Music Review: John Smith at Bourke’s/Other cool music

john-smith-music-imageI went to see John Smith in Bourke’s a fortnight ago and yes, it’s a belated review. As I mentioned here before, the regular gigs of Thursday Nights @ Bourke’s now have a new guise— Seoda Shows—and a small cover charge but the vibe is much the same.

John Smith is a self professed “guitar man from Devon”. Although an established solo artist, he plays with Lisa Hannigan’s band and I first saw him on Other Voices dueting with her on a beautiful version of ‘Tonight you belong to me’.

After a stern warning to be quiet and a nice warm-up set by Emma Langford, Smith and a double-bassist took to the compact stage in Bourke’s. The music was a gorgeous blend of folk, country and bluegrass complemented by Smith’s husky voice. He reminds a lot of another favourite of mine, Ray LaMontagne, both in tone and musical style.

The highlights were ‘A Long Way for a Woman’, ‘Town to Town’, ‘Freezing Winds of Change’, ‘Winter’ and the heartfelt, lullaby-like ‘Great Lakes’ as well as the catchy ‘Salty and Sweet’, the current single off his album (Great Lakes), which Hannigan contributes vocals to…not that night, although Smith did a good impression.

There was a pretty diverse mix, from blistering murder song, ‘Axe Mountain’ to ‘There is a Stone’, which combined excellent fingerpicking and rich bass. He threw in a few interesting covers of songs by Tom Waits, John Martyn and others.

To jack up the entertainment value, there was plenty of banter, a ‘Happy Birthday’ interlude and a verbal tussle with a snap-happy photographer who broke the no noise rule.

John Smith’s low-key acoustic gig suited the venue perfectly. The crowd was so impressed, he ran out of albums to sell so I had to acquire Great Lakes (and some back catalogue stuff) on iTunes and have been listening since. Seoda Shows has a packed programme with all sorts on it including Candice Gordon tonight (May 2). Check out the Facebook page.

On an aside: Other great music!

I’ve been to several gigs in the past few months that were brilliant and particularly, show the depth of talent in Ireland right now. Surprisingly, I didn’t review them here at the time. D’oh! I’ve included videos for your entertainment.

First was Galwegian guitar virtuoso, Albert Niland, in Glór. I went to see him on the strength of one cover he did a few years back—a haunting version of Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights—but was blown away by his own material, which has a lot of beautiful classical and Spanish-style guitar. He has an excellent double CD compilation out at the mo.

At another show in Glór, I saw a double-bill of We Banjo 3 and I Draw Slow. We Banjo 3 are made up of two sets of ultra-talented brothers. All are multi-instrumentalists but mostly combine three banjos with a guitar for a heady mix of traditional Irish, bluegrass, ragtime and country tunes. Spectacular musicianship and a fascinating lesson in banjo history…sher what more could you want?

I Draw Slow was more firmly set in bluegrass and country territory with beautiful guitar, double bass, fiddle and banjo as well as class vocals and harmonies. Their music weaves some great stories (a lot of them dark but interesting). The audience was treated to a large portion of their new album, which sounded great and songs from their last two. It was right up my street anyway, very impressive. They’re even getting some attention from the US too, which as the home of Americana, is a good sign. I’ve given the album Redhills a good old spin and will definitely be getting the new one too.

I’ve seen The Riptide Movement a few times in the past year at various gigs and festivals. This four-piece outfit have retro swagger with overtones of Creedence Clearwater Revival, Lynyrd Skynrd and even Kings of Leon in flashes. Either way, their performances display great skill and energy, the tunes are catchy and lead singer, Mal Tuohy, has a throaty voice made for rock.

DeLorean Suite at Dolan’s

406666_10151290025349660_1161085633_nI went to see Limerick band, DeLorean Suite, launch their debut album in Dolan’s recently. It’s a belated review but ‘better late than never’…it’s my blogging motto after all!

DeLorean Suite ticks a lot of boxes—combining soul and R n B on one hand with electronica and dance on the other. The album, Two Lives, is a demonstration of that effortless melting pot and their live performances epitomise their funky, laidback sound.

After an atmospheric warm-up slot from support act, dREA, DeLorean Suite took the stage before an enthusiastic crowd and a packed upstairs in the Dock Road venue.

The core of the group is Jenny McMahon on vocals with Tony Roche on percussion and Graham Conway on keys/production although several prominent guests collaborated on the album including legendary bass player, Chuck Rainey and two members of Beyonce’s touring band, Divinity Roxx (bass) and Kat Rodriguez (saxophone).

The set kicked off with ‘Slow Divide’ and set the scene for the great live energy, leading into ‘By your side’ with its samba-style drums. Songs like ‘Random Touch’ bring electronica to the fore while the star of the show was undoubtedly the catchy ‘Deep Love’. The anthemic number, well known from their previous EP, urged on the crowd.

45159_10151286373909660_1130859526_nIf I had to compare McMahon’s voice to another singer, Sade would spring to mind although it has a contemporary pop aspect to it as well. As for the sound, it wouldn’t be out of place among acts like Moloko or Goldfrapp. It has a soulful quality but the beats and pulsating repetition means that many songs are potential club floor fillers.

The next song, ‘All or nothing’, was more uplifting than the title suggested and that was quickly followed by ‘Two Lives’—the album’s title track with subtle jazz elements and obviously a song very close to McMahon’s heart. The set built up to a lively conclusion with ‘Landslide’, ‘Alone’ (with its lovely brass and strings) and ‘Running Away’. DeLorean Suite brought the house down with an excellent version of ‘Deep Love’ in the encore.

The band has garnered rave reviews for Two Lives from the likes of Hotpress, The Ticket in The Irish Times and various radio outlets. I saw the band a few years back and they seem to be growing in confidence so hopefully, they will tour more widely in the near future.

The album is now available on iTunes as well as in CD format and for more information, see DeLorean Suite’s Facebook page.

American Buffalo (and the Mamets)

I went to see American Buffalo by local theatre company, Magic Roundabout, on February 13 in The Loft and reviewed it for Irish Theatre Magazine. David Mamet’s work—particularly his edgy dialogue—never fails to entertain. Read my take on it here.

On a vaguely related matter, his daughter, Zosia Mamet, is one of the leads in Girls. Girls is HBO’s inspired comedy written by the outrageously talented, Lena Dunham. Like Mamet, she is something of a “profane poet” in her own way! Girls—which is in season two at present—is like the opposite of Sex and the City. It still focuses on four women living in New York, albeit in their early twenties, but deals with everything that is not glamorous about the situation.

It reminds me a lot of The Inbetweeners but better and instead of teenage boys, it’s all about women. There are some horrifically cringe-worthy scenes (some graphic; you have been warned!) and brilliant lines. Dunham’s willingness to embarass herself is truly admirable. It’s worth checking out.

Review: A Christmas Carol

69145_10151485230163989_432260590_nMuch like the re-awakening of Ebenezer Scrooge’s festive spirit, I figure this review is better late than never! I got an early Xmas gift of a ticket to go to see Limerick company, Bottom Dog’s new stage adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic at the Lime Tree Theatre on December 12. This was the company’s first foray into children’s theatre and they had the honour of being the first local, professional outfit to grace the stage at the new venue. It was adapted and directed by Myles Breen.

A Christmas Carol has been done to death in terms of stage and screen productions but that’s because it never gets old. It’s a parable easily translated for children, which is about kindness and generosity of spirit. That old curmudgeon, Scrooge—played in all his ‘Bah Humbug!!’ glory by John Anthony Murphy in this case—is a brilliant character. Three ghosts—each representing past, present and future—visit him in an attempt to redeem him but will they convince him to change his ways before Christmas Day?

Murphy was great as Scrooge. Whether grumpy or joyful, he endeared himself to the audience. The all singing, all dancing supporting cast included Pius McGrath, Darren Maher, Joanne Ryan, Marie Boylan and Jean McGlynn. They played multiple parts and imbued all with great enthusiasm and energy.

The ensemble also included Emma Fisher—a puppeteer and award nominated set designer—who was responsible for the excellent stage scenery and puppets used. The set was very versatile i.e. Scrooge’s bed transformed into a backdrop for a daring puppet flight. The puppets, from Tiny Tim to a Grim Reaper-like ghost, were really child-friendly and this element worked very well.

While I approve of not talking down to children, I thought the script was fairly wordy at times. You could feel (and sometimes hear) a few young minds wondering! But that said, it’s good to challenge them. There were plenty of musical and playful interludes to distract so the kids were not bored. They could sing along with Christmas favourites and do the panto classic “He’s behind you!”

All in all I thought the play was enjoyable and engaging. Children’s theatre is difficult to do. Those little people can be the harshest critics! Over 1,300 children attended A Christmas Carol (spread over five shows) and I’m sure they all absorbed a bit of the magic of the piece.

I heart local theatre

On an aside, I think Bottom Dog Theatre Company has had a very productive 2012 with this production and earlier this year with Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens. They also staged four rehearsed readings of new plays and piloted a schools programme with a condensed version of Hamlet.

Also, I’d like to congratulate other local companies such as Sídhe TC, Orchard TC, Limerick Youth Theatre and Magic Roundabout TC that continue to make a massive contribution to the local arts scene. This is in addition to amateur groups such as the Quarry Players and the Torch Players and Limerick’s several musical societies.

All of these companies, groups and umpteen individuals keep our cultural pulse strong and one of my New Year’s resolutions is to go to see as many local productions as possible in 2013.