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Colin Randall writes: I came by chance across Muireann Bradley, a young Irish blues singer and guitarist who grew up near Ballybofey, Donegal and aside from music is accomplished in boxing . From the first notes, sung and played, it was a stunning introduction.
My old friend and confrere Bill Taylor agreed and was instantly invited to write about her ...
And, no, I’m not talking about Taylor Swift…
It was our own Colin Randall who sent Muireann Bradley swimming, like John Keats’s “new planet”, into my ken. He posted a 60-second clip from Far Out Magazine with a laconic comment: “Worth a listen.”
I wasn’t sure if it would be or not. The blurb on the video said simply, “17-year-old Muireann Bradley from Ireland plays When the Levee Breaks.
Written by Kansas Joe McCoy and recorded in 1929 by McCoy and Lizzie “Memphis Minnie” Douglas, and most notably revived by Led Zeppelin on their fourth (untitled) album, this is not for the faint of heart or non-nimble of finger. It’s one of those simple songs that isn’t even remotely simple.
I played the Bradley clip expecting nothing more than the novelty value of an Irish teenager trying to polish her finger-picking technique.
A minute later, I was posting my own comment: “Oh yeah, this is the real thing! She has the voice, too. Great stuff.”
GREAT stuff. I’m no expert on blues guitar but I know a good one when I hear one.
Muireann Bradley’s picking put me in mind of Stefan Grossman*. And her voice had that authentic American Deep South nasal twang as she started in on the lyric about a man who has lost his home and family in the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927.
But who was she, this long-haired Irish kid whose twang when she talks is pure Donegal, but who could conjure up the music of another time, another world with such authority and artistry? I went looking.
Muireann has her own YouTube channel with a selection of videos of herself playing and singing the blues.
I was gobsmacked to see her as a 14-year-old making “my attempt… I’m still working on it” at Mississippi John Hurt’s “Frankie.” She made the song her own.
Blown away by her version of Robert Wilkins’s 1930 Police Sergeant Blues.
And charmed by the comment she put under it: “It’s been a while since I posted anything, sorry about that! I’ve been very busy with school & sports!”
Sounding just like a teenager.
There’s so much more in her repertoire: Candyman, Stagolee, Buck Dancer’s Choice and so on. Real down and dirty delta blues. She seems comfortably at home there.
And she’s starting to get the recognition she deserves. She was featured on Jools Holland’s New Year’s Eve Jools Annual Hootenanny at which point her album I Kept These Old Blues went into the UK Album Download top-10 chart.
There have been other TV appearances but Muireann Bradley is still by no means as widely known as she should be and surely will be. If she’s this good at 17, what will the coming years add to her talent?
Maybe not “move over, Taylor Swift” but… something. Something good, something great. She deserves no less.
Thanks, Colin. It was indeed “worth a listen”.
* Editor's note: interesting that Bill should make that comparison. Stefan Grossman himself is quoted by the website of the Galway musical venue Roisin Dubh, as saying of Muireann, "a wonderful player, I can now retire, the torch has been passed”.