In this special tour edition of AAA, we set off around Ireland with Jenn Grant. Our first port of call is the Roisin Dubh in Galway with a review from Eoin Murray. Photos in Galway, Cork/Ballydehob and Dublin by Sean McCormack, Jason Lee and Isabel Thomas respectively.
The upstairs of the Roisín has been converted into what could be mistaken for a cosy cottage living room – well, one with a bar – and the slowly gathering crowd sit at candlelit tables, chatting and laughing quietly, only feet from the microphone where the first act of the night, Nicholas Timothy is about to get the folky proceedings underway. The warm, orange light that fills the room has left the audience – Jenn Grant herself sitting among us, beaming – in a calm state of repose, ready to be swooned. Timothy’s voice, accompanied by a battered acoustic guitar, is strong and husky without ever achieving Mick Flannery levels of gravel. His tunes are charming and reminiscent at times of the likes of Tom Paxton at his more upbeat points. He perseveres unfazed, with a smile still glued to his face, even when some late arrivals barge in and drag a table across the performance area to get a better view, laughing all the way, like a deleted scene from Inside Llewyn Davis.
Nicholas Timothy’s undeniable charm and love of the songs he is singing makes the performance all the more enjoyable, especially after sound issues lead to him doing the last three songs of the set unplugged, breaking to tell us the back story to ‘Josephine’ and altogether giving the gig an increasingly intimate feel. The songs veer on the side of “manufactured-folk” from time to time, with Timothy sounding like he’s trying to emulate the likes of Paolo Nutini or literally anyone who sings ‘Wagon Wheel’ a bit too much, preventing him from having much sticking power or any real sense of innovation. Nonetheless, the atmosphere he is helping to create is still perfectly enjoyable, like the tail end of a late night gathering, where everyone is totally content to just be where they are, enjoying the music without nonsense.
Jenn Grant moves to the microphone and immediately holds the room in the palm of her hand, this being the first night of the Nova Scotia native’s tour of the country in support of her new album, Compostela. Performing songs from old and new releases purely acoustically seems to have left Grant completely within her element, without the need to keep time with a band and with a greater freedom to move around her set list and engage the room in goofy, friendly conversation. She performs the material with palpable comfort, the lack of accompaniment apart from her own guitar playing leaving her stunningly controlled voice in charge. The delicate finger plucking arrangements draw comparisons with the likes of Fionn Regan, subtly detailed but never arrogant. The fluttery arpeggios of her vocals are as captivating as they are complex and seem to point in the direction of fellow Canadian Feist or perhaps even Hundred Waters’ Nicole Miglis. It’s this comfort and freedom that makes her set so enjoyable, the simplicity of the folk tunes rarely erring on predictability, mostly due to her vocal work.
Her album material is considerably bulked up by percussion, brass, keys and electric guitars and all of that does end up camouflaging her vocals at times – ‘Spades’ sounds so much better without Buck 65’s rap segment – and so to see the material performed so well live and acoustically just served to leave me wanting the album to be stripped back. On the other side of Nicholas Timothy’s issue of sounding a bit “manufactured”, if straight-up folk is done properly, and with its own degree of uniqueness, then maybe the added instrumentation should be left well enough alone. All that being said, in that hour and in that room, the atmosphere is happy and light, the sound is great and the encore comprised of a cover and the closer of Compostella, ‘Mauve’ leaves us all feeling a little bit warmer and fuzzier inside. All that being said, in that hour and in that room, the atmosphere is happy and light, the sound is great and the encore comprised of a Gillian Welch cover and the closer of Compostella, ‘Mauve’ leaves us all feeling a little bit warmer and fuzzier inside. Eoin Murray