“A wonderful player. I can now retire: the torch has been passed.” We can presume that Stefan Grossman, the lauded American acoustic blues guitarist, does not often tip his hat so lavishly without good reason, and certainly not to a teenager from Ballybofey, Co Donegal. But then Muireann Bradley’s talent is exceptional. She is 17 this month but has been signed with the noted American traditionalist label Tompkins Square since Josh Rosenthal, its founder, came across her on YouTube when she was 14. His faith in her has been rewarded with this impressive and hugely promising new take on 12 classic country blues tunes.
Country blues styles are regionalised. In the southern United States, Mississippi Delta blues can be dark and ominous; the more ornate Piedmont genre, with its intricate fingerpicking style, hails from the eastern and southeastern states. Bradley straddles both genres confidently with covers including Mississippi John Hurt (Candyman, Frankie and, best of all, Richland Woman Blues), Elizabeth Cotton (Shake Sugaree, Freight Train) and Blind Willie McTell (Delia). There are other highlights as well, not least the instrumentals Buckdancer’s Choice and Grossman’s own Vestal.
Bradley’s playing is, especially for one so young, remarkably accomplished. Her technique and timing are the fruit of serious talent and application. Her voice’s sweet and young tone is at odds with the mostly adult material but she will grow and mature, as will her voice. For now, she is a name to remember.