Despite the unsubstantiated rumours going around that Rufus Wainwright would be supported by his singing sibling, Martha, it was a small, slightly scruffy man that took the stage in front of us, in Vicar Street on the 26th October 2004. Introducing himself as Ollie Cole, from the Dublin band Turn, he proceeded to give an impromptu 7 song set – impromptu in that not only did Cole do requests, and occasionally forgot the words to the songs, but also managed to check his text messages (and reply) between songs.
Not detracting from the music in any way (which was very good, moving from Turn staples such as “In Position” and “Forward”, to a beautiful cover of Elliot Smith’s “Angeles”, before finally ending on Loudon Wainwright III’s “One Man Guy” – and of course apologising to Rufus for stealing his father’s song), you couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed at Cole’s lack of organisation at times. Perhaps the result of a late phone call looking for Cole as a support act?

Who knows?

Wainwright himself began on a dubious note – singing “Grey Gardens” from his second album, Poses, he looked distinctly uncomfortable wrapped in a green scarf, and signalling for something to drink several times. However, removing the scarf, and launching into “Pretty Things” from his latest, Want One, we got to see the Rufus that we know – utterly unique – an operatically trained voice, singing ballads and up-tempo songs with equal gusto. His albums contain lush melodies and musical landscapes, so it was an amazing sight to see Wainwright manage to convey the same power in his songs with just a piano or a guitar, depending on his mood.
Wainwright mixed songs from Poses, Want One, and the upcoming Want Two, swapping between piano and guitar every 5 songs or so – from the humour of “Gay Messiah” to the sad longing of “11.11”, Wainwright mixed music with humour – showing us his new pants, he talked about the New Ireland – “Liberated, Diverse…Expensive!”

The 1st major highlight of the show appeared halfway in. Singing the amazing “Vibrate”, accompanying himself on the piano, Wainwright held notes like the audience held its breath – seemingly for minutes at a time. Then Wainwright moved into his longest monologue, discussing his history with Jeff Buckley: how he wasn’t allowed in to Sin E in New York to see Buckley play, and hated him for it, until Rufus met him just a few weeks before Buckley’s tragic death, and spent an evening with this man that he would now never forget. This monologue segued into a beautiful song, “Memphis Skyline”, describing one singer finding another dead, before segueing further, into Leonard Coen’s “Hallelujah” – a song Buckley made his own.

Despite the loveliness of Wainwright’s version, I’m sure I wasn’t alone in feeling disappointed that, as often happens, a cover of a famous song overshadows the current singers set. People gasped and applauded as “Hallelujah” rang out, but it’s a pity that Wainwright’s set didn’t garner this sort of reaction, when it really deserved to.

As the set unfolded, moving through “Matinee Idol” and “Want” (with Wainwright conjecturing about not wanting to “be John Lennon, or Leonard Cohen, just want to be my dad”), you could feel change in the room – people were realising how special this talent is. People were as rapt as I’ve seen, while Wainwright himself was utterly lost in the music – you felt that he could have been playing to an audience of 5, rather than a nearly-full Vicar Street, and still inject the same emotion into every song.

The stunning “Art Teacher”, again, off the upcoming Want Two, was another highlight, with its description of a young woman imagining that her art teacher is the most beautiful thing in the museum that they are visiting.

The set finished on a beautiful double header – two songs, one each for his mother (“”Beauty Mark”, discussing her influences on him during his life “But I do have your tastes / I never had it, I never wanted it, I never had your Beauty Mark”) and his father (“Dinner At 8″). Wainwright’s parents are both themselves world-renowned singers and these two songs dealt with acknowledging his mother’s ideas and influences, and his mixed fear, love and appreciation for his father, alternatively. “Dinner at 8″, especially, may be Wainwright’s most autobiographical song: “But ’til then no, Daddy, don’t be surprised, If I wanna see the tears in your eyes/I’m gonna break you down And see what you’re worth, What you’re really worth to me”.

An encore followed, of “Cigarettes & Chocolate Milk” (a song dedicated to loving what’s harmful to him – an interesting choice for a man fresh out of rehab); an a capella “A Little Irish Ditty”; before finishing on “Poses”, with its lyrics dealing again with the shallowness of life (“Life is a game and true love is a trophy, And you said, Watch my head about it”).
Walking away, you feel Wainwright managed to gain himself more than a few new converts to his very special type of music. Despite the absence of personal favourites such as “14th Street” and “Movies of Myself”, Wainwright managed to convert the multi-layered songs of his albums, to a piano or guitar simplification accompanied by the richest voice in the business today.
Coming from a musical family with a history such as his has, you couldn’t help but smile and think that Mum and Dad would be proud.

The National, hailing from Ohio in the USA, have just released their first mini-album in Ireland, “Cherry Tree”.

Comprising 6 new songs, and a live version of “Murder Me Rachel” from their previous album release, the National are comparable to many bands currently in the public eye – Interpol, Franz Ferdinand, the Killers.

But before you go out and buy this album in the hopes of discovering this years “Take Me Out” before all your friends do, be warned – this is not the art-house pop-rock favoured by Misters Ferdinand…this is dirty, depressed, drunken music; fantastic in its utter despair at times, with the occasional lighter moment. And it’s bloody good.

Kicking off with the acoustic-led “Wasp’s Nest”, lead singer Matt Berninger’s deep voice reminds you of Tom Waits sitting at a bar-room piano, with Nick Cave accompanying him. The song, with a slightly upbeat tempo, deals with a man who KNOWS he’s in a bad relationship – “You’re a wasp’s nest, your eyes are broken bottles, and I’m afraid to ask/you’re poison in a pretty glass” – but cannot leave – “Get over here, I wanna kiss your skinny throat”.

“All the Wine” deals with that wonderful situation we all feel from time to time – out on the town, drink and/or drugs flowing through you, money in your back pocket, and the world at your feet – “I’m put together beautifully/I’m a perfect piece of ass/So tall I take over the street/I’m a festival, I’m a parade”.

Highlight of the album has to be the low-burning “About Today”. Dealing with that split-second at the end of a relationship when you know it’s over; when you realise there’s no going back; when it dawns on you that the person across from you will be leaving your life…never has 4 minutes and 10 seconds so perfectly described a moment – “Today, you were far away/What could I say, I was far away”. Over a violin, an incessant drum beat, and a low guitar strum, Berninger’s low baritone invokes utter resignation – “How close am I, to losing you? Tonight/Are you awake? Yeah, I’m right here”

“All Dolled Up In Straps” deals with the moment you see an ex-lover with someone else for the first time, and describes that sudden unexplained, and unnecessary, rush of anger you feel. “My head plays it over and over, I think I heard you singing/Where have you been?”

The live version of “Murder Me Rachel” fits perfectly in with the tone of the album, as it deals with the same subject matter as “All Dolled…” – “I saw my love with pretty boy”. Recorded live in France, the song breaks up the downbeat acoustic songs of the last half of the album by providing a loud drum- & electric guitar-driven intermission.

An excellent introduction to a group of guys who know what heartache is. Although slightly weaker in the second half of the album, that doesn’t matter when 5 out of the 7 songs are eminently listenable. Some beautifully-crafted melodies, the only word of warning is not to concentrate on the lyrics too much if you’re listening to this with your partner present – they may feel you’re trying to tell them something.

Labelled “this years Coldplay” (despite the fact that the Irish band have been releasing albums for 2 years longer), the anthemic single “Run” crashed into both the Irish and UK charts, and with it increased sales of their 2003 album, “Final Straw”, along with inspiring a re-release of the album.

Allegedly named due to the fact that neither of their previous releases, 1998’s “Songs For Polar Bears” and 2001’s “When This Is All Over, We Still Have To Clear Up” managed to break the band into the big time, band leader Gary Lightbody saw this as the last chance for the band to make it big – and succeeded. Final Straw is bigger, bolder, and ever-so-slightly more mainstream than their previous releases.

Lightbody’s Scottish/Northern Irish superband side-project, the Reindeer Section, has seemingly had a huge influence on Final Straw. Gone are the indie undertones, the disjointed rhythms of their last album, to be replaced by big choruses (the aforementioned “Run”), beautiful ballads (the moving “Grazed Knees”), and guitar-led pop gems (“Wow”).

The Reinder Section’s previous album, Son of Evil Reindeer, was a haunting, acoustic-guitar-oriented stunning piece of work, pulling in members of such luminaries as Belle & Sebastian, and Idlewild. Lightbody has moved some of this acoustica to Snow Patrol, and it has brought with it a more mass-audience appeal.

“How To Be Dead”, the first single off the album, deals with the calm acceptance of the ending of a relationship, and this is followed up by “Wow”, a pounding insistence that everything will be okay. “Gleaming Auction” is a bitter riposte to a demanding partner, buried in reverb and electronica. Other album highlights include “Chocolate” (a slow-building, sweet-melodied admission of fear & lies), the aforementioned “Run” (dealing with the promises made & broken over the course of a relationship), and the album closer “Same” (the aural equivalent of the old excuse “It’s not you, it’s me” – “maybe somewhere else will not be half as cold as me”).

Each song on Final Straw, although from different stables, deals with the same thing – heartache, pure and simple. Lightbody and company have relationship issues, and have leveraged this to produce a masterpiece. If this is Snow Patrol’s last album, then they’ve left us with quite a swansong. But I, for one, hope that we’ll be seeing more of these Northern Ireland bitter-sweet romantics.

If I say to you Babybird, chances are that the first (and only) thing to spring to mind is the 1996 hit single “You’re Gorgeous”. And that’d be it.

Stephen Jones, the one man band that is behind the Babybird moniker, is in fact responsible for 5 albums to date, and has a back catalogue of over 400 songs, but is destined to only be remembered for that one hit.

Which is a shame, as his latest album “Best Of Babybird” shows that Jones is a criminally under-rated singer-songwriter, blessed with a good voice, and a sharp eye for lyrical twists.

This is typified by “You’re Gorgeous”, the song that is on the soundtrack to hundreds of Irish relationships. The first song on the album, it’s a lush, heartfelt song, which, contrary to popular belief, deals with the exploitation of a young woman by a seedy photographer, and his false promises to convince her to do what she doesn’t feel comfortable doing (“You paid me 20 pounds/You promised to put me in a magazine, on every table, in every lounge”).

Quickly following this, second song (and sometime minor hit) “Bad Old Man” is an acerbic, bitter rant dealing with parental abuse over time, and its outcome – what it forces people to become (“He drowned his stepson in the duck pond”/”He put razorblades in the ice-cream”).

“Back Together” is a dichotic call for the return of a lover – referring to her return and the fact that the songs protagonist can’t cope, and is breaking to pieces (“Give me all that you have; if you don’t I will steal it”/”I’m falling apart every minute of every day, but you’re there to put me back together again”)

“Goodnight” lightens the tone of the album somewhat. A guitar-driven gem, it deals with a relationship in which the two participants just can’t get on, at all (“I’m like a TV learning to swim”), but the chorus storms in with one’s acceptance of their flaws (“But I don’t blame you, you’re always right, I’m like a bad day, on your good, good night”).

“In The Country” continues the light tone of the album, but with an undercurrent of fear (“Let the sun make us believe, that everything is true”).
“Candy Girl” describes Jones questioning of a partner – what is she to him (“Are you the tornado in my sails?/Are you Paris without snails?”); and his acceptance she’s not everything he’s looking for (“Of course you’re not, you’re not, you’re not”).

“If You’ll Be Mine” is an orchestral-led journey through Jones’ acceptance that the relationship the song describes doesn’t give him what he wants (“Built like a house, A little house that’s peeling, As it peels away you’ll see, There’s no feeling, there’s no feeling at all”), but his willingness to stay in it, and make a future if he has to ( “I burn like a tree, at the end of the garden, We put up a swing for the children”/ “If you’ll be mine, I’ll be yours”).

The remainder of the album can be divided into two general groups of songs: pop songs dealing with everything from acceptance (“The Way You Are”) to materialism (“Cornershop”); and experimental harsher soundscapes (“The F-Word”, “Atomic Soda”, “One Dead Groove”).

Each and every song of the 17 on this Best Of highlights just how good Jones is, and answers the question “Where do some one-hit wonders go?”

(Answer: They continue making absolutely amazing music).

I was listening to Josh Rouses latest album “Nashville”, thinking to myself that, while not as immediately accessible as 2003’s “1972”, that it was definitely a grower, when it occured to me – this album, dealing with Rouses’ move away from the town he called home for 12 years, and where he made his greatest music, and the breakup of his marriage, has guaranteed this man SHOULD become one of the greatest singer-songwriters of the last decade. Another broken relationship makes another hit album.

Having recently come out of a relationship myself, I went searching through my collection for albums inspired by relationships gone wrong. Snow Patrol’s “Final Straw”, Ryan Adams’ “Heartbreaker”, Tom McRae’s eponymous debut album…the list goes on. All albums that made the careers of the people that made the albums, and all a catharsis for the artist in question.

Now, if only I had some musical talent, production skills, and a singing voice…

One of the main arguments against downloading music off the Internet is that it takes money away from the artist. Really? Lets have a look, and thanks to Steve Albini for this (read the entire article at http://www.downhillbattle.org)

Advance: $ 250,000
Manager’s cut: $ 37,500
Legal fees: $ 10,000
Recording Budget: $ 150,000
Producer’s advance: $ 50,000
Studio fee: $ 52,500
Drum Amp, Mic and Phase “Doctors”: $ 3,000
Recording tape: $ 8,000
Equipment rental: $ 5,000
Cartage and Transportation: $ 5,000
Lodgings while in studio: $ 10,000
Catering: $ 3,000
Mastering: $ 10,000
Tape copies, reference CDs, shipping tapes, misc. expenses: $ 2,000
Video budget: $ 30,000 Cameras: $ 8,000
Crew: $ 5,000
Processing and transfers: $ 3,000
Off-line: $ 2,000 On-line editing: $ 3,000
Catering: $ 1,000 Stage and construction: $ 3,000
Copies, couriers, transportation: $ 2,000
Director’s fee: $ 3,000
Album Artwork: $ 5,000
Promotional photo shoot and duplication: $ 2,000
Band fund: $ 15,000
New fancy professional drum kit: $ 5,000
New fancy professional guitars [2]: $ 3,000
New fancy professional guitar amp rigs [2]: $ 4,000
New fancy potato-shaped bass guitar: $ 1,000
New fancy rack of lights bass amp: $ 1,000
Rehearsal space rental: $ 500
Big blowout party for their friends: $ 500
Tour expense [5 weeks]: $ 50,875
Bus: $ 25,000
Crew [3]: $ 7,500
Food and per diems: $ 7,875
Fuel: $ 3,000
Consumable supplies: $ 3,500
Wardrobe: $ 1,000
Promotion: $ 3,000
Tour gross income: $ 50,000
Agent’s cut: $ 7,500
Manager’s cut: $ 7,500
Merchandising advance: $ 20,000
Manager’s cut: $ 3,000
Lawyer’s fee: $ 1,000
Publishing advance: $ 20,000
Manager’s cut: $ 3,000
Lawyer’s fee: $ 1,000
Record sales: 250,000 @ $12 =$3,000,000
Gross retail revenue Royalty: [13% of 90% of retail]:$ 351,000
Less advance: $ 250,000
Producer’s points: [3% less $50,000 advance]:$ 40,000
Promotional budget: $ 25,000
Recoupable buyout from previous label: $ 50,000
Net royalty: $ -14,000

Record company income:
Record wholesale price: $6.50 x 250,000 = $1,625,000 gross income
Artist Royalties: $ 351,000
Deficit from royalties: $ 14,000
Manufacturing, packaging and distribution: @ $2.20 per record: $ 550,000
Gross profit: $ 7l0,000

So, who got what?

Record company: $ 710,000
Producer: $ 90,000
Manager: $ 51,000
Studio: $ 52,500
Previous label: $ 50,000
Agent: $ 7,500
Lawyer: $ 12,000
Band member net income each: $ 4,031.25

The answer? Be a record company when you grow up.

The best song off Damien Rice’s newest album, 9. Damien is an Irish singer/songwriter with a good line in angry/sad/anthemic acoustic folk music….and of course, a video that really makes you think. Mainly “what the f*ck is going on?”