Wednesday, December 7, 2011

New single review: Michael Brunnock - "Every Step"


“Every Step” is an adventure in onomatopoeia. Brunnock writes about a train and then proceeds to create a song that sounds exactly like that – the rollicking rhythm of the percussion (beautiful use of the shaker by Fiction Plane’s Pete Wilhoit), the subtle bump of the bass, and the repeated chorus by guest vocalists Joe Sumner (also from Fiction Plane) and Mark Dignam suggest the chugging of the train. The “raw” drums hint at the clatter over the tracks while Brunnock’s own vocals mimic the whistle of the train as it passes, “full speed in the night.” This track is so cleverly crafted that one wonders if it was designed to sound this way or whether Brunnock is just accidentally brilliant.

“Every Step” is available on CD Baby and iTunes.

From the forthcoming album The Orchard available February 14, 2012

Thursday, December 1, 2011

New music review : Michael Brunnock - The Orchard


The Orchard is Michael Brunnock’s most recent original body of work, though he is most widely known these days as a Piece of Shit.

The Pieces of Shit, as they are comically known, are the Talking Heads’s David Byrne, Will “Bonnie Prince Billy” Oldham, and Brunnock on vocals. They provide 6 out of the 17 songs on the soundtrack to the Paolo Sorrentino-directed film This Must Be the Place starring Sean Penn (and featuring Bono’s younger daughter, Eve Hewson), which debuted at the Cannes Film Festival and is now playing in general-release venues throughout Europe.

The Orchard, which holds a baker’s dozen songs, is the perfect blend of past and future. While the majority of the tunes are brand new, several are re-imagined versions of previous releases. “Circle” and “Sensation” have only been released as live versions, while “Soft White and Indigo” reaches way back in time to Brunnock’s days with Little Palace.

A version of “Change” was released as a single in 2008 prior to the presidential election, but even without that insight, it is clear that the song alludes to Barack Obama.

“Man Overboard,” which appeared on Brunnock’s successful solo debut from 2007, So I Do, received a complete overhaul of musical arrangement and appears as a humbled version of its predecessor.

That effect is metaphoric of the entire album: in the titular “The Orchard,” Brunnock sings, “Wandered bare like I was born. . .” The idea of birth or renaissance is replete throughout this album and touched upon in every song.

Civil rights are explored in both “Change” and “Untouchable,” a song about the bombing of Pakistan, which features the vocal talents of Glen Hansard (Once, The Frames, The Swell Season). His band mate Colm Mac Con Iomaire also appears on the violin in the beautiful folk ballad, “Down By the Araglin,” a song which looks across two generations to Brunnock’s grandfather, also named Michael Brunnock. Hansard provides additional backing vocals for “The Orchard.”

With “Hansel,” Brunnock moves out of the Orchard and into the woods in a dark, morose tale of full of anguish. “Hansel” tells the story of Hansel and Gretel from the fresh perspective of the father who has left them in the woods. It is infused with a tristesse such that it leaves one’s hair standing on end. Brunnock’s vocal style deviates from its usual sound to provide the perfect atmosphere for this brooding elegy. It is so dark that it almost doesn’t belong on the album, but it serves as the counterweight to an otherwise hopeful collection, redeeming itself at the end with a joyful-sounding chorus of children’s voices.

Contrast this dark tune with the upbeat “Every Step,” the bouncy, catchy first single with backing vocals from Mark Dignam and Fiction Plane’s Joe Sumner. Interestingly, Pete Wilhoit, also from Fiction Plane, provides drums on both this track and "Hansel."

A very special nod to the “world music” genre comes through the inclusion of a didgeridoo on the David Hopkins-produced track, "Wine."

The Orchard touches on heady topics such as what truly defines a man and what truly defines love – and it appears to come to the conclusion that love is a tool to allow us to find the strength within. This is an album about perseverance – about hope, change, and renewal. The lyrics show a mature and confident Brunnock emerging from adversity with a bright outlook: “Every step I make is the first and the last”

The Orchard is scheduled for release in early 2012. “Every Step” is available on CD Baby and iTunes.

More from Michael Brunnock:
Michael Brunnock Official Website

Michael Brunnock is currently on tour in Ireland, and his shows are the only place where you can purchase advance copies of the disc. Remaining dates are:

December 3rd, Saturday, O'Keefes, Clonmel,Tipperary, 11.30pm

December 4th, Sunday, Totally Irish, 98fm, Radio Show, Dublin, 8pm

December 6th, Tuesday, The Sugar Club, Dublin, 7.45pm

December 9th, Friday, Carlingford Heritage Centre, Louth,
...opening act by American songwriter Ari Hest 8pm

December 10th, Saturday, The Model, Sligo Town,
...supporting Declan O' Rourke 8pm

Friday, November 4, 2011

New Film Review: Man On the Train


Man On the Train, the remake of the 2002 French film L’Homme du Train, showed at Cinema Paradiso in downtown Fort Lauderdale on November 1, 2011, as part of the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival.

The movie stars Donald Sutherland opposite Larry Mullen, Jr., the titular “Man,” in his film-acting debut.

Mullen, who joined the filmgoers from his home in Dublin via Skype, was awarded the Star on the Horizon award for his stellar performance.

The stoic “Man” – like “Guy” and “Girl” from Once, the character has no credited name – seems a role written expressly for Mullen, who is known for being strong and silent, a real no-nonsense kind of man. It was a treat to see him exercise his under-appreciated sharp wit into the humorous aspects of what is chiefly a dramatic role.

The storyline has Mullen’s “Man” as a stranger who gets off the train in a small town and, while looking for a remedy for a migraine, has a chance encounter with a retired literature professor played beautifully by Sutherland.

Though fate brought the two of them together, the reluctant Mullen befriends the attention-starved, ebullient Sutherland. Sutherland does an excellent job of bringing the mousy professor to vibrant life, and there is much cinematic depiction of the characters’ yin-yang, mirror reflection of one another.

It is soon revealed that Mullen has a secret, as all good drifters do: he has arrived in the sleepy town to perform a bank heist. Sutherland has a secret, too, and as the plot unfolds and the characters move to their appointed destinations, each man subtly influences the other.

The film will speak to the heart of any literature lover, of anyone who has wished to have a life different from one’s own, of anyone who has desired the chance to make a fresh start.

Mullen, who is credited as a producer, also provides the original score for the film and U2 fans will recognize his signature sound. Mullen’s lifelong partner, Ann Acheson, is also credited as associate producer.

The beautiful, artsy film shot on location in Ontario, Canada, and directed by Mary McGuckian – she was the one who brought Mullen on board - almost didn’t happen until an eleventh-hour phone call to associate producer Alissa Allen prompted Jon Goodman Entertainment to step in and fund the project, and what a fortunate call that was.

The film, which screened at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2011, will have a limited theatrical release but is available through Amazon video-on-demand. I recommend trying to see it on the big screen: additional screenings through FLIFF are November 15 at Amelia Island 7 and January 22 at Gamache Koger, St. Augustine. It is showing as part of the Tribeca Film Festival’s “TFF on the Road” program – dates still available are November 12 and 13 in Chicago.

Monday, August 8, 2011

New music review: Keith Mullins - The Great Atlantic


Keith Mullins astounds with his debut solo CD, The Great Atlantic, released in February of 2010 on Keith Mullins Music. This disc contains more poetry than lyric and becomes instantaneously captivating and addictive.

The album begins with a rousing number entitled “Three Steps” which features vocals from Noelie McDonnell. Its bluegrass sound is as much a result of Ryan Adams’s influence as David Clancy’s lap steel.

People who aren’t listening carefully to the lyrics of this song will mistakenly identify it as preachy or hyper-religious because of the repetition of the name “Jesus Christ,” but in doing so, the listener will have missed the boat entirely and swindled himself out of an incredible listening experience.

The refrain of “Jesus Christ” doesn’t indicate a holier-than-thou attitude but rather a religious cynicism: “If Jesus Christ can’t save my life, well then who can? When Jesus Christ is no friend of mine, would you stand by me?” Clearly the narrator of the song is beginning to despair and wonder if that despair will further separate him from the ones he loves, a Catch-22.

The subsequent song, “Across the Ocean” reinforces this theory, with the line, “I have put my faith into these pills to cure my anxiety” - the theme of this disc is clearly one of loss and isolation. The song, however, employs a great camouflage in its large sound, the catchy, toe-tapping melody, and the carefree-sounding “la’s.” The giant drums (courtesy of Brian Caffrey) disguise any melancholy contained in the lyrics.

Another “religious” song, “In God’s Heaven” is similarly cynical, written about the impending loss of a loved one from a difficult illness and reflecting on what the spiritual outcome will be (“When time comes to claim us, will I see you in God’s Heaven?”). (Thankfully, the real-life outcome was a full recovery of the patient).

The piano, played by Mullins himself, is equally mournful and joyful in the gorgeous elegy “Not Strong in Me.” The same goes for the backing vocals provided by Ciara Delaney on the heartbreakingly beautiful “This is Me, Walking Away.”

Mullins proves himself to be a stellar songwriter and was gifted with a deep, reverberating voice with which to showcase his words.

Songs of loneliness and doubt are given a proper music spin, turning them into bright and cheerful tunes as evidenced on “Neil Armsong,” “As I Walk You Home,” and “No Hercules.” The beautiful voice of Ms. Delaney joins Mullins again on “No Hercules” and turns this drum-and-fife sounding piece into a masterpiece.

It is difficult on a disc as impeccable as this to find a favorite song, but Mullins outdoes even himself with “Mistakes.”

He closes out the CD with the hypnotizing instrumental “The Apple Song,” a spirited tune that imparts the listener with a sense of hopefulness. The disc, although rife with sadness, is a joyful one.

Mullins, formerly the lead singer of Galway band Pier Nineteen, has shown that he is fully able to sustain a solo career with The Great Atlantic. With more remarkable work such as this on the horizon, his future is indeed bright.

The Great Atlantic is available on iTunes, Amazon MP3s, Napster, and oher fine retailers.

You can also order it through his Official Website, Keith Mullins Music, where you can find links to follow him on all the social media sites.

BUYER BEWARE! There is an American songwriter also called Keith Mullins who even has some identical song titles. Many of these music sites do not differentiate between the two, but rather lump their works together. Check to make sure you are buying the Galway, Ireland artist before you make the same mistake I did.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

New music review: Brendan O'Shea - Songs from a Tenement


Anyone who has seen Brendan O’Shea perform live may have heard him talk about his apartment on Avenue A – a place of which he is clearly fond. Said abode has become the titular subject of Brendan’s third studio album, Songs from a Tenement, released on November 28, 2010, through Hollow Moon Records.

The record release was celebrated at Arlene’s Grocery, where Brendan performed all 10 songs from the new album with a full band and special guests.

Jenna Nicholls sang on the night as well as on the album. She joins him in beautiful harmony on “This Town” and “Steps.”

It is a haunting guitar that “sings” background vocals on “Bloodshot,” whose chorus, "I believe in you" belies any thought that the album is a dark one; on the contrary, despite angst-ridden song titles, the album is brimming with light. It is obvious to the listener that Brendan is a man filled with faith. This faith is not so much a reflection on his religious beliefs – he sings, “There are many among us here casting a Christian show” – but rather an optimistic outlook.

From “Waiting Rooms” - “all is not broken, we have woken up this time,” - to “Who Loves You Now” – “it’s taken me most of my life to find my way, to see the light” – Brendan infuses this record with a sense of hope.

Even in the opening song, “Burning in the Fire,” where his vocal notes trill indeed like little licks of flame, Brendan sings about “broken-hearted people” with a buoyancy suggesting an inner peace.

Brendan’s lyrics are always subtle, never overstating. His strength is in his ability to evoke emotions with just his tones and his musical arrangement. His subdued, hypnotic voice in “Sunday Summer Parade” transports you into his musical photograph, and “One Star” sounds like driving fast down a stretch of open highway.

Brendan touches on this phenomenon of the merging of the physical with the musical when he sings “she is a choir, a symphony,” on “The Way it Is” and “the power is with the people, the carriers of song” on “Who Loves You Now.”

It’s no surprise that such a faith-filled record should end with a song called “Grace.” Quickly, though, we learn that this grace comes in the form of a woman, who Brendan assures, “You are the one I have been waiting for all my life.”

When he sings, “I’m happy just being alive,” we tend to believe him.

Songs from a Tenement is available from CD Baby, iTunes, and Amazon downloads. You can also pick up a copy of the disc at any of Brendan’s live shows which, if you are in the area, you shouldn’t miss. Keep up with Brendan’s goings-on at and hear samplings of his music on Myspace.

Coming up for Brendan:

Brendan is a member of FairplayCollective.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Duke Special to Perform at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Belfast-native Duke Special will perform in an exclusive show designed for the Metropolitan Museum of Art on March 24, 2011, at 7pm. The show, presented by Spectrum and conceived specifically for the Met, will debut all-new songs inspired by the Museum’s current exhibition Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand, which features masterpieces of photography from the early 20th century. Duke Special’s “signature atmospheric sound will take listeners back to a bygone era of steam trains, tycoons, grandes dames, and artists—a world of foggy city streets and tranquil country scenes.”

On this extraordinary night of music, Duke Special will perform in the Metropolitan Museum’s Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium accompanied by members of the Orchestre de Chambre Miniature, a string quartet founded by violinist Olivier Manchon of the popular indie band Clare and the Reasons. The stage design company 59 Productions will bring the space to life with projections of photographs by Stieglitz, Steichen, and Strand.

Tickets for this one-time event are $18 and can be ordered at

This creative undertaking is hardly a new vein for Duke Special.

For his 3-CD release in 2009, The Stage, A Book, and The Silver Screen, Duke Special did some pretty unique things.

“The Stage” covers the recording of the new score he wrote for the Bertoldt Brecht play, Mother Courage and Her Children. Duke was chosen to write this score by actress Fiona Shaw, and a part was written into the play for him to perform those songs onstage during the production.

The “Book” represents Twain’s Huckleberry Finn; when a friend played Duke a song called “The Catfish Song,” he asked of its origin and learned that composer Kurt Weill, who died in 1950, left behind five songs from a new collaboration he was working on with lyricist Maxwell Anderson called Raft and the River, and that no one had ever recorded them. Those five songs became te CD, Huckleberry Finn.

Finally, “The Silver Screen” refers to the disc inspired by The Book of Illusions by Paul Auster. The central character, Hector Mann, was a silent movie film star who went missing after releasing only 12 films. Duke wrote a song based on the title of one of the fictional films and had the idea to make an album of it. He sent the book to eleven other songwriters and had them each write a pre-rock-and-roll-style song based on the remaining film titles, which became the CD The Silent World of Hector Mann.

Most recently, Duke released a CD of songs by 1950’s Belfast starlet singer Ruby Murray, the proceeds of the sales to benefit charity Depaul Ireland which helps homeless people on both sides of the Northern Ireland / Ireland border.

Make plans to attend this one-time-only show and hear the no-doubt beautiful songs that Duke Special has composed, inspired by these vintage photographs. If you are unable to attend the show, visit Duke Special’s official website to familiarize yourself with his extensive and unique body of work.

(Also, check out my interview with Duke Special at the 2010 Craic Fest in New York City.)

To help get you excited about going, I’m giving out six tickets to Duke’s performance to people who comment to tell me their favorite thing about Duke Special, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, or the Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand exhibit. Comment on this entry to win! (I am only giving away tickets to those in the New York area on the evening in question, but please feel free to comment with your favorite things about Duke Special regardless of your location! Just add #NoTix if you are not trying to win a ticket) Good luck!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Memories of Craic Fest

As I lament my inability to travel to New York for this year for the 12th Annual Craic Fest, I am ruminating on the events from 2009's Craic Fest, reposted from Paddy-Whacked Radio™ here:

Concert Review: FairplayCollective, Colin Devlin, Foy Vance, Paddy Casey - Craic Fest
By Natalie Herman

Saturday’s Craic Fest opened with FairplayCollective. If you are new to Paddy-Whacked Radio™, you might not know about this innovative team of separate and independent artists who support one another both with musical performance and with everything that happens musically offstage. Formed in 2006 by Michael Brunnock, Mark Dignam, Jenna Nicholls, and Brendan O’Shea, FairplayCollective has become a wonderful tool for these like-minded musicians to advance themselves down their musical paths.

This committedness to one another is very obvious onstage, and a FairplayCollective set seems less like a show and more like a party where your extremely talented and fun friends have picked up their instruments for a bit of entertainment.


Mark Dignam, who is based in Pittsburgh, joined Brunnock, Nicholls, and O’Shea while still cooling his heels from his recent stint in Ireland, where he played with Glen Hansard and The Frames and Liam O’Maonlai of The Hothouse Flowers. He appeared to have not been able to shake off the remaining magic of the Isle as he executed an enchanted performance of “Crow” and “Stormy Summer.”

Jenna Nicholls opened the set with her stunning song, “Hallelujah,” displaying a champion vocal range. She also played an unreleased song, as yet untitled. Aided by O’Shea on the electric guitar, Nicholls silenced the crowd with her impeccable voice.

Her background vocals rang true and clear as ever on Michael Brunnock's “Man Overboard.” Brunnock chose for this Craic Fest celebration two of his more Irish-themed songs: “Man Overboard” is about emigrating to America, and while the lyrics themselves convey confusion and disorientation, Brunnock has managed to infuse an energy of hopefulness and capability into the song. His ode to St. Patrick, “Sensation,” astonished the crowd as giant galaxies of sonic bliss issued from the well of genius inside him.

Brendan O’Shea, who has such a great way with the crowd - with every song, you feel like you’re a guest at his apartment on Avenue A - got everyone singing along to his feel-good anthem, “Pull Your Socks Up.” He then had everyone laughing when he leaned over and asked across Nicholls and Brunnock in the most polite-as-you-please way, “Mark, can I have the pic?” He needed it in order to sing the melancholic “Dismantled.”


Colin Devlin went on next, in the US from Dublin to support the release of his solo debut, Democracy of Now, not yet out in the states but available now in Ireland. “What Good is Love” and “Waiting” were the stand-out songs in this set of beautiful vocally-driven acoustic songs. Devlin, who is best known from the family band The Devlins (whose remixed single “Waiting” was included on the “Six Feet Under” soundtrack), has a tonally-superior voice that will carry him very nicely along his divergent path.


Foy Vance took the stage next, in from Belfast. Vance set up, took out his cell phone, turned it off, held it up, and said, “I suggest you do the same.” Vance shouldn’t have worried, as the 300 people - all of which were him, it appears - who joined him onstage via his iMac and various gadgetry drowned out any chance of a cell phone interruption. “I am the son of a preacher,” Vance explained to the audience, and the charismatic way that he turned that intimate club into an arena-housed gospel revival tended to make you believe his s tatement. Somehow, though, while doing this, Vance managed to remain completely non-pious, sharing with the audience a cute joke “you can tell your mum” and sharing an interesting anecdote about a barbecue, a swim mask, and flippers.

Perhaps the best way to understand what goes on in the consciousness of Foy Vance is in the lyrics of the mind-blowing song, “Indiscriminate Act of Kindness.” There is no way to even begin to do justice to this song with any sort of talking about it - it is something that you have to experience for yourself. Please do me a personal favor: if you happen to run into Taylor Hicks, tell him that while we indie music lovers appreciate the effort to bring this phenomenal song to light, he could never ever do with that song what Foy Vance did onstage at Mercury Lounge for Craic Fest on March 14, 2009.

On behalf of all those in attendance, I would kindly request that when Vance is finished with the hearts he snatched from all of our chests, he drop us a line as to when and where we can conveniently collect them.


Finally, in an act of bravery last seen with Brian Boru, Paddy Casey took the stage, alone with his acoustic guitar. Casey put on a special encore performance - he headlined Friday night, but due to a visa problem with Duke Special, who was scheduled for Saturday night, he graciously followed Vance’s life-changing performance. As a huge credit to Paddy Casey’s musical talents and abilities, he pulled off a brilliant set. His onstage persona was humble and self-depricating, but his performance begged no apologies. A brilliant guitar player, Casey played a great mix of newer and older songs, reminding me again why this time last year, he was one of the people chosen for MTV’s “Artist of the Week” promotion they were doing in March. A special thanks and gratitude is owed to Casey for taking the request of “Bend Down Low,” a song written by a brilliant 15-year-old who was Paddy Casey a number of years ago. Hopefully, having the entire audience sing along to it was satisfying enough to Casey to justify adding it to his set list.


Although it was well after one o’clock, there were still a number of fans who remained and were treated when FairplayCollective joined Casey onstage for two energy-filled songs, inviting a sing-along from the audience.
It only goes to show that where there is Irish music, there is magic.

Copyright © 2009 Natalie Herman and Paddy-Whacked Radio™