Thursday, October 08, 2015

Most entertaining country night in Kilcullen

Fans of country music know exactly what they're going for, and the musicians know exactly what they want. So there's always an immediate synergy between singers and audience, writes Brian Byrne.

And so it was last night at the Town Hall Theatre when a mix of local singers and an Oregon country queen took their turns at entertaining a not quite full house, but one very ready to enjoy it all.

Country is a music of classics in songs and themes, and there are immediate winners perfectly set to get the listeners in swaying and singing form themselves. Warm them up with Don Gibson's 'Sea of Heartbreak' and a medley of Jim Reeves hits, as first out Athboy's Matt Leavy did, then move the set through some Big Tom 'Lonesome at your Table' to 'Seven Spanish Angels' where closed eyes and open ears could make it seem like Ray Charles or Willie Nelson were on stage. A strong rendition of 'Hard Times' hit the spot right well, and if there was a floor there'd have been dancers on it.

'Me and Bobby McGee' as a duet with Matt and the next performer, our own Jimmy Aspell, was a nice way to cross over artists. Then Jimmy went solo with a soulful rendition of 'When I Dream' which gently caught the heartstrings of most people in the Volvo seats.

He got the feet tapping again with 'My Blue Ridge Mountain Girl', and, for family in the audience, he did an Elvis favourite, 'You were Always on my Mind'. He finished off with the Kris Kristofferson bankroller, 'Help me Make it through the Night'. Altogether a super, polished performance from our Jimmy, just back after a short sojourn gigging in Birmingham and London.

Bernie Heaney from Newbridge opened her set with a couple of Johnny Cash numbers, including 'Ring of Fire' which was a perfect re-warmer for those who might have chilled out in the nippy October interval. 'The Wild Side of Life' and 'Send Me the Pillow' kept the mood going to another classic, 'Your Cheating Heart'.

She was joined, after some audience persuasion, by her daughters to do backing vocals, and they rounded out the session with some more Johnny Cash, including 'Folsom Prison Blues'. Bernie then soloed her way to a 'Cotton Fields' and 'Oh Boy' finale with the kind of zesty punch that's her trademark voice.

Finally, it was the turn of the star of the night, Joni Harms, her set all of her original songs starting with her own account of the outlaw Miss Myra Maybelle Shirley Reed — a nice story-telling number in pure Old West style about the tough lady who became better known as Belle Starr. "I put all the information I got from reading three books into a three-minute song," she said.

Then her 'Old Fashioned Girl' recalled the things in her home state of Oregon that made her what he is today, 'in some ways I'm modern as can be, but there's still a part of me, makes me proud to be an old fashioned girl'. She sang too about the old fashioned values of her father in the next one, 'He's more than Your Eyes can See'.

Lots more from the former Miss Rodeo Oregon, and runner up for Miss Rodeo America. "They did a lot for my music, opened a lot of doors," she said during an engaging commentary through her music, noting that it's her fourth time in Ireland, first time in Kilcullen.

Among her offerings was 'Cowboy Up', reflecting her rodeo days — it means if you're knocked off your horse, you get back up again. It's currently featuring in the 'Adventures of Pepper and Paula', streaming on Netflix.

Between 1990 and 2011, Harms released 11 studio albums plus her album 'Oregon to Ireland' recorded live with The Sheerin Family Band in Moate.

Altogether a most engaging evening, MC'd by Tommy Rosney from Highland Radio. All the pictures are here.