The Bree Harris Band @JJ Smyths Saturday 4th March 2006
Bree Harris is a legendary character on the Irish music scene, blessed with a powerhouse voice and a passionate style that has earned her the well-deserved reputation as one of the
best blues and soul singers to strut the boards in this country for the past three decades. Saturday night to a full house in JJ’ Smyth’s, Bree with her very unique and powerful voice fronting an excellent band, unleashed a highly charged, sonically stunning and awesome performance to an utterly amazed crowd.
Bree Harris has an incendiary stage presence that exudes fun and enjoyment and a passion for the songs she makes her own. She is a classic Blues Mama on stage and shares a stage in my mind with Etta James, Big Mama Thornton, Janis Joplin, Maggie Bell, Bonnie Raitt, Bette Midler (The Rose) and I gathered on the night that she now has very recently added the distinction of Blues Grandma to her credit. She infuses the set of excellent hip grinding covers with raucous raunchy affection that creates an atmosphere of excitement, bluesy, rollicking soulful R&B, rock and soul magic.
Brilliant and shimmering in the glow of awe-diance approval Bree Harris presents the
impeccably rehearsed set with freshness, spontaneity and liveliness.
The Bree Harris Band is a well rounded chemistry on stage, a skilful example of musicians who have listened and learned well over the years, who demonstrate a desire to keep on
exploring, featuring the superb Paul Fairclough on Rhythm and Lead guitar, the funky, solid and dependable Davy Byrne on Bass, and the multi tasking Kevin Malone on movable Drums and assorted percussive effects.
Paul is a mesmerising craftsman at work on stage displaying masterful control over his sound and weaving a web of outstanding guitar fretwork, technique and technical proficiency into the sound with a confident ease.
He is an excellent guitarist with fingers like lightning rarely striking the same note twice, who clearly believes that there are no limitations to what ten fingers and six strings can do when you put your mind to it. On the Ricky Lee Jones and Jesse Winchester numbers he warms up the room with some excellent hybrid thumb and finger chord picking, embellished with judicious use of the tremolo arm on his vintage Fender Stratocaster.
I am saying vintage because I haven’t seen a guitar so worn in appearance since Rory Gallagher’s battered 1961 Strat graced the stages of this country.
Moving into Peter Green and Etta James territory, Paul pulls technique after technique out of the bag integrating meaningful volume pot violin phrasing and appropriately seamless slippery runs, tapping and bottleneck solos into the mix, well below the flash radar screen while Davy and Kevin drive the funky rhythms along with a resonating tightness and Bree soars with boisterous vocal authority.
The Bree Harris Band has countless years experience that highlights a well thought out approach to their material and is reflected in an honest likable performance with vibrant
energy and bounce. Bree delivers highly personal signature interpretations of Leonard Cohen’s Bird on a Wire and Manhattan in addition to Talking Heads and Dylan masterpieces that seen her hopping and bopping with zest and enthusiasm building each song up to a climax that comes rolling off the stage and down into the invigorated crowd like an eagerly awaited taxi coming around the bend on a cold frosty winters night in Dublin.
“And I thank you for those items that you sent me
The monkey and the plywood violin
I practiced every night, now I'm ready
First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin”
The last time I got such a buzz out of hearing some of Leonard Cohen’s stuff was on first hearing the late Jeff Buckley sublime version of Hallelujah.
A guaranteed cure for anyone’s blues, songs like Further On Up The Road with its ZZ Toppish intro groove and I Can’t Stand the Rain will never grow old while such accomplished keepers of the flame are standing on a stage and begs to be experienced by anyone who likes a good straightforward 100% live performance.
The set was a stunning blend of blues, funk, rock, and R&B stretching far beyond the roots of each song to achieve and encompass an unfeasibly mature mix in the arrangements. For
me behind Paul’s guitar landscape of sound lies a tangled family tree of influences, that sent me into a Little Wing style tailspin picking up passengers along the way like Messer’s Berry, Clapton, Page, Green, Gallagher, Knopler, Blackmore, Van Halen, Elmore James, Ronson, all drawn together comfortably for a ride through the fires of urban blues, the distinctive crunch of and raw power of rock and the sophistication of psychedelic folk and soul music driven by a rhythm section that is matchfit and doing loop the loops in support.
There was an added bonus on the night when Bree’s sister Shirley went on stage to sing a sexy, storming version of Fleetwood Mac’s Need Your Love So Bad that kept the band on
its toes, followed by yet another talented sister Yvonne who done an absolutely magic version of Blind Faith’s Can’t Find My Way Home with a dynamic powerhouse vocal that had the potential to leave goldfish homeless within a three mile radius of JJ Smyths on Saturday night.
JJ Smyth’s on Saturday night was a feast of sizzling guitar licks, slap happy funky bass
lines and fascinating drum rolls all bubbling away on stage through a perfectly balanced sound mix, resulting in a top quality show from the Bree Harris Band in full flow and on devastating form.
Again and again Paul Fairclough’s extraordinary rhythm and riff work, his ability to call up the sound he wanted from Marshall Stack and his customised effects unit, the fluency in which he emulates his guitar influences and builds his own style around each arrangement was consistently rich in inventiveness and superb on Saturday night.
Final credit though goes to Bree herself, who has been the lifeblood of the female blues heritage over the years and I recall another excellent show at last years Red Peters
celebration in the Temple Bar music centre. Wisely Bree by introducing a more modern and soulful sound into her repertoire succeeds in bringing her old fans with her and opening the door for many new fans into good traditional blues classic’s like Sippi Wallace’s Women be Wise which Bree’s voice and style caressed like a well fitted glove.
“Women be wiser, keep your mouth shut
Don’t advertise your man
Now don’t sit around girls
Telling all your secrets
Telling all those good things
He really can do Cause if you talk about your baby
Yeah you tell me he’s so fine
Honey I might just sneak up
And try to make him mine
Women be wise, keep your mouth shut
Don’t advertise your man”
The Bree Harris Band is entertainment of the first order with Bree on top form vocally and the band always superb.