Omagh born singer-songwriter Michael McCullagh has finally released his highly anticipated first album Southpaw Niños under the moniker Meb Jon Sol.
Having taken a somewhat dramatic musical excursion since rising to prominence in Colenso Parade his debut album bears the mark of someone with experience and grind.
Opening the night was Belfast based Ross Maguire who provided a pleasant start to the evening. Helping set the tone with an especially intense performance his humble presence helped create a relaxed atmosphere among the small but charming crowd. Maguire’s voice which is soulful and expressive helped compliment his lyrics along with his technically excellent guitar picking and playing.
Next up was Bronagh Broderick who helped up the tempo before we welcomed the main act of the night. There is an evident KT Tunstall influence both soundly and lyrically with Broderick having commanding vocals and melodic guitar. Her lyrics which are emotive and memorable tell tales of travelling, magicians and love helped distinguish her from a lot of other similar acts. The highlight of her performance was what she called a “cover of a cover” playing Nina Simone’s ‘Be My Husband’ which has also been covered by Ed Sheeran, provided a foot-stomping reaction from the audience.
Finally, Meb Jon Sol approaches the stage and is supported and surrounded by the ever-changing members of his band which he likes to call the revolving door policy. Opening the set with the second track off his album ‘Not That Young Anymore’ we are immediately rooted amongst a collision of country, bluegrass and folk influences. With the ever evolving NI music scene it is quite refreshing to see an act that is not afraid to create timeless and enduring songs instead of fighting to be the latest trend.
The passionately delivered ‘I Am Yours’ is a touchingly poetic love letter and while McCullagh doesn’t haven’t the most amazing vocals it is raw and emotional and strikes a chord with the audience. Moving straight into ‘I Am from Nowhere’ with its delightful three piece harmonies is genuinely uplifting and warms the audience. It is a celebration of being unrestricted and free ‘I am from nowhere, I have no name and that makes me free’ and shows McCullagh as a true travelling troubadour.
‘Leave All Your Troubles With Me’ was immensely enjoyable with fluid waves of banjo, violin and harmonica that was thoroughly enjoyed by every member of the audience. ‘Everyone has a secret song’ is both poignant and evocative and helps showcase McCullagh’s true talents as a song writer.
With a slightly different sound from his other songs ‘Angie, Where Did Your Love Go? ’ demonstrates McCullagh’s eclectic approach to songs with its distinctive opening guitar paving a great introduction. While it does take the tempo down slightly the song still proves rousing and enjoyable. His eponymous track ‘Southpaw Niño’s’ is a fine example of effective story-telling intricately woven with fine musicianship. The rhythmic and melodic playing with an amalgam of instruments makes for one of Meb Jon Sol’s strongest songs all night.
Now, for the eagerly anticipated performance of ‘Captain of This Ship’ which was easily the highlight of the night with the audience clearly thrilled from the first chord. It was a true sing along moment bringing vast gusts of folk and bluegrass nostalgia and ending in a truly awesome crescendo. A true sea shanty of song I soon had images of fishermen, jumpers and pipes which is the mark of great song writing and performance. Finishing off the night with a cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Outlaw Blues’ this song is both the perfect and obvious choice for the end of such a musical and melodious spectacle. Aine Cronin McCartney, GiggingNI.com