Review: John Fullbright, Whelans 6/09/14
“I don’t know what is the joke, and what is sentimental”, quips John Fullbright as he launches into Blameless, a song that began life as a parody of country music before getting the better of its maker forcing him to surrender to its sentimentalism. Word of resounding thumbs up to Fullbright’s live shows had travelled well ahead of him across the Atlantic ensuring standing room only tonight in Whelans for the first of two Irish dates.
A recurring name on the critics’ Best of 2014 so far lists, the Grammy award-winning Oklahoma native is in town to promote Songs, his second album, difficult if only for a breakup providing the source material. The venue is celebrating its 25th anniversary but the ‘Whelans 25’ stage backdrop doubles up as a reminder the number is consistent with the performer’s tender time on Earth. Fullbright’s lyrics confidently that of a man with no shortage of mileage on the clock of self-discoveries; bedded down by his own guitar and piano, both deftly handled and topped off with occasional harmonica.
Clues to his birthplace and Americana influences abound, his introductions overlaid with bare-boned philosophy delivered in his breezy drawl reminiscent of that shared by those demon-dodging, God-fearing characters immortalised by all the master song smiths from Guthrie to Waits to Cave.
Strays into his debut album From the Ground Up reveal the more character laden side of his oeuvre. Someone unafraid to follow through on murderous intent as he finally kills off the eponymous ‘Fat Man’ who haunts his sleep (“I slept better after I wrote that”); and not beyond inhabiting the songwriter role from God’s perspective in Gawd Above (“Because I’m a total narcissist”). But it’s exposure of own undressed heart in Songs when plaintive voice meets plain speak with stunning effect. The She in She Knows knows a thing or two about him. Like how he’s scared of the dark and will “bleed on command…She knows a thing or two about rain”.
Returning for a brief encore with a requested rendition of Jericho, Fullbright quietly takes his leave casting little doubt among those gathered that he knows a thing or two about pain.