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 and forcing him to surrender to its sentimentalism. The fulsomeness of his live show reviews had travelled well ahead of the singer-songwriter 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 the source material that was his heart after a break up. The venue is celebrating its 25th anniversary but the ‘Whelans 25’ stage backdrop doubles up as a reminder that the number is consistent with the performer’s brief time on Earth. Fullbright’s lyrics sound like they are from the pen of a man more than double that however, 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, and his introductions are 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. He is unafraid to follow through on murderous intent as he finally kills off the ‘Fat Man’ that haunts his sleep (“I slept better after I wrote that”); and is not beyond inhabiting the songwriter role from God’s perspective in Gawd Above (“Because I’m a total narcissist”). But it is 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”. It competes with When You’re Here for the intensity of audience attention.
He returns for a brief encore with a requested rendition of Jericho before quietly taking his leave.
He knows a thing or two about pain.