Irish-born, Boston-based Bob Bradshaw’s seventh studio album ‘American Echoes was released in late 2017. Writing in No Depression Frank Gutch Jr said: “Some of Bradshaw's songs are immediate classics in my mind. The kind of songs songwriters and musicians listen to. The kind of songs which become part of your DNA.” Bill Bentley of the Morton Report wrote: "In a year full of albums that sound like they'll live forever, Bob Bradshaw has made one of the best." The Sunday Express (UK) called it “… a frequently spellbinding blend of country and nuanced rock with a winning lushness in the instrumentation and backing vocals, showcasing a highly original talent.” John Amer in Red Guitar called ‘American Echoes’ a “rich melting pot of collated ideas and signals” and Music Riot said the album is “packed with great lyrical and musical ideas and gets better with repeated plays.” Maximum Volume Music wrote: “Like all great songwriters, Bradshaw can mould experiences into something illuminating and give them universal quality. There is something of the dark Tom Waits world about Exotic Dancers Wanted.” “With inspiration pulled from country and folk, bluegrass and blues, a soupcon of jazz and barrel-loads of Americana," Tom Franks of Folkwords writes, “it’s a collection of songs written with a deep understanding of it’s subjects.” And Midwest Record writes: “A first rate recording that raises the songwriting bar, all I can say is Bradshaw has the shining and knows how to capture lightning in a bottle.”
Bradshaw’s previous album, ‘Whatever You Wanted’ was named by the Telegraph UK as one of the best Americana/country albums of 2015.
“I had plenty to say when I was 25 and I strongly suspect none of it was worth saying.” Bob Bradshaw laughs a little when he says this. He’s many years past that point now. Modesty and self-deprecation come naturally to the singer-songwriter-guitarist who adds, “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.”
Bradshaw – born in Cork, Ireland and a Boston resident since 2003 - does have something to say, and, yes, in song form.
Consider his new 12-song disc, “Home”.
He is not going to hit you over the head. Aided ably by session guitar ace Duke Levine (Peter Wolf band, J. Geils Band, Aimee Mann, Giant Kings), among others, Bradshaw is operating in the gentler, probing realm of country-soul or roots-rock, Americana, whatever term you fancy. A quiet storm. He grew up loving Van Morrison (one of his first concert experiences) but as a songwriter, he likes to go to the kind of places some of his favorites – Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, John Hiatt, Steve Earle, John Prine - have gone. He likes to observe, tell tales.
When he speaks, you can immediately tell he’s from Ireland. When he sings, not so much. He doesn’t sound like Christy Moore. The voice you hear – it could be from the American southwest – is his natural singing voice.
Musically, Bradshaw is going to take you a journey, not without some melancholy. His songs don’t hurry along. They flow and float, take subtle twists and turns.
In “High Water Risin’,’ the meandering pace belies the massive flood coming to drown New York. There’s a non-confrontational, albeit bitter, look back at a breakup in “You Got No Say Round Here” and “Talkin’ About My Love For You.” A possible murder seems likely in “Remember Me”, a song sung from beyond the grave. But there’s hope and the sense of starting over in “Take Me To the East.” There’s comfort in companionship in “Wings of Desire,” drinking as delusional pleasure in “When I Was God.” There is, one might say, the sting of authenticity – you know, miles of tears, years and beers.
“I’m a storyteller,” he says. “I’m in my songs, but in the songs in the same way Raymond Carver is in his stories. I’m the characters in the songs. And I’m using the song-form to explore matters of identity and communication. I’m a strummer and I sing songs. I need an audience for my stories. The stories only work, only become stories, if people are there, listening.”
The title song, “Home,” has a lot to with wandering, of the heart, the mind, the body.
“As a kid I’d up and wander, searchin’ back roads high and low,” he sings in the lead-off title track. “Stay ‘til dark then take the long way home… I have traveled much too far/Wanna’ go, wanna’ go home.”
“It’s supposed to be a sort of slow-building Roy Orbison bolero thing,” says Bradshaw, “gradually building from the verse through the pre-chorus to the chorus an octave higher. Lyrically, it’s about someone who’s at odds with his surroundings, who goes off alone in search of something intangible. He’s someone who doesn’t make things easy for himself. Years pass, and his rambling has become habitual. He can’t settle down. There’s a romanticized, unattainable home and past he years for. He makes his bed in ‘cold dark alleys” dreaming of “green river valleys.’ Kind of a ‘Midnight Cowboy’ scenario, I suppose.”
Bradshaw has lived in the US for more than two decades. But he was once that rambler. In his late teens and early 20s, he was a journalist and short-story writer in Dublin. He acted a bit, taught himself guitar, busked and clowned the streets. But he was restless and he wasn’t the journalist or short-story writer he wanted to be.
In 1985, he decided to pursue music/adventure thing, and got a summer gig playing in an Irish bar in Lagos, Portugal. He had a return ticket but found he didn’t want to go back to Ireland. Then came Hamburg and Munich. Sometimes, he lived in a hostel, sometimes outside, mostly in a sleeping bag on the back stairs of the Munich Olympic Center or at the train station. He went back to Lagos and then more of what Bradshaw calls his “migratory” lifestyle – playing in Spain, Sweden and Germany. Money gained? Minimal. Experience? Plenty.
He acquired a Green Card in 1989, and flew to New York, finding a room in the South Bronx. In Manhattan he worked as a doorman at the building Liza Minnelli and Howard Cosell lived in. (He also has been a housepainter, a roofer, a landscaper, a plumber, a furniture mover.) He moved to San Francisco, started playing in bars, and formed a folk-rock cover band ‘Resident Aliens’ with songwriting partner and producer Scoop McGuire. They recorded two albums (a self-titled disc in 1995 and “Alien Alert” a live album with Ron Kavana in 1999). Bradshaw released his first solo album, “Some Assembly Required,” in 1997, and seven years later his second, “Enjoy Your Confusion.”
He left the band and brought the songs with him to the East Coast, summer of 2003. He had met a girl, Connie, had fallen in love with her and moved back east, primarily because she wanted to be closer to her folks in Philadelphia. The couple, soon married, chose Boston, partially because of the music scene.
In Boston, he started over yet again, playing solo in the bars. He and Chad Manning (an ex-Resident Alien and now David Grisman’s fiddler) collaborated on 2008’s “Bag of Knives”. Seven years ago, Bradshaw went back to school, to Boston’s Berklee College of Music.
“I wasn’t a very good player or singer, I couldn’t read music and I didn’t expect to get in,” he says. “But I did a good audition and was admitted. And I got pretty good -working at my songwriting, working on my singing, working on my guitar-playing. I applied myself, learned how to read music, and nearly didn’t make it a few times. But I worked all the time, practiced. I wanted to do this badly enough that I decided to dedicate my working life to it.”
Most of his classmates, of course, were in their 20s, just starting careers. What was it like being the older guy, deep into this, but aching to improve?
Bradshaw got on fine with the kids, but says he felt an undercurrent of a vibe - “’There’s no room at the table. Why do you deserve someone’s place?’” His answer: “Music is how I express myself. It’s something I can’t access in a conversation or a relationship. There’s nothing black and white in the music. It’s not a one-sided argument; I’m grappling with good and evil and shit. I don’t want to spell it out. I want people to get something out of it, images they can get something from. I put in the work. And” – here’s where the lurking self-confidence kicks in – “I want to be at the table even though there’s no room.”
At Berklee, he adds, “I worked on my pitch every day. I got information on things like counterpoint, harmony and time keeping. I took songwriting courses that were terrific. Previously, I had assumed most of these things were like a crapshoot. Either you had it or you didn’t. I came to realize there are so many considerations. You can work on everything and get better.”
Bradshaw, who graduated in 2009, performed in some bluegrass ensembles and singer-songwriter showcases, won some contests, and was one of those chosen to work with John Mayer when he came to Berklee for a week in 2008. All good stuff. Musicians he met at Berklee, Annie Lynch, Maeve Gilchrist, Curt Florczak and Dan Gurney, contributed to “Home,” as did former Resident Aliens mates and west-coasters McGuire, Manning and Mark McCartney.
That leads to a question about, well, making it at 52. What would that mean?
“Making it?” Bradshaw responds. “It means I have an audience. If I’m not trying to write ‘hits’ and don’t want desperately to become a star, does that mean I lack the requisite ambition to be taken seriously? I don’t think so. But while I might not be trying to write ‘hits,’ I am trying to get as many musical and lyrical hooks into my songs as the hit-makers - that’s what makes a great song - and I aspire to write great songs.”
-Jim Sullivan (Sullivanink.com)