- 29 Jan 18
A Soulful, Emotional Close to TradFest 2018. Report: Pat Carty
Now in its thirteenth year, (Temple Bar) Tradfest reaches far beyond the bodhráns and bad jumpers its name might suggest, encompassing all manner of roots music - everything really, apart from electronic music, although Kraftwerk would probably get a gig too, were they to show up. The boutique festival has always been a welcome addition to the city calendar, chasing away that daft notion of a dry January – the universe only grants you so many months, why spend any of them hiding? – and ushering us on to a new spring.
The Printworks in Dublin Castle is a bit soulless, no surprise perhaps given its day job as a conference room, and there’s no bar either, which doesn’t help with my dry January problem. It does lend itself to the filming of the show though, TG4 are in, and the sound is great, which is probably the point. I can’t help feeling that atmosphere is slightly subdued all the same.
Tonight’s triple treat has a distinctly American(a) flavour. True, openers I Draw Slow are from up the road, and guitarist extraordinaire Martin Harley grew up in Woking of all places - he remembers John Cooper Clarke describing it to him as a place where people still point up at aeroplanes – but you wouldn’t be able to tell that from the music they’re peddling.
Introduced by friend of this parish, Stephen Averill - tonight wearing his lonesomehighway.com (ten gallon) hat, as opposed to the Trouble Pilgrims one he wore last Friday in The Underground - the man has a lot of hats - I Draw Slow, led by sister and brother Louise and Dave Holden, have got that roots sound down pat. Indeed, as our own Colm O’Hare said when reviewing their Turn Your Face To The Sun album last year, “the surprise on hearing them first is that they aren’t from the southern states of the USA.” That being said, this is no affectation. When the musicians – banjo, fiddle, double bass, acoustic guitar - gather in a circle to play to each other, it’s the real thing. The highlights of a spirited set include ‘Goldmine’ about a “working girl” who falls for a musician and offers to keep working so he can avoid a life in the mines, a song with more than a hint of Alison Krauss to it, and ‘Twin Sisters’, a murder ballad adapted from an old Appalachian traditional air, as well as the lovely ‘Hide And Seek’ about how quickly your children grow up. It’s suddenly very dusty in here, there seems to be something in my eye. The band is in Whelan’s next month, I recommend you go.
Martin Harley and Daniel Kimbro add a deeper blues to the mix. Harley’s mastery should have other guitar players throwing their instruments in the fire and weeping. He veers from country picking and Ry Cooder style resonating slide, to moments where his playing combines with Kimbro’s double bass to call up the glory days of John Martyn’s work with Danny Thompson. They’ve a nice line of patter too, although they don’t win many friends by comically taunting us with the drinks they have as opposed to the drinks we don’t. Harley’s own songs are more than pleasant but the highlight is a pull out the stops go at ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’, which stretches all the way back to Blind Willie Johnson’s 1927 version. Harley conjures up that lonesome Paris, Texas sound, before the song goes into an almost Jazz-like breakdown, is Kimbro briefly quoting ‘A Love Supreme’ on the bass, or am I just imaging it? It’s a virtuoso display that brings the crowd to their feet.
Sisters Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer are so Alabama, it wouldn’t be a surprise if someone told you they were the kids who saved Atticus Finch from the mob outside the jailhouse, and if you’re gonna play Alabaman music then you may as well start with the Louvin Brothers. ‘Every Time You Leave’ is probably on page one when you Google “Country heartbreaker” and it’s lifted here by a glorious added key change. We’re then brought back to the present day with their roots reimagining of The Killers’ ‘My List’, complete with George Harrison style slide guitar solo. The reason they’re touring together, apart from their obvious joy in it, is last year’s duets album, Not Dark Yet – a beautiful, slow burning thing that finished deservedly high on Hot Press’ end of year list. Moorer sits at the keyboard for the Dylan penned title track, which acts as a showcase for the marvellously sympathetic three-piece backing of Joe McMahan on guitar, Jason Weinheimer on bass, and Rick Reed on drums. At times they sound like a Daniel Lanois house band, and I mean that as a large compliment. It’s the drummer’s turn for Merle Haggard’s ‘Silver Wings’, the ride cymbal rhythm driving the song along under Lynne’s voice; just slightly rougher and more lived in than her sister’s.
In Dylan and Haggard, they’re taking on two of the greatest, if not the greatest, American songwriters of the 20th century, and they then throw in a beautiful reading of Nick Cave’s ‘Into My Arms’, bringing out the hymn within, so it takes ball to then continue with their only self-penned song from the album, ‘Is It Too Much’. The confidence isn’t misplaced, it’s a beautiful song. They go back home for Moorer’s ‘Alabama Song’, complete with arm hair-raising harmonious hollering in the middle eight, and Lynne’s ‘Where I’m From’, taken from here 1999 country soul masterpiece, I Am Shelby Lynne, which mentions Margaret Mitchell in its opening line, lest there be any confusion about where the sisters are coming from.
After Moorer’s ‘Thunderstorm/Hurricane’, which, if you’ll allow the unfortunate pun, is a bit overblown, Lynne pauses to explain why they made this record, and how strong the bond between the sisters is. She begins to talk about how much music meant to them, and the huge part their mother played instilling that love, but breaks down in tears before she can finish the story. These aren’t reality show crocodile tears as she explains their “journey” either, but genuine emotion. Lynne and Moorer experienced a childhood trauma that most of us could not even begin to believe, and it feels like we’re stumbling into something very private here. Moorer encourages her sister to just sing, to let the music express the emotion. There’s a line in the Dylan song from earlier “behind every beautiful thing, there’s been some kind of pain” which perfectly sums up what’s going on. Lynne struggles into her own ‘I’ll Hold Your Head’, a song remembering the good parts of growing up, her sister offering a metaphorical, and literal, shoulder to lean on. The crowd are hushed, almost shocked by this moment of genuine, naked emotion. Let there be no question that this is soul music. It’s a moving end to a great night of music. The pure drop that is surely the aim of this festival, which the city is lucky to have.