar Coated Kisses, both leaving the stage to warm and deserved applause.Among the many established musicians generous in their praise of The Believers have been luminaries of the stature of Buddy Miller and, coincidently, the next up, Jim Lauderdale.
.Just when we thought the colour had drained from the stage for the night, Jim, bedecked from head to toe in a brilliant, electric-blue suit, with intricately embroidered motifs on collar, cuffs, lapels and legs and matching shirt - I really must cut Trinny and Susannah from my schedule – the dazzling sight of which had us scrambling for shades, alarmingly discarded all too soon, launched into his set with a gusto that said “this night is going to rock” and we weren’t disappointed.  I have to say at the outset, this man is a consummate, multi-talented performer and songwriter, equally at home singing pure country or hillbilly bluegrass.  He held the crowd in the heart of his hand from entrance to exit and in this case, even long after the gig was over, such is his down-to-earth personality.
A pioneer of the Americana movement and well known for his sharp wit, Lauderdale has hosted the distinguished Americana Music Awards for the last number of years, evidence of his standing among his peers.  He has produced an eclectic series of albums which have spanned many genres and whilst these may not have been as commercially successful as they ought, his compositions have been recorded with considerable success by contemporary country stars, including George Strait, Patty Loveless, Vince Gill, Mark Chesnutt, Kathy Mattea, Dixie Chicks and George Jones among others.  Any true country music fan’s collection could not be considered complete without at least a few of these excellent albums.
Performing numbers from an extensive back catalogue, including Whisper and Hummingbird, interspersed with anecdotes and some jokes at the promoter’s expense, which I can testify were fully deserved, Jim also exchanged banter with the very receptive audience which lapped up the hilarity and applauded a master entertainer at work in their midst.  I was enthralled particularly with Sandy Ford (Barbara Lee), an account from the Civil War - I’m a sucker for these story songs - and High Timberline, taken from HEADED FOR THE HILLS, on which he collaborated with Grateful Dead lyricist, Robert Hunter.Cynthia and Craig returned to the stage to accompany Jim on several numbers from his simultaneous releases, COUNTRY SUPER HITS, VOL 1 and BLUEGRASS, both excellent albums.  I particularly liked the quirkily titled, I Met Jesus in a Bar, available to view on YouTube.Rounding off the night with a tribute songs in memory of fellow pioneers, Buck Owens and Gram Parsons, JL closed with the title track from HEADED FOR THE HILLS to rapturous applause.  Let’s hope he heads back to these hills soon.  Thanks again to Banbridge District Council, the gig sponsors.
Both tonight’s artists, along with Chip Taylor/Carrie Rodriguez, Kimmie Rhodes, Tim O’Brien and a host of others including emerging talent of the calibre of Foy Vance, will feature in a new nine part series of The Blackstaff Sessions, to be broadcast on BBC NI in January 2007.  Sky Digital viewers on the mainland should keep an eye out for this as BBC NI is available on channel 973.  If it’s as good as the first series, it will be essential viewing for all music fans.
Cathal McLaughlin

April 13, 2007

Kris Delmhorst has to be one of Americana or, if you prefer, roots music’s best kept secrets.  Although a classically trained cellist, she is a relative newcomer to guitar and fiddle, having taught herself both while temporarily located in Maine recovering from a damaged ankle during a particularly long winter, even for New England.  On this, her first, but hopefully not her last, visit to the Brontë, this Brooklyn-raised and Massachusetts based, singer/songwriter gave a performance which will remain for some time in the memory of those lucky enough to have been there – until the next time anyway. 
Without the bonus of a support artist to warm up the crowd, she was subjected to the full focus of those gathered and boy did she deliver!  The evening was sprinkled with a liberal selection from her previous works as well as her latest album, the cerebral STRANGE CONVERSATION.  This could be described as a concept album, comprising lyrics either adapted from the poetic contributions of Browning, Masefield and Herrick among others, or inspired by the epic works of Virgil of ancient Rome as well as, almost modern in comparison, the great 13th century Persian lyric poet, Rumi (whose followers were known as ‘whirling dervishes’ expressing their worship in music and dance). 
The evening began with an unaccompanied number, followed by the Browning inspired toast to the celebrated Venetian composer, Baldassarre Galuppi.  Browning himself would have been proud to have been associated with this bright little number, given the obvious thought which had been devoted to the construction of the lyrics.  So the tone for the evening was set.  Further offerings, Broken White Line, Hummingbird and the bluesy Everything is Music, as well as the title track from the very fine album, REDBIRD, a collaboration with husband, Jeffrey Foucault and the equally talented Peter Mulvey – catch either on one of their solo tours and I promise you won’t be disappointed – were warmly received by a very appreciative crowd revelling in an exhibition on stage from a performer whose fan base deserves to be much wider. 
With a sound sometime reminiscent of Gretchen Peters or Lucy Kaplansky, even a slight Norah Jones influence, but at all times very definitely Kris Delmhorst, you can appreciate what an exceptionally fine talent she is.  Although slightly disappointed that her beautiful interpretation of poet and diplomat, James Weldon Johnston’s Since You Went Away didn’t feature on this set list, it provides an excuse to request it on her next visit. 
On stage just a touch shy of two hours, and only a short break for a soothing glass of red wine – well it is a very cultured club here! – Kris closed out the evening with a great version of Richard Thompson’s, How Will I Ever Be Simple Again? followed by the thought provoking gospel song Ain’t No Grave (Gonna Hold My Body Down).  As Kris said in her introduction to the final song, “I’m not sure how I feel about Jesus, but His music’s great.”  I couldn’t have put it better myself.  Thanks again to Banbridge District Council for sponsoring the gig. 
Cathal McLaughlin

May 18, 2006

I have often asked myself why I do it.  Why do I drive, often long distances, to attend gigs, sometimes featuring complete unknowns, inevitably on a week night, knowing that the clock will have already struck 2.00am before my weary head once again comes into contact with my beloved pillow?  The unenviable prospect of yet another early morning followed by a further day in the palace of fun, which also doubles as my place of work, only adds to my personal dilemma.
If ever I really needed confirmation to carry on, it was delivered in abundance at this gig.  What a magic, incredible night!!  Those lucky, lucky souls who happened along were treated to a wonderful experience of superb vocals from great musicians at the very top of their form.
First up was Alana Levandoski, fast gaining a formidable reputation for herself as the best female singer/songwriter to come out of Canada in decades, a fact emphasised through her frequent airplay on Radio 2’s Bob Harris Country, not a bad judge himself when it comes to recognizing potential in emerging artists.  Alana, tall, slim and attractive, introduced herself in her engaging twang and immediately endeared with her pleasant manner. 
She then treated all to a refreshing selection from her debut album, Unsettled Down, and to my personal delight a great cover of Juanita, the old Gram Parsons/Chris Hillman standard from their sometimes stormy time together in the Flying Burrito Bros.  It was hard to believe that such a powerful voice emanated from her slight frame.  Alana, definitely one to track for the future, has the hallmark of a major international artist.  Remember! You heard it here.
Next, onto the compact stage, not accustomed to the volume of both equipment and artists on display, – Bob Packwood and piano didn’t even make it that far and were consigned to the wing - came multi Juno award (Canada’s top music accolade) winners Blue Rodeo. 
Performing, unusually for them, a wholly acoustic set, somewhat removed from the all electric concerts they are generally associated with and enjoyed by so many when they last toured here in July 2005.  Veterans of the Live 8 bash in Barrie, Ontario, where they played to a massed gathering, the boys arrived with impeccable credentials and immediately launched into What Am I Doing Here? which Greg Keelor quickly assured the audience filling the pews of this old church was no reflection on the current venue but was penned in memory of one particularly “sh**e experience" some years previously, in Buffalo, New York. 
Mightily relieved, all, including several Canadian visitors who were in the area sampling the electric atmosphere, retook their seats, content that no slight had been registered against the quaint setting.  Nevertheless Greg did concede that it was one of the strangest locations the band had ever played.  Although more accustomed to performing in front of crowds of 15,000 plus in their native Canada, where they are a national institution - but managing only cult status in that other large chunk of the North American continent - Cuddy and Keelor, sharing the vocal duties, and whose differing styles clearly compliment one another to perfection, and the boys, put on a two hour set of over twenty offerings from their vast repertoire, including Diamond Mine, Rose-Coloured Glasses, 5 Days in May, Til I Am Myself again and It hasn’t Hit Me Yet.  We were left almost breathless by the many virtuoso solos involving the entire band which punctuated these and so many more in the course of an evening which will live long in the memory of those fortunate enough to have been present.  I was taken by how relaxed all appeared on stage, a fact confirmed by Greg Keelor when I spoke to him after the show.
When we thought we had heard it all, the encore was something special.  Greg and Jim came back on stage with the former performing a magnificent cover of the old Joan Baez number, The Four Marys while Jim came up with a surprise package, a brilliant version, the best I have heard, of Billy Sherrill’s Grammy award winning Almost Persuaded, before bringing a wonderful evening (have I mentioned that before?) to a close with the incomparable Dark Angel and Touched by the Hand of Jesus with Lost Together, the concluding song of the night.  All went home happy in the knowledge that they had experienced something unique from an outfit we don’t see, or hear, nearly enough around these shores.  Come back soon.
Finally I must acknowledge the vision of Banbridge District Council in sponsoring the events at this venue.  The efforts of all involved there are greatly appreciated by the many patrons who have been privileged to attend the gigs staged so far and who may otherwise have been denied any opportunity to see such great musicians at close quarters.  Well done!  I look forward to many more great nights here.
Cathal McLaughli

May 8, 2008

Those who mistakenly turned out tonight, expecting to witness a Waylon Jennings tribute band belting out some of the old country standards made famous by the late Texas Outlaw, may have been slightly disappointed.  However, this distress would have been only transitory.  The sight of, but more particularly, the exquisite sounds produced by these three lovely, young ladies would have helped, no doubt, to soften that initial blow quite substantially. 
For this, their first ever appearance in Ireland, the Jennys, comprising founder-members and Winnipeg natives, Ruth Moody and Nicky Mehta as well as Maine’s statuesque Heather Masse, the most recent occupant of that important third slot following Annabelle Chvostek’s departure in pursuit of her solo career, put on what could only be described as one of the best ever concerts at this remarkable venue - and we’ve had more than a few good ones recently.  Sharing the lead mic, they performed a range of tracks from their 2005 Juno award winning debut album, 40 DAYS, as well as the similarly nominated, FIRECRACKER, my personal favourite.  These included Nicky’s Starlight, inspired by a tragic event when Lawrence Wagner, a young man of Cree origin, was found frozen to death, an innocent victim of the local constabulary’s dubious and inhuman late night practice of dumping drunks beyond the city limits, thereby forcing them to walk home, often unsuitably clothed to combat the extreme weather conditions - the so-called ‘starlight cruises’, and Ruth’s Prairie Town, dedicated to her home town. 
Her little anecdote, by way of explanation of the terrain around her home that it is so flat that should your dog run away, you can track it for three days across two states, drew raucous laughter.  Heather then took the lead on a stirring à cappella rendition of the old Leadbelly standard, Bring Me Little Water Silvy while the cover of Emmylou’s Deeper Well (WRECKING BALL) just has to be heard – sensational is the only description that fits. 
These ladies gave nothing less than a master-class in close harmony vocals, showcased particularly on the superb, One Voice, displaying their audacious, collective multi-instrumentalism along the way to a by now captivated audience, whose applause just got louder as the evening wore on.  Stepping out from behind the mics, the night was fittingly rounded off with an unaccompanied version of The Parting Glass, traditionally sung at a gathering of friends, drawn together to bid a more than likely final farewell to yet another heartbroken, young emigrant, draws to a reluctant close – “Of all the comrades ever I had, they're sorry for my going away.  And all the sweethearts ever I had, they wish me one more day to stay.  But since it falls unto my lot that I should go and you should not, I'll gently rise and softly call, good night and joy be with you all”. 
These sentiments are included in Dylan’s Restless Farewell (THE TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGIN) which he based on this melody.  It was plainly evident that the Jennys had weaved their magic on a very knowledgeable audience, all of whom would have been quite content to sit through it all again.  Alas! We all have to go home sometime. The ladies were more than adequately aided and abetted by their most recent recruit, the excellent Jeremy Penner, who wasn’t even required to appear in drag - pity!  Both he and Ruth had collaborated previously as in the acclaimed, but unfortunately now defunct, roots outfit with the great name of Scruj MacDuhk. Like many of the travelling musicians to this part of the world, all were blown away by the beauty of the countryside surrounding this most singular of venues and promised to include it on their next visit here. Let’s hope it won't be too long.
Cathal McLaughlin

August 14, 2007

Tom Russell's phenomenal pulling power is boundless. This was borne out by the fact that some unlucky patrons, who chose to ignore the extensive pre-gig publicity and failed to book for this gig, had to be turned away - an unwelcome first for this venue. Among the packed crowd eagerly awaiting the master's appearance was Susan, a young lady from Bristol, who based her Irish holiday around Tom's four dates here, both North and South; a sextet of folks from Finland and Holland and, by complete coincidence, a couple of visitors from Tom's own backyard near El Paso.
Incidentally, a great cover version of the Marty Robbins classic is included on the 2004 release INDIANS COWBOYS HORSES DOGS.  With no support artist, the stage was set for a great night and we weren’t disappointed.  Just after nine, dressed in black suit, open-neck black shirt, slicked back hair and eyes secreted behind dark shades, TR stepped menacingly onto the stage to rapturous applause, looking every inch like he had just stepped off the set of The Sopranos, a candidate for the natural successor to the original Man in Black. 
Supported on this tour by ace guitarist, San Antonio’s Michael Martin, TR treated all to about two dozen songs, old favourites as well as new songs invariably destined to fall into that category in time, were included in the set.  In addition to the ever popular Gallo del Cielo and, in my opinion, the much underrated The Road It Gives, the Road it Takes Away, TR also included a great interpretation of Rock Salt and Nails by the legendary Steve Young, with a very amusing accompanying little anecdote too involved to repeat here.  Russell is a man of great principle and this is very evident and generally characterised in many of his songs.  The Death of Jimmy Martin (WOUNDED HEART OF AMERICA) his anthem to the great bluegrass legend, is a less than thinly veiled swipe at the perceived great and good of the Nashville music scene, recalling the raw treatment Martin received at their hands.  Tom Russell’s Revenge on Nashville could easily be an alternative title.  
The thought provoking lyrics of Who’s Gonna Build Your Wall also takes a well aimed pop at the American establishment and urges ordinary Americans especially, although the sentiments expressed therein are easily transferable to many nations, to take a long look at themselves before empowering politicians to implement dubious policies, particularly those which adversely affect those vulnerable, ethnic groups with limited political clout.  With the serious political references out of the way, a further yarn about the many characters frequenting Scottish Mike’s Oslo bar – it must be some place – and the always welcome rendition of old Irish favourite, Carrickfergus, concluded this evening in the company of one of America’s greatest songwriters and an all too brief insight into his vast library of songs, for this occasion anyway.  Let’s hope the Brontë can welcome him back in the not too distant future. 
Cathal McLaughlin

January 24. 2007

Those among you, who take even the most cursory interest in the all too often comical meanderings that pass for politics in this part of the world, will, no doubt, be well aware that a consensus here is a rare animal indeed, almost in the endangered species category.  The fact that there was to be a consensus, special or otherwise, at the plus a chance to witness such a rare event in the flesh, so to speak, drew me to this gig, albeit with a smidgeon of apprehension.
Although this was the first visit to the Bront? by acoustic bluegrass band, Special Consensus, the current line-up of Greg Cahill, Justine Carbone, Ron Spears and their most recent recruit, bassist David Thomas, drew a large crowd of admirers, the majority of whom were also new to this venue and were obviously garnered on Special C’s previous tours here.  Ron got the set off to a sizzling start with What will Become of Me?, setting a high standard for the remainder of evening.  The bar never dropped.  Although Ron and Justin shared the main vocal duties, David and Greg, with his fine baritone voice, also chipped in with their fair share in the spotlight.  Performing a wide range, including originals by members of the band, from Margarita Breakdown, during which an impromptu appearance by Bo and Luke Duke in General Lee being chased along bumpy, southern tracks by Sheriff Rosco P Coltrane himself seemed more than a distinct possibility, such was the effect of the rousing banjo strains, and Ten Mile Tennessee to the Louvins’ I’m Gonna Love You One More Time, Flatt and Scruggs’ Please Don’t Wait for Me Darlin’, to a great instrumental version of Irving Berlin’s Blue Skies - an unusual choice for a blue grass night, yet it worked superbly - plus the almost mandatory gospel quota, without which a bluegrass evening would not be complete. 
The guys, all excellent performers and peerless multi-instrumentalists in their own right, ceaselessly amazed with both their individual and collective vocal ranges.  The blend of the vocals on many of the numbers throughout their long and well received set was, on occasion, mesmeric.  All those who had ventured out reached a consensus, Special C was well worth the admission.  A sure indicator of the reception of the performance was the speed at which the pile of CDs on sale, especially their latest, THE TRAIL OF ACHING HEARTS, as well as individual offerings, disappeared.  Although I originally came in search of any consensus, I needn’t have been concerned.  This Consensus was indeed Special and well worth signing up to – even here in Neverland.
The Bront? also welcomed back Eilidh Patterson as support for the evening.  Eilidh, her voice as crisp and clear as a mountain stream in winter, once again served up her usual high quality set of covers ranging from Patty Griffin to Lynn Miles, interspersed with a selection of her own thought-provoking compositions.  She deserves wider recognition.  Thanks again to event sponsors, Banbridge District Council.
Cathal McLaughlin

September 8, 2006

On his previous appearance at the Brontë Music Club in March 2006, Kevin Welch, fresh from his successful participation in the Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival, was so impressed with the intimate venue coupled with the warmth of his reception that he promised to return at the earliest opportunity and bring some of his friends along.  Like the true gentleman he is, he was as good as his word. His friends, none other than fellow Dead Reckoners, Kieran Kane and multi-instrumentalist, Fats Kaplin, joined him on stage for this performance as well as Kieran’s son, Lucas, on drums.  Fittingly, almost in acknowledgement for fulfilling his undertaking to return so soon, the venue was filled almost to capacity by hungry connoisseurs keen to feast on another wonderful night of great live music.
Alternating principal vocal duties and complementing one another with delicate harmonies, the crowd were treated to an array of the best of both their individual outputs as well as tracks from their recent collaborations, YOU CAN’T SAVE EVERYBODY and the magnificent LOST JOHN DEAN.  I commend both of these as a must for good record collections everywhere.  Kieran and Kevin’s voices blended together like ten-year old malt.  Their every contribution was savoured and quaffed with the respect that is rightly afforded to such a rare and velvety smooth beverage.  Each precious draught was sipped with appropriate reverence and applauded deferentially.
Fats Kaplin’s musical contribution to the overall delicacy should not be under-estimated.  Sought out for both recording and tour duties by many artists as diverse as Nanci Griffith and Manhattan Transfer,  Buddy Miller and Bad Company, to name but a few, this quiet, shy and unassuming man is, without the slightest fear of contradiction, a musical genius.  His cognomen is, to say the least, grossly misleading.  I first encountered him some years ago when he toured as a member of the magnificent Tom Russell’s delightfully named band, the Upside Down Cowboys.  I lost count of the number of times he slipped effortlessly from instrument to instrument during the course of the evening.  Fats himself took centre stage, not a situation I detected he likes to frequent too often - he prefers to blend in with the band and just do what he does best, play great music - to introduce his own release of mood music, mostly fiddle, appropriately named THE FATMAN COMETH, and treated us to one track, Maloney’s Road, just to whet the appetite.  It worked.  I bought it as did many others.
Then, all too soon, it was over - the requisite encore a distant, but far from dim, memory.  As I wended my way home along the winding country roads, dissecting the intermittent patches of mist on my way; a hint of malt clinging to my tongue; Prayer Like Any Other playing gently in the background, I reflected on a performance which will live long in the memory of all.  Let’s hope there is much more of the same in the bottle when it is again uncorked on their next journey to the rolling acres of County Down.
Check out the website www.brontemusicclub.com for information on some truly mouth-watering gigs coming up in the near future.  In whichever part of the British Isles you reside, make the effort to go out and support live music.  I promise you won’t be disappointed. The gig was sponsored by Banbridge District Council.
Cathal McLaughlin

March 3, 2006

On a freezing, wintry night, with the outside temperature at minus 7°, in the former church, where Reverend Patrick Brontë once conveyed his thoughts on more moralistic issues, a select vestry gathered to experience themes of a less liturgical, but no less important or heart-warming, nature.The small congregation of dutiful souls, who had braved the elements, were soon warmed, almost intravenously, by the musical eulogies delivered by a masterful musician and songsmith.
Described as,”the best singer-songwriter to come down the road in a long, long time”, and, fresh from his successful participation in the Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival, Kevin Welch, whose music has been recorded by many artists ranging from Waylon Jennings and Roger Miller to Trisha Yearwood, Ricky Skaggs and the Highwaymen, brought his good solid music and lyrics, along with his exceptional vocal talent, to the intimate surroundings of the Brontë Interpretative Centre.
This venue, thanks to the sterling promotion by Andy Peters, is fast gaining a reputation as the place to appear in Northern Ireland, a fact borne out by recent sell-out appearances by both Kimmie Rhodes and Gretchen Peters, both of whom were enthralled not only by the venue but the amazing acoustics, as well as a host of other features, not least the appreciative congregations.
Welch strode on to the small stage and immediately launched into a selection from his many albums, Somethin’ About You, Pushin’ Up Daisies and Life Down Here On Earth.  He regaled his flock with an anecdote about the latter song which he recalled he couldn’t get played on Country Radio but which was adopted by the space shuttle crew of the time as a space alarm call - so it got played in space but not on air.  The knowledgeable audience listened attentively and applauded loudly as the locum pastor effortlessly held his devotees entranced with his wide portfolio of both story songs and those with deeper messages, ranging from Beneath My Wheels through the dark overtones in Long Cold Train to Sam’s Town and Wilson’s Tracks, where he shares his social conscience and decries the greed creeping silently into even the most remote of neighbourhoods.
This two hour set of pure ecstasy was concluded with requests from the very appreciative congregation – Feast of Bread and Water was followed by the hauntingly melodic Anna Lise Please and Millionaire, which, Welch said, made him just grateful for what he had – a worthy sentiment for the venue.  Welch left his disciples baying for more with the beautiful Prayer Like Any Other.
Those who couldn’t make it missed a master musical songsmith at his best.  Those who braved the elements thanked their God that they had made it to church to listen to the Word according to Welch and worship at his altar.  Come back soon, Kevin. 
Support for the evening was provided by up and coming young singer / songwriter from Bangor, Ronan McLaughlin, whose mix of self-penned, thought  provoking lyrics and covers delivered in dusky tones, prepared the audience well for the main attraction.  Definitely, one to watch out for the future.
Cathal McLaughlin

August 22, 2008

This young man, or JTE, as he signed on the CDs and posters of those who surrounded him after this performance, may well be his father’s son but he is far from a chip off the old block.  Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t mean to imply that he is not in the same class as you-know-who.  His style is just different.  And what a style!  As the MC for the night said in his introduction, “this guy puts the ‘E’ in ‘Entertainment’”.  He certainly wasn’t wrong. 
I had been lucky enough to get my hands on his most excellent debut album, THE GOOD LIFE, shortly after its release and was in full agreement with Maurice Hope’s assessment and award of five stars in his Maverick review, although I might just have been tempted to slip in a sixth, just for overall artistic merit. 
This one is a must for any country music collection.  I have to say that if his live performances all meet the standard delivered here, the album is but a sampler of greater things to come.  To experience JTE as he should be, it has to be live.  This was a supercharged evening of top class roots, hillbilly, bluegrass, honky-tonk etc with a decent bit of comedy thrown in.  He was assisted in no small measure in the comedy stakes by Cory Jounts, who despite his obvious leaning towards the fun side of life, is also an excellent musician.  In addition to harmony vocals, he provided superb accompaniment whether it was mandolin, banjo or, especially, harmonica. 
As well as tracks from the album, the haunting Lone Pine Hill and the magnificent What Do You Do When You’re Lonesome to name but two, there were covers of Lighnin’ Hopkins’ Automobile Blues, Buck Owens’ Close Up the Honky Tonks and the inevitable tribute to the man whose forename he shares, TVZ.  I especially liked his delivery of Mr Mudd and Mr Gold but he did remind me of someone else when he proclaimed that TVZ was the best songwriter ever bar none, despite the lack of reference to cowboy boots, coffee tables or Bob Dylan.  Certainly there was no disagreement as regards his namesake’s stature among those gathered here.  After almost 30 songs, yes 30, it was all over.  We were lucky to see JTE at this stage of his career as I expect that over the next few years, he will be playing to crowds far in excess of those gathered here tonight, where the shortened JTE might just come in handy for all those autograph seekers. 
Providing support, as well as coach driver, for the Irish leg of the tour, was Dundalk-based singer/songwriter Stewart Agnew, who performed a short set of his own material.  The crowd liked what they heard and so did I.  His Street Devils was a well constructed story of life on the wrong side of the tracks.  I don’t envy him his chauffeur duties driving these two although I have no doubt that it will be a great experience and they will have a good time. 
Cathal McLaughlin

August 12, 2008

California-based country rockers, I See Hawks in L.A., on a short European ‘tourette’ from their desert habitat, played their only two dates in the British Isles at these two prestigious venues in the North of Ireland.  The band’s relatively low profile in this part of the world, not to mention the monsoon conditions we have been suffering over the last few weeks and the mid-week dates all contributed to the relatively disappointing gatherings at both gigs.  I have to admit that I too had to be ‘encouraged’ to come out and hear this band, in the best Sicilian traditions of course, by Rathfriland’s own ‘Don’, promoter Andy Peters.  It was simply an offer I couldn’t refuse!  The fact that I ventured out on a second evening speaks volumes.  These guys were brilliant, well deserving of the accolade paid by none other than the great Dave Alvin, “I See Hawks are indeed one of California’s unique treasures”
What a coup this was for Andy, and Jim Heaney at the RMC, to capture these birds of prey for their only Irish dates.  Playing without support, they kicked off with Hallowed Ground, the title track from their 2008 album (see July issue for review).  This set the tone for the rest of the evening.  We were not to be disappointed.  Comprising founder members Rob Waller on lead vocals and acoustic guitar and lead guitarist Paul Lacques, as well as ex-Strawberry Alarm Clock’s Paul Marshall on bass – if any of you old hippies remember their psychedelic Incense and Peppermints from the late 60’s, then you weren’t really there! – and drummer par excellence Shawn Nourse, the guys provided over two hours of top notch entertainment. 
They performed selected tracks from their four albums to date and I can’t honestly remember hearing a ‘just ok’ song throughout.  I lost count of the number of superb guitar solos from Paul L. but could have handled a few more vocals from Paul M, who took centre stage with a great cover of Long Black Veil as well as his excellent self-penned Truth is You Lied, which Jill Sobule sang on the 1996 OST of Grace of My Heart.  While Rob and the two Pauls moved through the audience during the mid session break talking to as many of the crowd as possible, I spoke to some of the regulars who had braved the appalling weather conditions and they were quite rightly raving about the performance.  The praise was even higher as they left both venues since they had been served up yet another very large helping of country rock as it should be played. 
Rob’s delivery of the track I See Hawks in L.A. punctuated with Paul L’s plaintiff lap steel accompaniment recalled the songs of the peerless Mickey Newbury to mind.  In my book, there is just no higher praise.  The thunderous Humboldt provided the encore and a perfect conclusion to a great gig.  Horse lovers should take comfort that none will suffer any harm when the band returns for a more extensive tour.  Next time, I won’t need to be ‘persuaded’ to attend and neither should you!  You shouldn’t forget the name.  As well as their latest, check out the albums to date - I SEE HAWKS IN L.A. (2001); GRAPEVINE (2004) and CALIFORNIA COUNTRY (2006).  Find out more on www.iseehawks.com.  
Cathal McLaughlin

July 7, 2006

I have been aware of local singer/songwriter, Brian Houston, for a few years but have to admit, somewhat ashamedly, that, apart from a few radio plays, I had never really heard any of the music that he has produced, nor attended one of his gigs.  On this occasion, I came to hear him at the behest of my son, who persuaded me to accompany him to the Bront?.  By the end of the evening, however, it was evident why this particular boy from the east side of Belfast has such a large fan base and can count such luminaries as Van Morrison and veteran DJ Bob Harris, who has described him as “the very, very excellent Brian Houston”, among his string of admirers.  This now distinguished venue, whose reputation as one of those oases where connoisseurs of good music come to feast on their passion, continues to grow - and can rightly count itself among the best acoustic, live venues in Ireland - was filled almost to capacity for this superb performance, not an overused description in this instance.  Houston joined the ever growing list of high calibre, though normally more Americana and roots inclined, artists to have graced this stage in the last two years – see www.frontiermusicclub.com for further information.
Accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, and with a hairstyle all his own, Houston bounded onto the stage and opened with Carol Come Back before going electric for a selection from his soon-to-be-released album, SUGAR QUEEN. This will be his first commercially-produced and marketed album following several critically acclaimed, but less financially rewarding, independently-produced albums.  Houston’s inimitable, stimulating, energetic style, seemed to transfer invisibly to the crowd, adding to the all-round electricity this gig generated.
His rich accent soared delightfully in his delivery and after what seemed like only a moment onstage, I felt that I had got to know him and his psyche, a bit, at least.  This is a testament to his song-writing abilities.  Childish Things describes life growing up in the socially deprived Belfast of the seventies and eighties; leaving school, finding a job and ultimately meeting a girl and settling down.  
The vitality in his performance warmed the hall considerably, and after each song Houston had the crowd eating out of his hand with one anecdote after another.  One, in particular, concerning a reference in These Days to an almost cult local Belfast record store, and its equally well known proprietor, had the crowd in hysterics.  The lyrics of almost every song are laced with the evidence of the journey Brian Houston has taken to get where he is right now.  He is, quite simply, a man with stories to tell.  Stories that people love to hear.  Stories that make people laugh. 
Stories that penetrate not just hearts but also souls.  Standing in front of this appreciative crowd, armed with nothing more dangerous than a guitar and an abundance of lyrically witty, poetic songs was a man who definitely wears his heart very much on his sleeve.  This was clearly evidenced in his performance of Red Badge of Courage, which, for personal reasons, he dedicated wholeheartedly to his wife.As I have mentioned, this set was punctuated with a liberal supply of anecdotes and Houston seemed to revel in the ongoing banter with the audience which suited, and was well received by, this particular crowd but which might have floundered in another setting.
In response to persistent requests from one particularly vocal section of the crowd, he eventually conceded defeat and brought the evening to a close with the hauntingly beautiful melody, The Valley, from his album of the same name. With that, he was gone from the stage, the tumultuous applause of a well satisfied crowd ringing in his ears, only to re-appear at the back of the venue chatting happily to the many punters still milling around.  All agreed that they had been royally entertained by one of their own.  Houston’s collection of well-crafted songs, most meaningful and thought-provoking but others witty and funny, coupled with his singular stage presence and (almost) unique style, certainly made the journey worthwhile.  I won’t just be the driver to his next gig but look forward to it with enthusiasm.
Eilidh (pronounced ‘I-lay’) Patterson, an up and coming young singer/songwriter from Derry, opened the show with a well received mix of both self-penned and covers including a standout version  of Lynn Miles’ You Don't Love Me Anymore.  Definitely, one to listen out for.
Cathal McLaughlin

APRIL 18, 2008

The Brontë faithful once again turned out in large numbers to welcome back an artiste whom they now regard as one of their own, the most excellent Kimmie Rhodes.  Kimmie’s love affair with Ireland, and this venue in particular, was re-ignited a few years ago when Brontë supremo, Andy Peters, long time music fan in general and Kimmie (along with several hundred others!) in particular, emailed an invitation to come and play at this then fledgling music venue. 
She admitted to ignoring the initial contacts but such was Andy’s persistence, she was eventually worn down and agreed to include Ireland on her next tour.  Kimmie remarked on that initial short tour that she hadn’t played here for about 15 years and then only in Dublin.  Since that first tour in 2004 prompted her Irish renaissance, such has her popularity increased that Kimmie now comes back two, sometimes three, times each year.  It is also fair to say that not only has Kimmie discovered many new fans, it but many new fans have discovered her and her music.  Although this was gig number 40 of a hectic 42 date tour, it was more like a family occasion. 

The accompanying tour band included her ever-present husband, Joe Gracey; record producer son, Gabe Rhodes; long time friend John Gardner (drums) and all round nice guy and mandolin virtuoso, Brendan Emmett.  And so we all settled back for what we knew would be an exceptional night’s entertainment.  Drawing on songs both old and new, we were treated to a selection of favourites from her extensive back catalogue including the obligatory covers of Townes van Zandt classics as well a sprinkling from the excellent new album WALLS FALL DOWN, a must addition for the knowledgeable enthusiast’s collection.
 By the close, we all had feasted generously on a diet of excellent music but there is always room for a little dessert in the form of a final encore.  As the crowd departed, I overheard one of the satisfied and happy punters remark on Kimmie’s bubbly personality and friendliness and her great rapport with her audience.  She does have a particular knack of making each individual member of the audience feel special.  That’s why we love to see as often as possible in these parts and hope she keeps coming back. 
Cathal McLaughlin

Paul Barrere & Fred Tackett
November 29, 2008.

While only a small portion of the wine being consumed by those in the pews of this former church may have been of the vintage variety, the majority of those who had ventured out on this cold evening would almost certainly fit within that description. But then, they do say things improve with age and that could even be true of the latest guests to grace the Bronte stage. Although both Paul Barrere and Fred Tackett may not yet be described as veteran performers, they have been around a long time.
Paul has been an ever-present member of Little Feat since 1972 while Fred is a relative rookie, having only joined up in 1988 when the band re-formed. Those attending this gig could be described as connoisseurs, not least of the fine wine they were consuming, but also of the country rock master class being provided on stage. Clearly, these were musicians at the top of their game. Kicking off the night with Hate to Lose Your Lovin’, we were then treated to the cream of the Little Feat output interspersed with many intimate anecdotes of life on the road with the great Lowell George, many of which sent the crowd into fits of laughter.
In once such story introduction to All That You Dream, Paul recalled how LG’s first critical commentary on the lyrics was, “it sucks” but recovered enough to include it on several CDs including HOT CAKES AND OUTTAKES, which would be a great introduction for those perhaps unfamiliar with the Little Feat sound. But then, all Little Feat CDs are highly recommended. It was a bit like that throughout the evening. Paul and Fred reminisced while the crowd played its part by listening and enjoying both the stories and music. The loudest applause of the night was reserved for an extended version of Willin’, with covers of Don’t Bogart That Joint, Long Black Veil and The Weight cleverly sandwiched in between the main course.
Paul preceded this medley with George's often recounted recollections of how Willin’ got him kicked out of the Mothers of Invention, ostensibly because the song is about a truck driver’s experiences on the road and contains open references to drug and alcohol misuse which breached Zappa's strict code on drugs. While the crowd purred at the Fred’s sweet mandolin and the all round musicianship, all too soon it was over. Only a standing ovation brought our heroes back onto the stage for rousing renditions of Roll ‘em Easy, Down to the River and the magnificent Feats Don’t Fail Me Now. I for one will be in the queue for tickets when this pair come back but I suspect after this performance I won’t be on my own.
Cathal McLaughlin

Duke Special
December 29, 2008.

Tonight’s was the second of two intimate, and need I add, sell-out gigs by a young man whose reputation has been increasing steadily since his 2002 decision to come out from behind the scenes and bring his brand of musical entertainment to the wider public. Yet after almost six years, musically speaking, I believe he remains one of Northern Ireland’s best kept secrets. However, unlike most secrets, this one deserves to be shouted from the rooftops and passed on to everyone who will listen to ensure that as many people as possible experience at least one night under his magical, musical spell.
Duke Special, aka Peter Wilson, is indeed special. In an age where almost anything goes, he is the epitome of good manners and gave me the impression that beneath the stage disguise and façade of showmanship, there rests an extremely shy young man. His reticence, thankfully, did not stand in the way of an outstanding performance, during all of which you could hear the proverbial pin drop, such was his command over an audience which crossed all age barriers. The complete set, which comprised the latter half of the content of his soon to be released songbook – the first half had been the basis of the previous evening’s programme - was warmly applauded by all, none more so than the final offering of his encore, Drink to Me Only (With Thine Eyes), the old English love song based on the words of Ben Jonson’s beautiful 17th century love poem To Celia.
The evening had started off equally well with the title track from the latest album, I NEVER THOUGHT THIS DAY WOULD COME, a perfect follow-up to the 2007 release, SONGS FROM THE DEEP FOREST, either of which would be perfect gifts for lovers of good music – or just lovers in general. Duke’s distinctive appearance, - for the uninitiated, his apparel is usually period dress, à la Beau Brummell but of a later era, which I’ve heard described as ‘hobo chic’, although I would suggest more middle class Victorian. He also sports wonderful dreadlocks (of which I am insanely jealous) and his use of dark eyeliner creates an almost gothic effect. His elfin features cleverly support his performance which draws its inspiration from the old vaudeville theatres and music halls of a bygone age, recalled with a fine rendition of the theme song from the BBC’s much missed Good Old Days, Down at the Old Bull and Bush, with the usual audience participation, of course.
Duke’s innovative accompaniments included a school bell but unfortunately tonight the old transistor radio and gramophone weren’t needed. Pity! It’s always great no matter how often you’ve seen it. One of the great things about Duke is he delivers his songs in his own distinct northern Irish accent. Personally, I think this adds to his appeal as does the innovative lyrics in his quirky song titles, Last Night I Nearly Died (But Woke Up Just In Time) and Regarding the Moonlight in Eastbourne being but two examples. If the name is new to you, take my advice and go see him live next time he’s in your area. It’s a real treat for the eyes and the soul. John McGurgan provided support with a short set of his own songs, including the excellent Jenny and her Vega Machine and a good cover of Eric Bibb’s Needed Time.
Cathal McLaughlin

Brian Houston
December 30, 2008.

Those of us who frequent the Brontë to the extent that we can almost lay claim to our personal pews have been spoiled rotten by promoter extraordinaire (he’ll love that title), Andy Peters, with the quality of post-Christmas fare on offer over three successive nights. On 28th and 29th we had the wonderful Duke Special – see separate review - and, tonight, his contemporary, and yet another local boy done good, the superbly talented Brian Houston, took to the stage. It is coincidental that both these artists have supported one another in various bands during their formative years.
And so, it was in the spirit of this special camaraderie existing among artists of the local music scene here that the Duke left a short note, crafted on the first available piece of stationery to hand , which just happened to be a sheet of kitchen roll, wishing Brian well for the evening. Written in suitably biblical tones, given that this tremendous venue was formerly an actual working church, he read it to the crowd. I reproduce it here with Brian’s blessing - “The Book of Houston Chapter 1, verse. 7. Thou shalt rock them, Brian. In an Elvis meets Van meets Springsteen meets Costello meets Kristofferson meets Ryan Adams meets Dylan kind of way. Wiggle your hips and think of Rathfriland. Love, Dukey!” Now that is special.
This show was in keeping with the usual frenetic performances now associated with Houston, it was maximum voltage from the outset. During the course of a show that stretched to almost two hours we got all the big numbers including fantastic re-arrangements of End of the Beginning and Sugar Queen (both SUGAR QUEEN) as well as a few from the latest album, THREE FEET FROM GOLD, worth the money alone for the brilliant Queen of Hearts, with the added bonus of 12 more great songs free! Where would you get an offer like it? Houston is an enthusiastic and natural performer. He loves an audience and enjoys it when everyone enters into the spirit of the evening and gives as good as they get. The comments don’t even have to be complimentary - and usually aren’t. Houston has a razor sharp wit and unlike many performers is aware of what’s going on among his audience and picks out targets to banter with. This is especially the case in small venues like this.
The mixture of songs and endless anecdotes, especially a very funny story about how he almost got Chuck Berry’s guitar, was perfect. So perfect that no one wanted the night to end. So much so that the encore stretched to eight numbers and we still wanted more. The material, excellent accompaniment and the natural showmanship combined to give us a truly unforgettable evening. This was even more memorable, for me anyway, as the opening support slot was filled by Ronan McLaughlin, of whom I am extremely proud, naturally! Performing a short set of his own songs in addition to an excellent cover version of one of his all time heroes, Gram Parsons, A Song for You, I have to say he just gets better every time I hear him. Check out the new band, Yes Cadets, on My Space.
Cathal McLaughlin

John Gorka
May 29, 2009.

I regret to admit that my prior knowledge of John Gorka has been limited to an excellent cover of Girl from the North Country, featured on Dylan’s birthday tribute album, A NOD TO BOB. Cherrie McIlwaine, she of the wispa-smooth tones, who was among those savouring tonight’s very special performance, has also featured frequent plays on her most excellent BBC Radio Ulster Late Show, a must for lovers of great music everywhere. Local promoter, Andy Peters, told me that he has been trying to persuade this exceptionally talented folk singer, I hope he doesn’t mind being pigeon-holed thus, to tour here for quite some time. All present owe Andy a big debt of thanks for his silver tongue, and his persistence, in persuading tonight’s performer to allow us the privilege of hearing him first hand. While his set featured songs of a quirky nature, others were poignant and personal.
At first, some appeared very funny, like I Saw A Stranger With Your Hair which follows up the catchy title line with the lyrics, ‘tried to make her give it back/so I could send it off to you/maybe Federal Express/‘cause I know you’d miss it’, but which really turns out to be a rather tender story of lost love - is there any other kind? – finishing with the melancholy lines, ‘by the way how is my heart?/I haven't seen it since you left/I'm almost sure it followed you/could you sometime send it back?’ Yes – still funny, but there is a tinge of sadness. This is the performer that New Jersey native John Gorka is. The fact that some songs are comedic in nature should not detract from the fact that he is a superlative and serious songwriter covering many varied and meaningful subjects, albeit a bit of interpretive analysis may sometimes be required. He is also a wonderful guitarist and a masterful stage performer, outwardly affable and funny but I suspect this does mask a slightly shy personality. Whatever it is, it worked for me and apparently also for those around me applauding each and every offering until their hands hurt.
The masterclass continued with the wonderful thought provoking Blue Chalk, which Maura O’Connell has almost made her own; The Lock Keeper, a cover of the late Stan Rogers’ classic and who, along with Mavis Staples, to whom John dedicated his When You Sing, would seem to occupy a fair sized area in his list of all time heroes. Not bad choices I have to agree. He mentioned what a thrill it was for him when he finally got to meet the great lady, an r&b legend and civil rights activist to boot, and told her that she ‘made the world seem a better place’. He then performed a few special requests from fervent fans, several of whom had travelled from the mainland while two others had flown in from Hamburg, especially to take in not only this, but last night’s Belfast gig as well.
What could only be described as an exceptional performance was concluded with what is, in my book, the definitive version of that classic, The Water is Wide, an experience in itself and well worth the admission on its own. Gerry Creen, who is fast becoming a bit of a star locally, filled the night’s support slot with a set of his own compositions including Lucky Star, describing unachieved potential, and the excellent lyrical commentary on the abuse of power, The Eagle and the Dove.
Cathal McLaughlin

June 19, 2009.

By his own admission, Richard Shindell doesn’t travel much outside the Americas, so this final date on his European tour was destined to be something special - and it surely was – not to mention the major coup it was for Andy Peters to get him to play the Bronte.
A 2-hour, 21-song set was the treat in store for the diehard music fans that turned out for the gig and what a gig it was. I have to admit from the outset that I have been a huge fan of Shindell since the nineties when I came across his debut album Sparrows Point in a second-hand record store in Boston.
So this review is probably just a little biased! Since then I have looked forward with great anticipation to each new record release and I have been happy to tell anyone who cared to listen what a brilliant talent Richard Shindell is. Thanks to radio presenters such as Cherrie McIlwaine and Bob Harris, who have consistently played his songs over the years, the word has spread. I never really expected to see him in Ireland, never mind at the Bronte – but here he was. Shindell is a native New Yorker who has lived in Buenos Aries for the past 8 years or so. He collaborated with Lucy Kaplansky and Dar Williams to form the group Cry Cry Cry which resulted in one album of superb covers which unfortunately was never repeated. However his solo output has been 8 terrific albums, including the live album Courier which is as good an introduction as any to this great artist if anyone is interested.
Shindell’s songs showcase his unique storytelling ability and they often feature himself in the 1st person, ranging from a truck driver in Kenworth of my Dreams (he has never been in a truck, let alone driven one!), to a Confederate drummer boy in Arrowhead and a civil war widow in Reunion Hill. In many of his songs he builds up the story using vivid imagery whilst he slowly but surely leads the listener into the emotional heart of each. The impact is quite stunning and often emotional. Shindell’s stories never seem to have happy endings – it might be more accurate to say they don’t end at all and he simply moves onto a new character and a new situation leaving you wondering about the outcome. Transit is the perfect description of road rage with drivers literally going over the edge into the Delaware Water Gap during rush hour after losing it because of a nun with a flat tire.
The Ballad of Mary Magdalene is a masterful telling of one of history’s and religion’s most complex relationships which probably says an awful lot about the state of humanity and society even to-day. Balloon Man is about a lonely man on a cold balcony identifying with the man he sees below selling balloons to children. Epic tales were told in Pete Seeger’s Waist Deep in the Big Muddy and in Cold Missouri Waters the devastation of the Mann Gulch fire of 1949 was recalled through the point of view of Dodge, one of the survivors. Inevitably the sights and the sounds of his adopted homeland would find its way into songs such as Fenario and Che Guevara T-shirt. But perhaps the real highlight of the night in a night full of highlights was his rendition of the Sam Cooke classic A Change is Gonna Come. He told us that he was in Harlem the night that Obama was elected President and he heard a guy singing this on the street. The power and the emotion of the song and the situation stayed with him since and this song is now a regular part of his set. Tonight’s rendition was a spine-tingling experience.
There Goes Mavis has a nice groove and tells the story of a child who happily releases her pet canary at the beach talking to her bird “Mavis you can trust me, now’s your big chance – fly away!” The imagery in that song was strikingly vivid - “out of the blue comes an orange canary”. Songs like these are intricately drawn characterisations that are like mini movies with their own soundtracks.
The guitar playing was meticulous throughout, the melodies beautiful and Shindell’s rich, resonant voice filled every corner of this superb little venue. This was a first class gig and I for one hope and pray he will grace these shores again.
By the way, he said that the Guinness was better over here – he’s right of course, but then Richard, the weather is better over there!
Patrick Donaghy

July 27, 2009.

Eliza rocks the Bronte – well almost, but not quite. Eliza Gilkyson made a welcome return to the Bronte where she played before a full house on a Monday night. Not a bad turnout considering the doom and gloom on the economy front but it says something about the pulling power of this great singer/songwriter/musician. Some people had travelled quite a distance for this gig and they weren’t disappointed.
Thanks once again to Banbridge District Council’s forward thinking arts strategy and Andy Peter’s determination to bring quality music to his home town. Back to my opening remark about rocking the Bronte – Eliza was backed by what she described as the core of her Austin Texas band, Mike Hardwick on Dobro and guitars, including slide guitar, and her son Cisco Ryder on drums and backing vocals. The net result was a sharper, punchier set compared to the more reflective Eliza that I have seen and heard in the past - and it was no less enjoyable for all that. Eliza and band treated us to a 2-hour 16 song-set with the first half focussed on highlights from her extensive back catalogue and the second half on audience requests. In fact the requests were so plentiful that they alone could have made up a whole gig!
The last time I reviewed an Eliza gig I commented that her late father was a major influence on her career and at that particular gig she referenced him on a number of occasions playing a selection of his songs and songs of her own that were heavily influenced by him. (Terry Gilkyson was a little known but influential folk singer/songwriter in the 50s and 60s who wrote many songs including The Bare Necessities and Tell the Captain which is better known as Sloop John B.) That gig had been quite reflective whereas tonight there was less of the chat and more of the ‘lets get down and make some music’ attitude.
Maybe it was the fact that she had her son with her and the mega talented Mike Hardwick, but Eliza seemed much more relaxed and confident than on that previous occasion. In a night of exceptional music and outstanding musicianship the stand-out numbers for me included Beauty Way which is a semi-autobiographical song about the plight of the guitar player who has plummeted to the depths of despair and grief. It clearly reflects emotional turmoil caused by the break up of a relationship and perhaps the death of her father. She told us that this had been a hit in Austin and had earned her respect for about 3 weeks! There was also The Party’s Over which she explained wasn’t about Bush but the 1st world’s over-consumption of scarce fossil fuels.
Eliza’s songs frequently have a sense of political urgency and apocalyptic dread and this was the case in Tender Mercies where the beautiful soft melody was in stark contrast to the subject matter - a suicide bomber in the Middle East. The family connection was there with Jedidiah 1777 which is based on letters written by her ancestor Jedidiah Huntingdon, a Major-General who fought in the American Revolutionary War in the 1700s. Huntington described this in one of his letters as a ’necessary war’. No Eliza gig would be complete without a nod to Bob (Dylan) and she obliged with Love Minus Zero/No Limit.
Runaway Train was about – yes you have guessed it – a train, but this was no ordinary train as it was powered along by Mike Hardwick’s searing guitar and Cisco’s thundering percussion. We had to have a singalong and it came in the form of Welcome Back which accurately expressed the audience’s sentiments and enthusiasm. . She closed the set with Think about You a straightforward country song about a lost love that Lucinda Williams would be proud of.
My only gripe was the exclusion once again from the set of Hard Times in Babylon, but sometimes less is more as they say – so roll on the next time!
Patrick Donaghy