It was a particularly good year for the roots singer/songwriter tradition, and it started with a certain poignancy in January when a healthy-looking, back-from-cancer-scare John Prine took to the stage of Dublin's Olympia Theatre and rattled forth a stirring selection of stove-cooked goodies. Scottish folk singer Dick Gaughan played Whelans at the start of February and proved that politics and folk are inextricably linked. Humour entered the equation in March when Randy Newman came to Vicar Street and conquered the cynics with even more cynicism and some stunning songs. April highlighted Paddy Casey's winning way with an audience; his tightly-structured nu-folk was as taut as a tight facelift.
In Kilkenny the same month, the Carlsberg Rhythm & Roots Festival provided one of the year's best gigs when Peter Bruntnell arrived in Cleere's Pub and proceeded to blast those in attendance with a scatter-gun guitar approach that took in the styles of Neil Young, J Mascis, Richard Thompson and all manner of jangling Americana. May witnessed old warhorse Warren Zevon, replete with chest-infection cough, chainsaw through his back catalogue, a blend of scabrous humour and pithy comment - a man and his trusty guitar have rarely sounded so vital. Come September, Mark Kozelek's sombre musings at HQ were well and truly rumbled by the appearance of Bob Dylan at an intimate gig in Vicar Street. Following this the next day with a concert at the Point, Dylan proved once and for all (despite his sometimes shocking lapse of quality control through the years) that he is at the heart of folk as much as of rock 'n' roll, and is never again to be discounted. Other acts arrived in his wake, including the highly-rated Ryan Adams and the translucent Emmylou Harris, but they were no match for the brace of Dylan concerts that many judge to be among the best (if not the best) of the year.
Ray Manzerek, formerly of The Doors, brought his sun-bleached LA mannerisms to Dublin's HQ in July and confused the partisan audience with his addled, right-on hippie-speak. The result was as downright a travesty of a gig as I've ever seen.