Saturday, 25 March 2017

Single: Heather Stuart - Nowhere You Need To Be

Heather Stuart Nowhere You Need To Be

Heather Stuart - Nowhere You Need To Be

Info: Heather Stuart is an Irish singer-songwriter based in Dublin. Her music is comprised of a mixture of folk, country/alternative styles, with an emphasis placed on self-encompassing, bare and sometimes, brutally honest approach to storytelling. Her major influences include Patsy Cline, Alison Krauss and Daughter. Heather has played in many of Dublin's most esteemed venues including Whelans Main Stage and The Button Factory and has just released her debut single yesterday.

Heather Stuart's debut single, 'Nowhere You Need To Be', is an interesting mix of contemporary country and alternative folk pop. Opening with an echoed electric guitar progression, Stuart's polished vocals enter the fray on the ballad, you are immediately struck by the sharp power of her voice. Staying true to her influences, the heartfelt tale is accompanied by gentle acoustic picking and banjo arrangements. Uniquely Stuart also manages to push our minds back to classic country folk from the 60's, not so much in sound as in delivery. As an opening salvo, 'Nowhere You Need To Be' shows great potential for exploration of a sound which is currently quite standalone in the Irish music scene. 

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Album: Marlene Enright - Placemats & Second Cuts

Marlene Enright Placemats & Second Cuts

Info: Marlene Enright’s solo debut showcases her passions and influences. Written and recorded over a year, the result is a melange of the heavy grooves of RnB, the warmth and nostalgia of great folk songs and the richness of thickly layered harmonies. It is the sound of modern roots music, evolved as it has over decades to something that is unmistakably 21st Century, while still carrying echoes of the past.

The title, Placemats and Second Cuts, a line from the outro of the album's closing song, is fitting, for this album offers depth and introspection. Says Enright; 

"Hindsight has made me realise that it's a much more self-reflective album than I initially realised. It speaks of self-doubt, dancing the fine line between feeling comfortable in your own skin and feeling totally lost at sea, indecisiveness, the battle between strength and weakness, passion and apathy, belonging and isolation and self-acceptance."

With the dreamy opening of 'Alchemy', Marlene Enright takes us on our first steps through her debut album, Placemats & Second Cuts. It's a soulful track, with a distinct folk-blues feel, but we are very soon to find out that this is but one of many strings to Enright's varied bow. Previous single '123' shows up straight after, it's a blissful piece of cherry pop, Enright sounding not a million miles away from contemporary Cathy Davey, looping keyboard progressions creating an upbeat scene for us to slip into with ease. 

Again on 'Bay Tree' we are brought somewhere entirely different, a Dusty Springfield-esque piece of vocal jazz, exceedingly mellow vibes abound on what is, at present, my favourite track on the album. With electric guitar rippling and a hazy percussion, the track moves from the bright to the dark as it progresses, and everything happening here is a pure delight. After the indie-induced 'Shiny', Enright lays her vocals and soul bare on the beautiful 'Sadness'; 'I couldn't see the sun, I was too busy falling at their feet, to see the only ones, who cared where I laid my head to sleep, it's a kind of madness, that keeps us taking on the world at speed...' touches on the sense of apathy and detachment which the artist alluded to in her album description.

Marlene Enright - When The Water Is Hot

Another key highlight comes courtesy of sixth track 'Little Things', with it's subtle hint of Americana country twang, Enright interestingly adopts an almost rn'b vocal, it exudes a confidence and ebullient attitude, a case in point of reversing that earlier detachment and becoming connected with oneself again. 'When The Water Is Hot' (above video), again takes a country hue with the brass adding a warmth and richness to the overall sound of the song, it's a definitive 'pause for thought' moment on the LP. 

'Underbelly' captures the swagger of '123' and 'Little Things' once again, before we move into yet another soundscape courtesy of 'Home (Shiny Reprise)', the electronic effects and Enright's vocal initially making me cast my mind back to Massive Attack's Mezzanine, I didn't see that coming either, it's also yet another sterling track on the album and reaches a most invigorating high as it unfolds around our ears. Placemats & Second Cuts closes with the see-saw of 'We Were In Trouble', at times enchanting and gentle, at others alarming and brisk, Enright's voice carefully navigating its way through short thundering bursts of drums and guitar, it's a finale which ensures both artist and album leave their mark on you in a very accomplished way.

Live Dates:
The Mariner, Bantry - Saturday 25th March - €10
The Spirit Store, Dundalk - Wednesday 5th April
Whelans, Dublin - Thursday 6th April - €12
Dolans, Limerick - Friday 7th April - €10
Coughlan's, Cork - Thursday 13th April -€12
St. John's Theatre, Listowel - Friday 28th April - €12/€15

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Single: David Keenan - Cobwebs

David Keenan Cobwebs

Info: An absolute obsession with words and melody took hold of 23-year-old Dundalk folk artist David Keenan at a very early age. Exposed to the writings of Behan, Yeats and Wilde with the soundtrack of Dylan, Buckley and The Dubliners illuminating his formative years. Inspired by the storytelling and character creations of his grandfather, he took the boat over the water and gathered tales and tunes of his own, learning his craft and expressing his love of language.

Having been asked to play alongside the likes of Mick Flannery, The Hothouse Flowers, Damien Dempsey and Glen Hansard, David is fast becoming one of Ireland's most talked about young artists.

I find myself in the unusual position of reviewing a musician for the first time who I have listened to on so many occasions for almost a year, and seen live already many a time. Normally the reverse is the case, where I'd hear the release first, and then go to the live shows and immerse myself in their music. It also feels a bit funny as David Keenan has such a large repertoire of songs at this point, and while he has previously released singles, 'Cobwebs' feels like it is happening at the true beginning of the crest of a wave.

Keenan's song-writing strengths are many, and new ones emerge to my ear on a regular basis. There's the sheer power of emotion, which is delivered via the twin pillars of observational lyrics and his sweeping vocal, which can go from soothing to intense force within the space of one line of a song. There's the romance, in the traditional sense, but also in creating a feeling of nostalgia for people and places we've never met or seen. 

Photo: Remy Connolly

With 'Cobwebs' Keenan does exactly what he says on the tin, taking us through one of his stories, picture by picture, with a smash and grab of the heart. It feels like a story of love, interspersed with moments where the story-teller is briefly distracted by the seemingly mundane if humorous events unfolding around him; 'There's a wino barking at the pan-flute player, at the top of Jervis Street, urging him to get a real job, help out....I smile at the irony'. 

From those colourful anecdotes Keenan delivers a searing verse, from soft to hammer-blow in an instant; 'Long story short, she informed me of my flaws, as Russian dolls smashed against the bedroom wall, come away from the window ledge, you'll catch your death of cold, and you'll be no use to anyone....least of all me'. The music does the painting too, with the electric guitar notes trickling down the strings like the beads of moisture of the title's cobweb. 'Cobwebs' is short, and it needn't be any longer, at just over three minutes it's plenty to leave its mark on the listener. I've a lot more to say about David Keenan's music, but I'll leave it for another time.

David Keenan - 'Cobwebs' rehearsal at The Liquor Rooms, March 16th.
Video by Rob Benson.

David Keenan is currently on the Never Mind The Mocks Tour, and you can catch him at the following venues around the country;

March 24th  - The Reg, Waterford
March 25th  - The White Horse - Ballincollig, Cork
March 30th  - Bakers Bar, Clonmel, Tipperary
March 31st  - Tricky's McGarrigles - Sligo
April 1st      - McKenna's Bar - Monaghan
April 2nd     - The Spirit Store - Dundalk
April 6th      - John Daly's Pub - Mullingar, Westmeath
April 13th    - The Bowery, Rathmines, Dublin 6

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