REVIEWS OF 'QUEEN OF THE WEST'
Andy McKay, Music Riot UK 10/14/19
It happens every couple of years; we get a new Bob Bradshaw album, and they’re always worth waiting for. Bob’s a very credible singer with a voice that can bristle with taut emotion or smoothe off the edges to demonstrate a rich baritone for the ballads that has a hint of later-period Elvis Costello. The varied arrangements seem almost effortless and always work to emphasise the qualities of the songs, which are also a rich and varied selection of musical and lyrical styles. As you make your way through “Queen of the West”, the pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place. It’s not a linear narrative, the album opens somewhere in the middle of the story before bouncing back and forth through various critical episodes in the life of Ruby Black, Queen of the West before the album ends with a trilogy of relationship songs which may or may not feature Ruby, closing with tragic story of a boatload of refugees burnt out within sight of the shore – close enough to hear the sounds of the children singing.
And what about those varied styles? Well, the album opens with the beautifully atmospheric and, appropriately widescreen, title song building the atmosphere with floor toms, shimmering guitar and strings as the narrative opens with a tentative reunion for Ruby. It’s a seductive start that sets the scene perfectly for the rest of an album that impresses with its quality and innovation. As an example, three songs in, “Ruby Black”, with its atonal, angular guitar riff pulls together Ruby’s prayer to the saints for her sick child with reminiscences of her musical career, ending with a choral reply from the saints. Which then leads into the almost vaudeville style of “1-800-SOSAINT” pitching the saints as options on a prayer helpline – it’s clever, original and masterfully delivered. Other favourites? Pretty much anything really, but the incredibly catchy “High Horse” and the laconic “Story Goes” have been heavily praised here at Riot Towers.
There’s a lot of chatter about the demise of the album these days and “Queen of the West” is a great example of a piece of work that’s well-written and structured in a way that keeps you engaged throughout. The character of Ruby is developed in a way that pulls you in to her story, crying at the heartache and smiling at the diamond-hard public persona. “Queen of the West” is designed to be listened to as a single piece – it’s a rewarding experience.
Jon Sobel, editor Blog Critics:
On his artful new concept album Queen of the West, Bob Bradshaw takes the strong character-driven songwriting of his 2017 American Echoes a step deeper. The songs on the new disc revolve around the title character, a mythical construct who serves as muse, outlaw ideal, and icon of the American West. The Irish-born, Boston-based Bradshaw has thoroughly absorbed the tropes of American roots-rock and applied his own emerald imagination to make them blossom anew.
As the tracks progress, the mystical Queen of the title song morphs into an alienated movie star, a country music singer, and a woman with a sick child pleading with the saints for help (“Role of a Lifetime,” “Ruby Black”). When the saints respond (“1-800-SOSAINT”) it’s with irony rather than mercy, with mournful results (“Child”) that climax in the exquisite, gorgeously arranged “The Wearing of the Black” – which also transports us to Ireland.
A faintly prog-rock and Bowie-esque vibe overtakes “High Horse,” a sparse poem that builds to an eerie instrumental rave-up. Ruby Black, the singer who performed as the Queen of the West, returns in the third person, and much reduced, in “Story Goes,” a song that reminds me of John Hiatt’s country mode. And in the gentle southwestern honky-tonk of “Albuquerque,” another top track on an album with many highlights, we meet again the man whose life she changed forever. “I know the mystery of that woman / It called to me forever / It calls to me though never / does she need to make a sound.”
There’s no letup as these 13 songs roll by. The fractured sweep of the story reminds me a little of Barry Gifford’s Wild at Heart with its timeless Perdita Durango character. The songwriting has a persistent sting even when the music is in a mellow mode.
The last few songs depict a dissipating relationship (“you’re there but you’re not there”) leading to a hopeful, if low-probability, Narnia-like escape to an East as mythical as the Queen herself. Once there, the narrator – Ruby’s (or the Queen’s) estranged lover – finds war and fleeing refugees. He’s come full circle, sort of, in reflecting the lonely searcher of the opening title track who’ll have “no rest / Until you find the / Queen of the West.”
Queen of the West is a through-conceived album of beautifully composed songs, written by Bradshaw with a few collaborators, richly arranged, played with taste and skill, and unusually deep and memorable.
T. Bebedor, Dancing About Architecture:
With a voice like Elvis Costello and a cast of characters from a television mini-series, it’s difficult not to fall in love with Bob Bradshaw’s new album. At times if feels conceptual, names and references crop up over and over, piecing together a coherent story set against Americana music based around guitar, lap steel, fiddle and an ever-evolving rhythm section – check out the rhythmic patterns on ‘Ruby Black’ that brings a skewed Hitchcock-style feel to the song.
Throughout the album there are hints and glimpses of the off-kilter, something doesn’t sit quite right in the world Bradshaw has made and it’s all the richer for it, it’s a world of forked tongues and people not telling the complete truth, but scratch a little deeper and tiny clues reveal themselves. It’s a clever album, in part an honest, straight up Americana album (check out the country-by-numbers ‘Albuquerque’) but at other times a solid piece of evidence in supporting the fact that music can be much more than a bunch of songs thrown together.
It requires more than a single listen, a little like a David Lynch movie it deserves repeat visits to truly get to the centre of the album. There is a helpline for assistance from St.Christopher, Anthony or ‘Tommy’ – who, although lives in his car, is the man to call on in times of trouble – and then there is the Queen of the West herself, Ruby Black, who one moment is a worried mother praying for her son’s life and the next she is a gun-toting femme fatale (oh and if the comic book style album cover is to be taken literally, also a long distance bus!). Strange indeed but these are the things that make the album so interesting.
The music would suit a road trip, from the optimistic opening songs ‘Queen of the West’ and ‘Role of a Lifetime’ through the unfolding of the story in ‘1-800-SOSAINT’ and ‘Wearing of the Black’ to the final destination of ‘Take Me To The East’ and ‘Your Song’. My advice is start the engine, put on the album and see where the road takes you, better still, leave the car at home and take the bus.
Reviews of Whatever You Wanted:
Sean Smith, Boston Irish Reporter, 3/31/16:
The Bob Bradshaw story just keeps getting better, and his music’s doing pretty well, too.
Bradshaw, a singer-songwriter from Cork, began his musical career about 30 years ago (among others he’s worked with is singer-songwriter Ron Kavana), moved to the US in the late 1980s, and eventually made his way to Boston. On impulse, he enrolled in the Berklee College of Music, almost changed his mind about attending, and ultimately – at a significantly older age than most of his fellow graduates – earned his degree in 2009.
Since getting his diploma, Bradshaw has made three recordings, including the late-2015 release “Whatever You Wanted,” making for a total of six solo albums in all, three on either side of his Berklee period. And for Bradshaw, the years at Berklee do represent a significant demarcation in his career.
“I knew how to write a song before then, but I learned so much at Berklee,” he explains. “I learned how to incorporate sound structure in a way I hadn’t before. And one of the most important things I learned was ‘strong words in strong places.’ I think it took a while to fully digest everything, but I feel like it’s really sinking in now.”
On “Whatever You Wanted, “ Bradshaw shows a willingness to experiment with and expand on his blended country-rock/acoustic folk-pop style, incorporating brass on four of the tracks, for example, and trying out different time signatures. His lyrics are as economical as ever, conveying emotions and situations with understated eloquence here, sly wit there, and everywhere a long, appraising glance: “No medals for the souls who lay low/In quiet rooms to hide their eyes/Nobody’s gonna put a halo/On a fool who cries” (“A Fool Who Cries”); “Two days alone and I’m doin’ great/I take a jump to celebrate/Strapped into a parachute/I wait a while to pull to the cord” (“Losing You”); “Sparrow tells me: listen up/I’m tryin’ to tell you somethin’ good/Your garden’s got the sweetest worms/I like a juicy neighborhood” (“Sparrow”).
Bradshaw doesn’t hesitate to credit his collaborators on “Whatever You Wanted,” like drummer Francisco Matas, fellow singer-songwriter Flynn, backing vocalist Annalise Emerick, keyboardist James Rohr, fiddler/cellist Duncan Wickel, horn players Scott Aruda and Joe Stewart, and longtime friends Scoop McGuire – who co-produced the album in addition to playing bass and guitar – and Duke Levine on electric and lap steel guitars.
The credit is well deserved: “Whatever You Wanted” is Bradshaw’s most musically adventurous effort so far, yet there’s nothing that sounds like an overreach. The title track (co-written with Flynn, who also sings and plays guitar) is a blunt break-up song that has echoes of Tom Petty’s “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” but with more urgency, Emerick’s harmony and Wickel’s brusque cello on the chorus helping drive home the point: “Whatever you wanted/whatever you came here about/whatever you wanted/Well, I’m all out.”
“Go Get Along” is another good-bye song and a delightful take on Western swing, Levine’s lap steel providing a Lefty Frizzell-like aura. Somewhat in the same vein is the charmingly ironic “Dream,” a veritable compendium of gauzy pop songs, Mike DeNiro’s vibes set alongside Levine’s surf-style guitar. “Crazy Heart” (more love-gone-wrong) is spare in its arrangement, Bradshaw’s acoustic guitar and Matas’ quiet drumming moving things along while Levine provides a gentle shower of chords and riffs; there’s no bass, as Bradshaw points out, which makes the song – much like the relationship it describes – “sound kind of open-ended.”
As Bradshaw explains, it took a while before he realized he was in fact making an album. “Francisco and I were playing around with different rhythms together for a year – 12/8, 5/4, 6/8 – but I didn’t have lyrics. Then, gradually, the stuff we’d been playing turned into songs, and I felt it was maybe time to get serious about it. Also, I’m kind of programmed so that when I get about 10 to 12 songs in hand, it means I’m close to making an album.”
And as he made “Whatever You Wanted,” Bradshaw collected plenty of memorable moments and scenes. “‘Whatever You Wanted,’ which I wrote with Flynn, was an exercise in numbers – all triplets, in 12/8. And Duncan shows up with his cello, which I didn’t even realize he played, and he played it like a fiddle.
“With ‘Go Get Along,’ I was really pleased at how everyone got the right mood – Annalise gives it that playful kind of sass. One of the best experiences was doing ‘The Long Ride Home’: At the beginning it was just James [Rohr] and me, and I was singing while I watched him play piano, just kind of cueing off each other – never really done that before, and it was a lot of fun. I was very fortunate to be able to work with such great people.”
Bradshaw already has a seed of an idea for how his next album might take shape, but for now he’s satisfied to reflect on “Whatever You Wanted” and the progression it represents in his music.
“If someone calls my songs ‘simple,’ I take it as a compliment,” he says. “I think I’ve gotten out of my own way more when it comes to putting a song together. My goal is to write a song that apparently wrote itself.”
For more on Bob Bradshaw, see bobbradshaw.net
Michael Hingston's Americana Roundup - Country Music People - November 2015 (print only):
"Americana singer-songwriter Bob Bradshaw cites John Hiatt, Guy Clark and Townes Van Zant as his song-writing inspirations and I would add that there is also a touch of Elvis Costello. You can hear these influences on the carefully crafted songs on his superb sixth album Whatever You Wanted. Bradshaw has a soulful voice and the songs are given detailed and diverse arrangements. The title track and The Start Of Nothin' make good use of Duncan Wickel's cello, Crazy Heart is spacious and atmospheric with evocative electric guittar from Duke Levine, A Fool Who Cries, Sparrow, Sad Songs and Before introduce some judicious brass and Go Get Along is a sultry Western Swing duet with Annalise Emerick."
Allan McKay, Musicriot UK, November:
"Bob Bradshaw’s sixth album, “Whatever you Wanted” is a collection of songs inspired by the musical styles he’s been exploring in his adopted country, America, taking a leisurely stroll through various styles and adopting arrangements and textures from new country, old country, roots, and tex-mex along the way. The instrumentation on the album covers a wide range, from the reined-in acoustic, electric and strings of the opening song “The Start of Nothin’” (not sure that I would want to open an album with that particular message) to the old soul vibe of “Before” with horns, Hammond and strings creating a lush background for the laconic vocal. The arrangements all have a very light touch, and “Before” still seems to have lots of space even with trumpet, flugelhorn, trombone and strings adding spice to the percussion, bass, guitars and keys.
The songs are all well-crafted and very listenable, but Bob Bradshaw’s voice is the real selling point for the album; it’s warm and soulful and the close-miking creates a very intimate feel that shifts seamlessly from the silky, Chris Izaak-like “Crazy Heart” to the Bob Seger feel of the album’s perfect closing track, “The Long Ride Home”. The lyrical themes shift from the opening song’s nostalgia, through several breakup songs (including the title track and the album’s most raucous song, the swamp rock of “Losing You”), introspection (“Dream” and “High”) and the allegorical “Sparrow”, which has more than a hint of “Norwegian Wood”.
It’s certainly not a chore to listen to “Whatever you Wanted”, but, for me, everything fits into place on the album’s final song. “The Long Ride Home” is a superb little vignette, evoking perfectly the band on the road leaving the scene of the crime. The backdrop is minimal with only piano, guitar and lap steel supporting Bob Bradshaw’s laconic, world-weary, end-of-a-long-day vocal and the Bob Seger comparison’s difficult to resist, the theme bring the same as Seger’s road classic “Turn the Page”.
As a whole, the album suffers a little from the Bob Bradshaw’s eclecticism; every time you think you’ve got a grip on it, a new style comes along and it slips out of your grasp. There’s nothing you wouldn’t want to listen to again, but it never quite seems to hang together and it feels like you want the band and Bob to really cut loose and rock out a little. After the first eleven tracks, it’s a very solid three-star album, but the final song ensures that the album creates a haunting impression that fixes it in the memory."
Featured Review in For The Country Record 10/21/15
by Vickye Fisher.
There is much emphasis placed on young, fresh talent in the music industry. The arresting pull of youth, the lust for the new associated with the lust for the different – and the colliding beauty industry that makes this world ever-driven by artists who are barely out of high school. Yet, there is much merit to be found in the older, the wiser and the more experienced, and Americana songwriter Bob Bradshaw is a firm believer in that. “I had plenty to say when I was 25 and I strongly suspect none of it was worth saying,” he says with a laugh. “I might not have anything to say now either, but I am listening to the world around me. And I’m taking notes… in song-form.”
Indeed, ‘Whatever You Wanted’ fashions itself as a collection of stories and observations drawn from the world around him. Bob is now in his 50s, but he writes and plays with the fervor and restless energy of someone half his age, and he came face to face with such competition when he attended Berklee College of Music, graduating in 2009. Irish-born but having travelled Europe busking and exploring in the 1980s before landing in New York on a Green Card in 1989, he has spent many years playing, writing, recording and just generally moving about, experiencing the world. ‘Whatever You Wanted’ is Bob’s sixth album, but in many ways he is still the underdog, still learning from others and still winning over new fans. And amongst that fervor and driving force is the wise voice of an elder statesman, communicating what he has taken from the world to a new generation.
There’s a strand of love and heartbreak running through this record, complex relations swirling before us in a way that makes it unclear whether the subject remains the same. The title track uses driving percussion to set the tone for a kiss-off song, aimed at a lover who comes crawling back after making a mess of things, while ‘Crazy Heart’ is a wash of country noir that laments his heart’s tendency to break the rules. But there are also more conventional expressions of grief and loss, as on the punchy roots rock of ‘A Fool Who Cries’ and the southern rock strut of ‘Losing You’, both examples of where Bob gets more upbeat and textured in his offerings.
There are also more pensive tracks on the album, however. ‘Dream’, for example, is a lovely lullaby seemingly inspired by the Audrey Hepburn classic ‘Moon River’, while ‘Go Get Along’ takes us back to the 40s and 50s for a gently rolling track about moving on. Country folk ditty ‘High’ meanwhile features a somewhat cosmic lyric about falling deeply in love, and ‘Before’ takes us back to the 1970s for a chilled out reflection on what are perhaps his own reservations about taking on new challenges. There’s a definite sense of moving forward and tackling life here too, with intriguingly experimental folk offering ‘Sparrow’ a curious tale of warning about the things that may await him – in other words, get your s— together, you’re going to need it. One of my favourite tracks, opener ‘The Start of Nothin’’, muses on life and memories in a melancholic but beautifully simple fashion; some of Bob’s best work is that which is not overthought.
The record comes to a close on a sombre thought. The soulful anthem ‘Sad Songs’ reflects as much on a heartbreak as it does on his own lifestyle singing sad songs to crowds every night, while closing track ‘The Long Ride Home’ is a refreshingly stripped-back ballad about a tour coming to a close and the long road home. “The boys’ll break your heart in two,” he sings, following his scene-setting observations.
A lot of young artists have mature heads on their shoulders and do indeed have something fresh and interesting to say. But there’s nothing quite like listening to the tales of a life well lived, sung from someone who has experienced more than many of us ever have, or ever will. Someone who has studied his craft and honed his talent in front of thousands. That’s what you’re getting with Bob Bradshaw – wisdom, and great songs.
Review of 'Whatever You Wanted' - Fatea-records.co.uk, September 2015
by Iain Patience
"Americana-cum-acoustic roots with more than a hint of late sixties singer/songwriter, 'Whatever You Wanted' comes from the pen and guitar of Irishman Bob Bradshaw, now a US resident with a keen ear for the traditions of both his homeland and his adopted, sprawling country of country music.
The 12-tracks clearly echo his thoughts and observations of life in the slow-lane with love, loss, hope and heartfelt lyrics ringing true and straight. Co-written with Bassist Scoop McGuire, the album is packed with Bradshaw's spare but strong vocals and some simply excellent electric, light slidework on frets by Duke Levine who easily slips from hard-driving lead fretwork to down-low bluesy moods while Bradshaw sensitively keeps the rhythm rolling nicely.
The songs themselves have a positively late sixties/early seventies side to them while remaining rooted in modern country/Americana with Bradshaw's lyricism at times hypnotically catchy. This is a guy who can sure write and play in the modern Americana tradition with complete ease, bags of quality and evocative confidence.
On the closing track, 'The Long Ride Home', Bradshaw is overshadowed by the elegiac keyboards of James Rohr, with a track that bristles with echoes of Randy Newman at his best, while on another track, 'Sparrow', Cello and Fiddle from Duncan Wickel work perfectly alongside some understated horns and a recurrent riff reminiscent of the central theme from The Beatles' old number, 'Norwegian Wood'. 'Whatever You Wanted' is an interesting release, a bit of a slow-burner, but worth the effort and ultimately rewarding. Worth checking out."
Review in The Alternate Root, 11/15
(please note the Flemish word 'weerstane' which google translates as 'intolerable' is actually 'irresistible.'
Reviews of ‘Home’
He sounds like he's got the world on his shoulders with a voice that hints of Randy Newman plus something stronger. He's the guy you happen to sit next to in a bar who has great stories like "Home" where he talks about always wanting something better and "Talkin' About My Love for You" which, in spite of the title, is far from being a love song. His band on the whole disc is top notch, including Duke Levine (Mary Chapin Carpenter) on guitars. "Iowa's Darlin'" is a thoughtful song in three quarter time about a Midwestern waitress who'd rather be in Los Angeles. Outstanding cut is "When I Was God," a song that illustrates well why drinking is sometimes a very bad idea. It has one of the greatest opening lines in a song, ever: "When I was God / Fortified and full of beer / I knew no fear." © Jamie Anderson, Minor 7th.com
It sounds like the kind of moment only the imagination of a singer-songwriter—like, say, Bob Bradshaw—might cook up, only it really happened. The quick lead-in: Irish native moves to the US at the tail end of the 1980s, pursues a musical career that eventually lands him in Boston, where he decides to apply to, and is accepted by, the Berklee College of Music. Then he has misgivings, so he calls the school to cancel his enrollment.
“The woman at Berklee who answered the phone listened and asked me, ‘Are you sure?’ ” recalls Bradshaw. “I thought for a few seconds and said, ‘No.’ And then I hung up. “If she hadn’t asked me that question, if she hadn’t made me think about it, I wouldn’t have ended up going to Berklee.” But Bradshaw did, ushering in another chapter of a career that has often proved to be more interesting than he might’ve thought possible—full of, as he puts it somewhat self-deprecatingly, “sideways or even backward steps.”
The more recent years, coinciding with his time in Boston, have seen Bradshaw focus on his craft in new ways, whether obtaining his degree in professional music from Berklee or gaining a fresh appreciation for the music traditions of his homeland. “Maybe,” he quips, “I’m the ultimate late bloomer — just figuring it all out now.”
These and other experiences are distilled in Bradshaw’s newly produced CD, which features 12 songs solely or collaboratively composed by him. Simply and appropriately titled “Home,” the CD represents a meshing of Bradshaw’s past and present through contributions from long-time collaborators like Scoop McGuire (who in addition to playing various instruments also produced and arranged the album) and more recent Boston/Berklee-era acquaintances such as Dan Gurney, Annie Lynch, Duke Levine, and Maeve Gilchrist.
Bradshaw’s songs are situated comfortably in a country-rock/acoustic folk-pop landscape that has been shaped by influences like Guy Clark and The Waterboys; fiddles, mandolins and accordions—even a harp—provide cross-hatching across guitars, lap steel, bass, keyboards and drums. His songs can be sparse yet abundant with just-below-the-surface emotion (“Carlos”), keenly observed cautionary tales (“Iowa Girl”), simultaneously fanciful and thoughtful (“Wings of Desire”) and sometimes suddenly, startlingly nimble (“Remember Me”).
“Long Way to Go”—about the emotional as well as geographical distance a pair of wary lovers must travel—is marked by Gurney’s accordion, acting almost as a soothing counterweight to the angsty elements in the song. “The song is in F-sharp, and I couldn’t find another accordion player in Boston who could play it the way Dan does,” says Bradshaw. “As far as I’m concerned, the accordion made that song.” “Wings of Desire,” he says, takes its inspiration from the 1987 Wim Wenders movie of the same name, “about an angel willing to give up his wings”—even if it doesn’t follow the plot. “I’ve always loved that movie, and for years I tried to work it into a song. I thought it would be kind of amusing to have a harp in a song about an angel, so I asked Maeve Gilchrist to sit in, and she did a fantastic job.” The album’s final track, “Mourning Dove,” stemmed from Bradshaw’s participation in a Holocaust-themed play, “Budzin,” that was staged in Harvard’s Sanders Theater. Recruited at first as a guitar player, Bradshaw wound up one of the production’s main actors: a concentration camp inmate who must, literally, perform for his life. The song touches on a succession of powerful emotions, summed up by a masterful couplet of a chorus: “It’s a rising up and laying down/Of a boundless love and a thorny crown.” Therein, Bradshaw says, lies the paradox in many of his compositions.
“My songs are not autobiographical, but they do incorporate autobiographical elements in them,” he says. “The songs may focus on a particular character, but they’re not me. I may be in the songs, somewhere, but at the same time I want to seem as if I’m not. “Mostly, they’re simply stories.”
Born and raised in Mitchelstown, Co. Cork, Bradshaw found a model of music appreciation in his father, who “sang at the drop of a hat.” But as a young man, once he decided he wanted to play music, too, and got himself a guitar, Bradshaw looked elsewhere than his own country’s music for inspiration—from American country rock performers like Guy Clark and The Eagles, who in the 1970s were capturing the fancy of many Irish singer-songwriters; fellow countrymen like Mick Hanly and Freddie White also caught Bradshaw’s ear. Bradshaw did have the paradigmatic day job for a while, writing for a local newspaper and, after moving to Dublin, contributing stories to the Irish Press and In Dublin magazine. He even earned a bursary from the Irish Arts Council, and set about trying to write the elusive novel that all writers supposedly have within them. But Bradshaw couldn’t make his novel emerge, and found that, as far as writing went, he had “hit the wall.”
So he turned to music, and hit the road, first going east to Portugal, Spain, Germany, and Sweden, and then west, all the way to New York City and San Francisco. In San Francisco, he found pretty regular pub gigs, but more importantly, for the first time began playing more often with other musicians. This led to the formation of Resident Aliens (whose members included Scoop McGuire and Chad Manning), which built on the American roots sound Bradshaw had been playing to include the 1990s Celtic folk-rock that had come into vogue; that development owed a great deal to a collaboration with legendary singer-songwriter Ron Kavana, who had the Resident Aliens as his back-up band and recorded a live album with them. Most of all, San Francisco was where Bradshaw first dipped his toe into the songwriting pool—somewhat out of necessity, as he explains: “It all started because someone offered to make a CD of us. I felt there was no point in making an album of cover material. So I started putting together some songs. It was all part of an interesting transition in many ways. I had been used to playing in pubs, where you’re mainly concerned with hitting people over the head to get their attention. But when it comes to ‘listening rooms,’ you have to be that much better.” In any case, Bradshaw found he had a knack for songwriting, slow a process as it was, and continues to be: “If I write six songs a year, that’s great for me. And then I seem to spend years tweaking or fiddling with them; I also throw away a lot of them.”
The next, critical part of Bradshaw’s development came after he moved to Boston, when practically on a whim he enrolled in Berklee—a whim he later second-guessed. “I thought, ‘This is ridiculous, I’m in my 40s, I don’t belong there.” But after the fateful phone call that brought him so close to pulling out of Berklee, Bradshaw went all in. He took part in the college’s Celtic ensemble, led by the late John McGann, and Dave Hollander’s bluegrass ensemble, entered the school’s singer-songwriter competitions and, in general, soaked up as much as he could. “It was a struggle,” he says. “I had to learn to read music. I had to learn to stop singing so far behind the beat. But at Berklee I found both the confidence and the vocabulary for my music.” Bradshaw has found other avenues of exploration at Boston, including a new appreciation for Irish music: For a performance in Harvard Square’s Club Passim, Bradshaw played songs that were associated, in one way or another, with his native Cork; he also has taken lessons from Shannon Heaton and Liz Simmons, whose style and repertoire tends to traditional singing. What’s more, after having sung in Spanish while gigging in Barcelona, and in Polish for “Budzin,” Bradshaw says he began thinking, “Well, why not sing in Irish, too?” I guess I’m famous for taking a detour,” he laughs. “There are things I want to do, but it seems like I have to go through something else to get there. But at least I’m still going.”
-Sean Smith, Boston Irish Reporter
There’s a stirring edge to Bradshaw’s new album ‘Home’ - an edge doubtless reinforced by the experiences of the expedition from his native Ireland across north and south Europe and into America – touching down for a while in San Francisco he settled in Boston. Now together with a group of gifted musicians Bob has created a fine album - and it’s clear those travels reflect in its far-ranging, sometimes anguished, occasionally hopeful and always engaging songs. These are chronicles about life that could be yours or mine and you’ll feel that connection in every word. Bob sings his moving lyrics with an economical, laid bare style that cuts all the more deeply through a distinct mid-Atlantic twang that fits perfectly with his brand of Americana folk.
The album has a rich mix of sparse, engaging melodies, catchy hooks and inspired lyrics - from the beautifully architectured essence of ‘High Water Risin’ and the sadness of ‘Talkin’ About My Love For You’ through the hope and anticipation of ‘Take Me To The East’ and the incipient sadness of ‘The Mourning Dove’. However he lays down their content, swift or slow, abrupt or extended, exultant or heart-rending - Bob delivers songs that will stay with you for some time to come.
-Tom Franks, Folkwords
Reviews of BAG Of KNIVES
“Whoa, now here's a discovery! This is dyed-in-the-wool folk music and then some. Every song is stripped down to allow the full emotional content through, Bob Bradshaw singing in world-weary wistful tones and playing guitar while Chad Manning rasps a mournful fiddle and twangs his mandolin in an airy threnody of urban pangs and pains. The two go together like hound dog and hobo, neither missing a trick in the human experience while tramping the byways and highways, forever heading towards a forlorn setting sun. Bradshaw is an attendee of Boston's Berklee School of Music while Manning has recorded and toured with David Grisman but also sat in with the likes of J.D. Crowe and Tony Trischka. Darol Anger has commented very favorably on his plaintive skills, calling him "one of the most expressive" of the new fiddlers. Together, the two lads produce some of the best folkie sounds since the 60s and 70s, understanding the mode marrow deep. You couldn't find a better time machine than Bag of Knives. One of the many great aspects of this disc is the fact that it hangs together like a piece of architecture, every cut supporting its brothers and sisters, a quiet symphony of ghostly and evanescent airs from the old days gently passing through to tomorrow. Cruel Recipe is vaguely Randy Newman-ish, circa Sail Away, but these guys owe nothing to anyone, creating a sound with clear antecedents while thieving nothing, thus reinvigorating—if that's the correct verb for such a laconic collection (save for From the 2-Step to the 12-Step Once Again, a spritely number)—the esteemed mode in the beginning of the 21st century. This is one Bag of Knives that lands softly on the ear.”
-Mark S. Tucker, Folk and Acoustic Music Exchange
"Throughout, the lyrics are as carefully chosen as every note on this elegant album. (The lack of a lyric insert is unforgivable!) Downtempo tunes dominate and sadness lingers. But there's more than enough beauty and inventiveness to lift the coldest heart. The waltz-able refrain ("Dance with me") of "Desert Waltz" -- the tale of a soldier's deployment and return -- brims with longing effectively mirrored by Manning's playing. "Please" features the wish-I'd-written "snug as a gun" (by way of Seamus Heaney?) and "the shock that shook me speechless." "Another Day in the Life" overlays detail on detail on top of insistent bass and fiddle as it moves toward its inevitable but still devastating conclusion. "From The 2-Step To The 12-Step Once Again," brings welcome humor while proving these guys know their way around a swing tune. This "Bag of Knives" is sharp: lovely, affecting, and original.”
-David Kleiner, Minor 7th.com
Review of ENJOY YOUR CONFUSION
Cork-born, Boston-residing singer/ songwriter BOB BRADSHAW has been knocking around the US singer/ songwriter scene for some years, with his former band Resident Aliens making something of an impression on the San Francisco scene during the 1990s.
"Enjoy Your Confusion", Bob's third solo outing, makes it immediately clear why discerning ears were beginning to prick up at the time. Your reviewer must confess abject ignorance of his previous pair of albums, but if they're laden down with the quality that abounds here, then a backtracking session is required.
Although certainly liberally spiced up with Americana and the occasional Celtic tinge, Bradshaw's music is predominantly of the well-crafted, power-pop variety and his musical acolytes such as multi-instrumentalist/ producer Scoop Maguire, drummer Mark McCartney, guitarist Jon Preuss and fiddler Chad Manning prove themselves to be remarkably versatile in coloring Bob's resonant songs as the album gradually unfurls.
Remarkably, the album appears to have been pieced together on the run, with tracks being laid down in different locations and respected roots man Ron Kavana's contributions being committed to tape in Fermoy, Co. Cork rather than California. I say remarkably, because regardless of this approach, "Enjoy Your Confusion" never once sounds less than a composite whole and is sequenced pretty much flawlessly.
The choppy guitar pop of "Lucky 4 U" ushers us in (literally) with bells on. Despite the Prince-style title, it has a distinctly Costello-ish bite, though Bradshaw's less lyrically complex than Mr. Mac. The tune has a slightly chromatic edge which never hurts and the usage of the banjo, reminiscent of Neil Young's "Harvest" is a fine idea.
From there on in, Bradshaw proves himself to be well versed in a number of styles. He can master tough, niggly rockers like "Tomorrow's A Better Day To Die", which is built around Jon Preuss' descriptive lead guitar, and "Strange Joy", which builds patiently and is the very epitome of slowburning. The way its' chorus accelerates is heady and it even vaguely recalls one of my heroes, Mark Eitzel. Favorably, I should add.
Elsewhere, Bob demonstrates he's good with spangly, semi-acoustic pop of the Neil Finn variety. Songs like "Surprise" and the more wistful "Let It Go" both fall into this category and both work effortlessly. The former finds Bob the emotional apatsy ("It took a while to realize I was the fling and not the real thing" he admits ruefully at one point) while "Let It Go" metamorphosises from strident, harmony-addled pop to graceful, Carousel swirl before it hits the fade. You don't see it coming at all and it's a skilful departure and of some repute.
But Bradshaw's equally capable when penning an acoustic ballad. Tunes like "Not Too Far To Go" and "Tell Me A Story" are also among "Enjoy Your Confusion’s highlights, with Bob emotionally naked and vulnerable on the former and turning in a slow, folksy number of the Niall Connolly variety with the latter. The way the song ends with the bitter lyrical bang of "Dream on/ And when you wake/ I pray your damn silence to keep" provides a tangible shivers-down-the-spine moment.
Things can occasionally veer a little towards the middle of the road. Despite a killer chorus, "Hit The Road Angela" is especially guilty of rampant Steely Dan-isms, while "A Love That Won't Take No For An Answer" is accomplished, but a tad undistinguished. Even so, they're hardly major aberrations, and when Bob digs deeper and launches into the bluegrass-flavored "From The 2-Step To The 12-Step Once Again" and the Christy Moore-style closing track "James Joyce On Guitar" he's as persuasive as hell.
"Enjoy Your Confusion", then, is an eclectic, but always consistently strong outing from a man who clearly has a God-given melodic knack and a way with tasty, roots-flavored pop. The kind that never falls out of favor with the discerning.