First Published May 2020
NEW FROM SIMON, SABRINA, LISA, NOREEN, AND MORE!
In this week’s column we’re back to doing something we promised a lot more of every chance we get, and that’s a round-up of some of the brilliant things happening on the music and entertainment scene right now. And truth be told, when you have new singles dropping from artists like SIMON CASEY, SABRINA FALLON, LISA McHUGH, and NOREEN RABBETTE all within a short space of time, then you can’t just let that moment pass. As well as the aforementioned fab four, we’ll also be taking a look at the long-awaited debut album from one of Irish country’s most loved figures, JOHN MOLLOY, at how the BREWERY TAP have found a way to adapt their legendary Monday Night Sessions to the age of C19, and in taking a little step away from the music side of things, we’ll be filling you guys in on a relatively new YouTube channel that’s more than worth your while checking out, that’s Emily and the Craic from Offaly woman EMILY PIDGEON.
So let’s get things started by looking at the latest release from SIMON CASEY, a devastatingly beautiful version of American country superstar Brad Paisley’s song Then. There’s so much to talk about here, but the only place to really begin is with the song. Because in music, everything starts with, should come down to, and should back to the song. So everything ties into the song. And one of Simon’s great strength’s as an entertainer lies in always choosing wisely in this regard. But wisely could be as simple as picking a song that you’re already certain everybody knows. In effect, you’re attempting to mitigate that certain level of risk that’s always par for the course with any new release. Simon, though, rarely relies on this easy option. Instead, as with Then right now, Simon goes for songs that might not necessarily be well-known to everyone, but – and it’s not a but that everyone can pull off, by the way – the songs he picks, coupled with his particular gift for performance, are ones everyone can relate to. If it’s a song you knew already, then hearing Simon sing it only tends to make you love it all the more.
As far as Brad Paisley goes, I’ve been a fan since his first album, Who Needs Pictures, which was released back in 1999, the first summer I spent in America. I fell in love with his songwriting from the get-go. Paisley has a unique ability to weave humour, emotion, and in some cases too, political and social commentary into the songs that make up his albums. And hand on my heart, there’s never been a Paisley album that I haven’t loved since Who Needs Pictures, and seldom a song that doesn’t live up to the incredible standards Paisley has set for himself. Then hits home everytime. And more than just being a songwriter of supreme skill, of course, the man from West Virginia is rightly hailed as one of the world’s top guitar players. More than that again, however, his reputation as being one of life’s good guys is set in stone. And it’s that last point, as much if not more than anything else, that makes Simon covering one of his songs the perfect match.
In as much as I’ve a huge fan of Simon’s and everything he does, the same applies to country star SABRINA FALLON. Simply put, the Portumna woman has one of the most authentic ‘country’ voices Ireland has ever produced. Whether or not that’s a widely known or recognised fact at this moment in time will never overshadow the certainty that it is a fact. If you’re new to the Irish country music scene, and you’re trying to define what that sound is and the way some of the greatest country songs ever written should be performed, Sabrina is one of the first voices I’ll be turning you towards all day long. She’s just released a brand new single, her version of the Phil Everly pop hit When Will I Be Loved, which Linda Ronstadt took to the #2 spot in the U.S. charts in 1975. In terms of vocal ability, Sabrina finds a way to effortlessly channel the same depth of emotions that are signature features of legends like Patsy Cline, Tammy Wynette, and of course, Loretta Lynn. But the flip-side to that is something that anyone who has met Sabrina, or enjoyed one of her shows, will know all about. Essentially, what you’re taking about is fun, energy, and connection. But to make it more accurate as far as Sabrina goes, you need to say it like this; FUN, ENERGY, and CONNECTION. When Will I Be Loved, which Sabrina teased pre-release was going to be “something for the girls”, captures all of this. Whenever we get back to whatever ‘normal’ is going to be from now on, this is going to be one of the show-stoppers in Sabrina’s set.
A few years back LISA McHUGH had the world of Irish country music at her feet. A multiple award-winner in the Female Entertainer of the Year and Female Vocalist of the Year categories year-in and year-out, the Glasgow girl was to the forefront in being one of the wave of artists – along with Nathan, Derek Ryan and later Cliona Hagan – responsible for attracting a younger audience to the genre. So it was definitely with some surprise that she seemed to take a total step back from the world over the last year or so, only to re-emerge as – pretty much – a more pop/country orientated artist, with possibly more emphasis on the pop side now – signed to the same management as Ireland’s latest global pop giants, Picture This. And her latest single You’re Gonna Get Back Up fits right into that pop/country format. And to be clear, this is a GOOD thing, because You’re Gonna get Back Up is a GREAT song. And like I said when writing about Simon earlier, everything comes back to the song.
I’ve been a fan of Lisa’s since the early days of her career, and have had the pleasure of interviewing her on a few occasions over the years, as well as presenting her with one of those many awards, as it happens. I know how hard she worked to first get to the heights she reached, and then to stay there for as long as she did. Make no mistake about it, talent alone – which Lisa has by the tonne as well – earns no artist the right to anything in the music business. So by anyone’s measure, and certainly by mine, Lisa has earned the right to make her own decisions about what direction her career takes. For sure, her absence from the country circuit, and those regular opportunities to see her perform ‘live’, is a huge disappointment to fans who would have supported her for so long. But, as with Taylor Swift when she made a similar career move from country to pop, I’ve always maintained that real fans of the artist will travel with the artist. Speaking for myself, that’s what happened with Taylor, and that’s what’s happening with Lisa, too. It’s not an easy move to make, and if anything, it carries even fewer guarantees than the country side of the music business. So I applaud the fact that Lisa has had the courage of her convictions. More over, I’ve seen Lisa perform ‘live’ from her home on Facebook with just her vocal and guitar, and when any artist does that, there’s no-where to hide. Lisa can. And Lisa can do country. And Lisa can do pop/country. And as long as Lisa just keeps making music, that’s really all that matters to me. Because it all comes back to the song. And what You’re Gonna Get Back Up proves once again, is that whenever Lisa gets in front of a mic, she’s still a star.
And speaking of stars, it was only last year that NOREEN RABBETTE’s star first began to shine on a national level when the Clara woman made it all the way to the final of TG4’s ever-popular hit show, Glór Tíre. And the good new for country fans is that her debut single has finally made it to the airwaves. The phrase ‘voice of an angel’ is so often invoked that it probably doesn’t impart the sense of beauty intended by its use. But if I had to name someone whose voice best defines that phrase, I’d honestly have to think long and hard before coming up with anyone other than Noreen. For a voice dripping in honey, it’s probably a little bit of a surprise that her first single out of the gates is the classic country foot-stomper Redneck Woman, originally from Gretchen Wilson. Noreen’s vocal versatility, however, is writ large across this track, as evidenced by the fact that she took it straight to the top of the Irish iTunes country chart upon its release towards the end of last week. As a teaser for an album that’s also in the works, Redneck Woman hints at a collection that’s sure to be heavily influenced by an American country sound. And if this single is what we’re taking as our marker, then the sooner we can get back here talking about Noreen’s debut album, the better.
One man who made us wait long enough for his first long-player is JOHN MOLLOY, but that collection of 13 of the best from one of Irish country’s best is officially out now. Entitled Introducing John Molloy, the album was already highly anticipated and long awaited when the launch party was originally announced for last February. Unfortunately for the Westmeath man who now lives in Offaly, a severe storm warning paid no heed to the needs of country music lovers deciding to head this way on the exact date of the launch, leaving John with no choice but to reschedule for the safety of all. Roll on that new date in April, however, and it was a case of lightning striking twice for John as the Covid19 outbreak put paid to that night, too. If there’s one thing you learn in the music business, though (whether you want to or not!), it’s resilience, and John is definitely a road-warrior in that regard. While two such setbacks in so short a space of time might well have shaken many, John remains adamant that as soon as government guidelines mean it’s possible to make it happen, all roads will finally lead back to The Well in Moate, and the party will be worth the wait! In the meantime, John took to Facebook ‘Live’ on his John Molloy Country page on Sunday afternoon for a ‘virtual album launch’ as a special thank-you to his fans for all of their support. Introducing John Molloy is available now from John’s official website, www.johnmolloycountry.com.
It shouldn’t be forgotten, of course, that as well as musicians themselves, another sector of society suffering from the enforced but necessary absence of ‘live’ music from our lives are venues, pubs included. The Licensed Vintners Association nationally did themselves no favours with their proposal to government for an earlier than planned reopening which would actually ban ‘live’ music. But on a local level here in the midlands, the famed BREWERY TAP in Tullamore has found a way to reignite their legendary Monday Night Sessions, thereby keeping ‘live’ music very much at the core of what ‘The Tap’ has always been about. As of April 27th, the sessions have been taking place – like so much of life over the past couple of months – via Zoom! Singers, musicians, and interested spectators who in better times, and for years gone by, have taken their place on the high-stools and comfy seating in Paul and Cathy Anne Bell’s High Street premises, have been logging on from home to keep that sense of community the Monday Night Sessions have long fostered alive and well. As I wrote myself in a piece on the Monday Night Sessions for the Tullamore Annual a few years back, “Monday nights at The Tap. Five little words that have come to roll off the tongue with all the ease and comfort of a best friend’s name, for so many musicians and fans alike, over the course of almost thirty years now. Five little words that have taken on a life of their own, becoming a living, breathing, always evolving, and most importantly and steadfastly of all – ever welcoming – part of Tullamore’s culture.” The words “always evolving” seem almost prophetic in a way now, and they’ve definitely been proven true. When all of this is over, the chapter of the Tap’s history that looks back on 2020 can proudly say that even a pandemic that shut down most of the world couldn’t stop the Monday Night Sessions. Now there’s something that we’ll all look forward to raising our glasses to!
And finally for this week, we’re stepping away from music altogether, and into the world of YouTube. Truth be told, with so many social media platforms and places to go for online content and entertainment these days, it’s hard to spare time for them all. Personally speaking, something I’ve all but neglected for the entirety of my life is YouTube. Until, that is, a friend of mine – whom, might I add, I’d always considered to be on the higher-end of the shy-scale – decided to launch her own YouTube channel. Of all things! Well, in just a few months, Emily and the Craic, fronted by Tullamore’s EMILY PIDGEON, has already passed the one-thousand subscriber mark, no small achievement in this day and age, when, as already mentioned, the fight for the public’s attention is such a crowded battleground. For someone I thought was shy (Emily…how wrong was I?!), Emily has taken to presenting her show with consummate ease. In fact, one of the two main reasons Emily and the Craic has racked up the following it has so far surely comes from the fact that Emily is so good at being herself on screen. Not only does this make her instantly relatable, but her willingness to bare her own soul has also enticed her boyfriend Barry into making frequent appearances, every one of them a comedic feast given that Barry, like Emily, excels at being himself. The other main reason I’d highly recommend for anyone to check out Emily’s channel is because of the variety on offer. From the most recent episode which lists her and her sister Alison’s Top 20 Best Eurovision Songs of All Time (and let me warn you, it’s controversial!), to Emily cutting her own fringe, dyeing her other sister Lauren’s hair, the best shows to binge watch during quarantine, to trying American candy with her little nephew Noelie, and much more, it’s real-life, smiles, honesty, and laughter all the way in Emily and the Craic. Subscribe today, folks.
~ The singles Then by Simon Casey, When Will I Be Loved by Sabrina Fallon, You’re Gonna Get Back Up by Lisa McHugh, and Redneck Woman by Noreen Rabbette, as well as the album Introducing John Molloy from the man himself, are all OUT NOW and available on all digital platforms. You can subscribe to Emily and the Craic, fronted by Emily Pidgeon, on YouTube.