- 25 Jan 21
Blues in the time of Corona...
A remarkable aspect of the pandemic is that there’s absolutely no let-up in the quality and inventiveness of Irish musicians. If there were ever any doubts that music is indeed a major part of what we are, they’ve been truly vanquished.
Somehow, this spiky set of haunting electric blues from The Mary Stokes Band makes a perfect soundtrack for these uncertain times, blending the bleakness of social isolation with the gritty determination to pull through together. There’s a gratifying live feel too from a recording – overseen by producer Pete Holidai – that also captures the subtlety in the playing and singing, with Stokes herself and harmonica-partner Brian Palm in dazzling form.
The album opens with harmonica-driven stomper ‘Coming Home’ setting the agenda for what follows, with Stokes’ voice clear and arguably more expressive than ever. A major find is relative newcomer, guitarist Sarah Michelle, who can do sizzling and sumptuous as required. She sparkles on their first version of the trad ‘Mattie Won’t Write’ which features here in two different takes, the second a less furious version that lets more light in. Meanwhile, the band positively smoulders their way through Van Morrison’s ‘Roll With The Punches’.
Shobsy O’Brien, lead voice with State Lights, makes a fine foil for Stokes on the blues standard ‘Help Me’, which also has an almost demonic Sarah Michelle rattling through it. ‘Mola di Bari’ is a funkified headshaker, and they close with a Stokes/Palm original, ‘Long Way From Home’. The set is solidly underpinned by bassist Chris Byrne and drummer Robbie Barrett, with colourful piano additions from Dermot Stokes. It’s an album in which all human life gets a fair shake – from love and loss to loneliness, despair and homesickness... and all that travels in between.
• 8/10, out now.