The Song Room, 16 July

The Song Room enjoyed its second outing tonight in its new home in The Globe on South Great Georges Street. The player-managers of the weekly singer/songwriter night, Brian Brody and Hamlet Sweeney, were joined on the bill by three other acts: Farrell Spence, Lisa McLaughlin and Max Greenwood.

Farrell Spence opened the evening with a beautiful set of songs that gently drew the crowd into her tales of growing up in Canada. Despite having only been in Ireland for two weeks, Farrell has obviously been busy networking and described meeting John Spillane in her chosen home of Cork: “you’re that singer from that far away land” was his suitably poetic introduction. I found this delightful animation, done by a company called 9mm film, to one of John’s songs, ‘We’re going sailing’.

Augmenting Ms Spence’s open-tuned guitar with perfectly-judged accompaniment on a second acoustic guitar was Eoin Regan. Farrell’s debut album, A Town Called Hell, has found great critical acclaim and can be bought on iTunes and CD Baby. I’m very glad of this, as she left before I could get a copy off her! If you like your music in the room and your heart in your mouth, get thee to The Cobblestone on 9 August.

She played: ‘A town called hell’; ‘I drink’ (by Mary Gauthier); ‘Boys like you and girls like me’; ‘Wayfaring stranger’; ‘You can sleep on my floor’.

Next up was Brian Brody and harp player Junshi Murakami. The pair met through the Grafton Street busking scene, surely one of the most interesting (and romanticised) in the world, and tonight may be the last time they play together. We listened with appreciation as the duo played the dynamic arrangements they’d crafted together: ‘Before I dream’, ‘Rise’, ‘Carousel’, a new song called (for the time being) ‘Forbidden love’. They finished with Brian’s amazing rendition of Tom Waits’s heart-wrenching ballad ‘Martha’. The way Brian makes the song his own really is a treat and is certainly one of my personal highlights of the Song Room series so far.

Hamlet and I played next, starting with the ballsy ‘I am a man’ – a song I’m really looking forward to working on with a band. It has a great swagger. I switched to clarinet for crowd favourites ‘The Una Molloy hangover song’ and ‘Boogie man’. Last week we debuted the dirty skank version of ‘El Capitane’ – featuring the rather nice Organ 2 sound on the P-200 – and it went down well again this week. Another one that’ll be great fun with a band. ‘Buy this song’ followed with its tongue in cheek humour and then ‘Mr Slim’. We finished the set with ‘Sunshine’, a song which is becoming more apt as this dismal summer rolls on…

A singer who I was impressed by last time she played the Song Room, Lisa McLaughlin, played next with her versatile guitarist Anthony Gibney. Lisa has a great voice and has a great collection of songs, from which she treated us to the following: ‘Fiddly song’; ‘Lucky seven’; ‘Strange but true’; ‘Hey you, I like your jumper’; ‘These days’; ‘Bubble’. Two of these in particular, ‘Lucky seven’ and ‘These days’ have really great choruses and made me wish I could hear them with a full band arrangement, especially some big harmonies!

The night was (this week and last) unfortunately plagued with gremlins in the sound system. Hopefully this can be ironed out by next week (not least for the slightly selfish reason that I’m doing a solo set!).

The thing that’s often noticeable about songwriters who accompany themselves on piano (rather than the guitar often synonymous with the title) is that the songs they write tend to have more interesting harmony. Max Greenwood reminded me of this with his virtuosic set. Variously calling to mind Bruce Hornsby, Randy Newman, Paul McCartney (especially with his final number, ‘The long goodbye’) and Aqualung, Max served up some of the tracks from his self-released debut album, ‘In The Blood’. I bought a copy from him – Brian Brody was full of praise for it – and am very impressed indeed. Again, you can buy it on iTunes or from his website. A few of the songs resonated with me in their dealing with some of the searching questions of purpose which seem to arise in the third decade of life and Max conjures some beautiful images while providing endlessly delightful piano, supplemented by a tight band that obviously understand the jazzy sound he’s after. It was apparently quite rare for him to play a gig on his own, so I count it a privilege to have heard him play the songs raw for us at The Song Room. (There’s a solo version of ‘In the blood’ and the marvellously kinetic ‘Frozen still’, recorded live on RTE radio, on Max’s MySpace site.)

If tonight is in any way indicative of the kind of roster we might expect from this Wednesday soiree, then I am looking forward with glee to what’s to follow in subsequent weeks.

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