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Sunday, November 3, 2013

Concert review: Paul Brady and John Condron at Old Town School of Folk Music

By Ted Slowik

One of the great aspects of being a lifelong learner is the thrill of discovering something new to you, even if it's been familiar to millions for a long time.

For me that's the case with legendary Irish musician Paul Brady, who performed Nov. 1 at Chicago's Old Town School of Folk Music with an opening set by Joliet's John Condron.

Brady is an icon in Ireland, with a career spanning five decades and 14 studio albums to his credit. He's written songs that have been covered by Bonnie Raitt, Tina Turner and Santana. I'm ashamed to admit I've only recently become familiar with his music.

I learned of Brady through Condron, who is producing my debut CD and who worked with Brady in Ireland in February. Condron, Brady and Mickey Harte co-wrote and recorded the song "Come Gather All" as a theme for The Gathering Ireland 2013, which is a series of events and festivals drawing visitors to Ireland throughout the year.

Admittedly the scope of my musical appreciation hadn't expanded to Irish music, but that's no excuse for not having been familiar with Brady's work sooner. He's a singer, songwriter and storyteller the likes of John Prine (with whom he's co-written), and his music and stories are universal and not at all restricted to a single ethnic genre.

His performance at the Old Town School of Folk Music (my first visit to the venue--why have I not seen artists here sooner?) was a solo show. Brady mostly sang in his booming voice and played acoustic guitar, though he did switch effortlessly to piano on a couple of numbers. He told wonderful stories about his songs, with a wit, timing and interaction with the audience that has been perfected over 50 years of world travels.

I liked his story about writing "Luck of the Draw" for Bonnie Raitt, which she took as the title for an album that won five Grammy Awards. Brady will be performing with Raitt at some shows in the United States this month. Brady's guitar work is simple and beautiful; his melodies are wonderful and his stories are captivating.

In the weeks leading up to the Old Town show I learned a little about Brady's music. I liked this recent program hosted by Philip King featuring a reunion of Brady and Andy Irvine performing songs on an album they did that was a huge hit in Ireland in the 1970s. The show also got some good press with an article by Mark Eleveld in Chicago's New City.

Condron's opening set felt wonderfully spontaneous. He sounded magnificent in the venue, with a deep, clear tone that brought out nuances that made familiar tunes sound brand new. I learned from an article in Joliet's Herald News that Condron's mother is from the same town in Ireland where Brady grew up.*

Condron's an energic performer who pours his heart and soul into every note. He has absolute command of his voice, and flawlessly pulls off complicated guitar riffs on songs like "Darkroom." The crowd responded enthusiastically to his use of slide, another tool he's perfected. He capped off his opening set by getting the audience to sing-along to the chorus of "Walk On the Wild Side," a fitting tribute to Lou Reed.

The show was a great experience. I'm looking forward to becoming more familiar with Brady's music and hearing Condron perform again soon.


* John pointed out after publication that the Herald-News article erred and his mother is not from Strabane, Ireland but Philly! Some of her ancestors were from that part of Ireland but she's proudly American.