I’ve been doing this reviewing malarkey for about 15 years now; and each and every year I think ‘it doesn’t get better than this’ for releases; yet when the following year gets going ….. it just gets better and better! Regular readers already know that we still get excited about new music from acts we’ve not heard of before …. and that’s where this album by Irish filmmaker, artist, writer and musician Paul J Bolger comes in to the equation. Personally I actually feel sorry for friends and family who claim to be ‘music fans’ but never look beyond Gold/Hits Radio and looky-likey covers bands; with a once a year trip to an Arena or a big field to see acts that they grew up listening to in their teenage years. They are missing out on some fabulous new music from acts like Paul J Bolger. I was hooked right from opening track The Start of It; slightly Wellerish in construction this bouncy song about a misfiring new relationship has ‘Hit’ writ large on it; had this been the 1990’s! Be under no illusions though; Bolger isn’t living in the past at all; just that song and a couple of others later on (Testify and Different Sky?) have a cutting Indie edge to them; but the slight warble in the singer’s voice means the exact same songs wouldn’t be out of place in an Austin Bar on a Saturday night as well as a concert hall in the city nearest you too. Speaking of the punchy Testify; the opening verse is an absolute belter! As the crunchy electric guitar tries to ‘blow the speakers’ Bolger growls ……. “Heading down the highway I’m a living cliche You’d think I’d know better Now my hair’s gone grey!” Ain’t that the way of the world for me and you? There’s a freshness to Bolger’s songs and the production here that makes the album perfect driving music; or when Summer finally arrives, a soundtrack to a party in the back garden. I can’t think of a better way to listen to Godforsaken and/or Different Sky than driving along with the top down (or actually the car windows down!), sunny’s on and the wind in my hair … imagine The Doobie Brothers if they’d been from Waterford instead of San Jose! Bolger certainly isn’t afraid of a melody or a chorus; as those songs prove ….. but he’s also well capable of drawing on his Irish background to go all deep, mysterious and darkly romantic on the title track HARD TRUTH, the totally beauteous Lady Love & The Cavalier, as well as See Love Shine and Believe You Me; which all tap into the romantic Celtic Rock made famous by Horslips and even Phillip Lynott many moons ago. While the whole album is aimed at the ‘everyman’ in us all; a couple of songs hit me in the heart like silver bullets the first time I heard them; album closer Not Too Long a Walk; again has a hint of Weller circa Stanley Road and Bolger’s words and construction build the tension like a coiled spring; and the ghostly female harmonies on the chorus have to be heard to be believed! The other, is a love song; the likes of which I’ve not really heard for a long time; as it’s directed to the woman who actually shares his bed …… not an unrequited love, not a bittersweet love; not a breakup song; just your age old boy meets girl, falls in love ….. stay together kind of love song; and the guitar/bass interplay alongside some mighty impressive drumming make this a definite ‘keeper’ and my absolute Favourite Track here is ight Of My Life. It’s difficult to pinpoint Paul J Bolger’s ‘style’ or more importantly where a record shop would place this in their racks. If he wasn’t Irish and the album recorded in Northern Ireland with only Irish musicians; it would probably slip into the Americana section; and the inclusion of a banjo here and there means it wouldn’t really be out of place in Alt. Country too; but that all pervading Indie sensibility that runs through like a gold thread can’t be ignored …. so does that make it Alt. Indie? Indie Country? Indie Celtic? Rustic Indie? That no longer matters though; does it these days? In my collection, it’s going to sit on the shelf with Paul Weller, Bryan Adams and Lucinda Williams …. and I think it will be very comfortable there.
A Fearsome and Fearless Songwriter at the Peak of Her Powers
This is another album that very nearly got away from me; landing on my desk a few weeks ago and instantly being an ‘office hit’ but then getting buried under a swathe of other April and May releases, until a nice e-mail from Hello Wendy PR reminded me that it was awaiting another listen and a review. Rain Perry? I haven’t got time to go into her full background but she has had a fascinating life; culminating in not just being a fabulous singer-songwriter, but documentary filmmaker and social activist too; as well as working as an advocate for people with arthritis, after being diagnosed herself, when she was twenty-two. Onto the music …. I hear you cry! In her accompanying bio Rain more or less says that her career has been building up to this album; where she uses her abundant writing skills to delve back into memories of growing up and finally arriving in 2022. Opening song; Melody & Jack; through the eyes and words of her Grandmother, tells the romantic tale of her own Mother and her first love; Jack who eventually grew up and they parted their seperate ways; as often these things do ….. “Picture a shipyard town In California after the war Salt air and daffodils And everybody on the edge of poor At the clothesline My Nana keeps an eye As my mom Melody and her friends Go running by “Those kids were like Our Gang,” Nana said Which meant one of them was Black And then her face got strange As she told me about Jack” and Rain subtly deals with the racism in her small town which may or may not have played a part in the couple not marrying; as Jack had hoped when they were children. The next track; The Money about two men; one white and one not, from the same town who join the Military and lead similar lives at that time; but there are ever so many differences that probably still apply today.
“My grandpa bought a little house up on the hill He was a poor boy on the GI Bill He said: “if you’re smart and put your money away You can be part of the American Dream someday Nooooo!“ While this is very much a Folk Album; Rain slips in a bit of Rapping half way through, which works a lot better than you’d think. It’s fair to say Rain Perry’s songs are very deep and require your full attention; which is no hardship with top quality songwriting like None of Uas Are Free (featuring Betty Soo), the compelling What’s Wrong With You and the haunting Lady of The Harbor, which sounds as good as anything Perry’s peers and RMHQ Favourites Mary Gauthier and Beth Neilsen Chapman have written in years. Before I get to my actual Favourite Song; I have to mention that Nanci Griffith and Tom Russell both recorded one of Rain Perry’s songs, Yosemite in 2003; which kind of shows you the standard of writing involved here. For my choice of Favourite Song I was immediately drawn to the remarkably powerful Indian Hill, Ohio 1967, with Rain Perry’s silky and vivid voice telling a very dark story about how the Middle Classes held drinks parties as Ohio burned in the near distance ….. “The neighbors are over for a drink The bourbon pours, the glasses clink A toast to the good life Our little piece of heaven Indian Hill, Ohio, 1967 The city burned a dozen miles down the road But the Long Hot Summer seems so long ago And a world away from these green lawns and old trees.” leaving me wide eyed and open mouthed the first time I played it! But; the song which follows that makes it feel like a sucker punch leading up to the Knockout! What’s Wrong With You is by far the shortest song here; yet right from the opening feisty guitar salvo; you know you daren’t blink an eye for fear of missing something really important as Rain growls and stalks her prey (you the listener btw) like a hungry lioness; or Joni Mitchell at her angriest! There is light and shade here; although very little to make you smile, apart from the amazing musicianship and razor sharp production from Mark Hallman that come together to underscore Rain Perry’s words and voice throughout. I could quote lines from every song here all night long, that will make your hair stand on end; but I urge you to buy the album to hear a fearsome songwriter at the peak of her powers.
Smoky Vocals and Imaginative and Deceptively Deep Songs From a Quality Singer-Songwriter
This week is actually ‘quiet’ by our standards for new releases, so I’ve delved back a couple of weeks to find something ‘interesting’ that I might have missed ….. and this little diamond was hiding in the shadows. From Lakeville, MA and currently living in Los Angeles Amy Correia has released 5 previous Albums and EP’s dating back to 2001, and, most notably is a key member of Marc Coen’s touring band; doubling up as the Support Act too … which surely shows what a talent she is. As We Are is being advertised as a ‘sampler’ and I wish more acts/labels would do this; although I suspect with Spottify etc. it’s not as necessary a marketing tool as it once was. But ….. that’s exactly where I wiould put 3 or 4 track releases to guide potential fans to the actual full Album which they have to buy. Just a thought. Any ways ….. on to Amy Correia’s fabulous music. The EP launches with a feisty Pop-Folk song called Bow To The Fire, which has something of a Jazzy/Blues vibe to it yet still feels like the type of quality singer-songwriter material I associate with Gretchen Peters and Tift Merritt and back in the olden days, Melanie Safka and Judie Tzuke …… especially the way she uses her impressive and smoky vocal range to accentuate her reflective and thoughtful lyrics. On Sweet Things, Amy heads towards tweeville; but pulls back at the border; as the song is actually a lot deeper than at first you hear it. The opening lyrics will actually resonate with many other musicians; “This is a song for no one Sung in a key that can be sung by no one Never be heard by anyone …. under the sun.“ I can only presume it was a dark day in Musicland when Amy wrote this intimately passionate missive; never thinking she’d actually record it. BTW this song and a couple of others too; feature some really cool and intricate acoustic guitar; but whether that’s from Amy Correia or Mike Castellana I can’t tell; but it’s well worth listening out for. The Beggar certainly reminds me of Melanie at her feistiest; and that’s a compliment of the highest order …. forget her song about roller skates; think Candles In The Rain and you will get some idea how powerful and cerebral this song is …..and the type of song that will stop audiences in their tracks when it’s performed by the support act. Then the all too short release closes with the almost epic; With All of Us; dedicated to her fellow musicians the world over; “This one is for the lovers out there The ones who dare to share All of their hearts (and most of their thoughts) They share their Love.” and the production makes it as windswept and interesting as most any other Folk song I’ve heard in the past couple of years. For my Favourite Track; it’s a subject very dear to my own heart ….. maybe not yours and you may even skip this song; but Amy actually nails Sunday Driver bang on the head; yet her delightful voice makes it sound like she may even be sympathising with the character in the story …… and I’m not going to spoil the final verse and ‘twist in the tail’ …… but; for me this is most certainly a song Amy Correia can be rightfully proud of writing.
An Articulate and Clever Eco-Friendly Folk Opera For The Ages
Here’s something different; but different ( different = good this time) , which shouldn’t have come as so much of a surprise; as it’s from our friend Matt Hill aka The Quiet Loner; and friends Emma Thorpe and Huw Costin and who came together in 2019; alongside psychogeographers Jane Samuels and Dr. Morag Rose to write songs about the land; exploring edge-lands and barren fields.
If this had been most anyone other than Matt I’d have swerved this like a Jonjo Shelvey 50 yard cross field pass; as that description makes when it’s written down like that; it all sound worthy and even …. dull. But …… the opening song, Deadwood stopped me dead in my tracks; as it’s actually a rather beautiful and almost poetic bittersweet tale sung by Emma and harmonised by the gentlemen in the background. As we progress each of the talent take turns at lead vocals, which also heralds new and often bold paths for the trio to navigate. I guess we have to call this Folk Music; which it is in its heart; but there’s so much more here when you listen carefully and let the music take you on mystery tour. A Gift of Unknown Things, is a prime example; as the accompanying Press Release states that it is “wrapped in haunting three part harmonies, Hill evokes” the “old chalk figures and standing stones, fairy paths and spirit roads;” which is actually true; but the way Matt Hill delivers the story in his trademarked drole manner; he brings the words to life a bit like Robert Plant in his Americana guise. It’s a first for me and probably you; but who ever previously thought about writing a song about Breezeblocks? No one I’d presume; but here Huw takes that subject; adds some angry acoustic guitar and the result is a metaphor for a world too many of us are forced to inhabit. Comfortably straddling the Modern Folk/Lo-Fi classifications; The Low Drift have created a series of ‘songs of our times’ that have the capacity to draw in cynics like myself and leave them nodding their head in agreement; which was certainly the case with Come Alive (A Second Time) and more presiantly the intense Us And The Water. With songs so disparate and three very different singers singing them; it’s far from easy selecting a single Favourite Song; but the way Emma Thorpe and Huw Costin deliciously deliver the haunting When The Rain Came has to be a contender; surely? I’ve had to stop myself several times from describing this album; and the songs therein as a quintessential Eco-Nature Folk Opera; but if that’s not too ‘high brow’ that’s pretty much what you’re left with as each song stands tall on their own merits; but listened to as a complete work of art they take the listener on a far reaching and rather beautiful musical trail.
I don’t know if I’m correct in saying Judy Collins is having something of a renaissance late in her career; but if it is it’s very welcome here at RMHQ; and as was proved on her recent live album; her stunning voice hasn’t aged a day. While I’ve always known she was a great interpreter of other songwriter’s songs; I was surprised to find that this is her first ever album of her own songs …. fancy that? The title track SPELLBOUND comes in at Track #1 and if this beauty doesn’t stop you in your tracks you’re listening to the wrong album. The production is crystal clear and suits Ms Collins like a velvet glove on a song that finds the singer looking back on a love story she was a part of many years ago. As I’ve continued to play the album every track has elicited the word ‘beautiful’ …. and every song here is exactly that; as Judy more or less looks back on a life well lived. I think it’s difficult to pigeon-hole this particular album; in some ways it’s the epitome of Americana while we certainly get an array of Folk Songs; as the winsome When I Was a Girl in Colorado and Prairie Dream probably fit under that umbrella better than most; but in 2022 would you say Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell are still thought of as Folk Singers? Me neither. Here, Judy’s songs Hell On Wheels, Arizona and the intensely intricate Wild With Mist all transcend such a type-casting; these and others need a whole new genre outside such a simple label. As regular readers know RMHQ tries its best to promote new singers and bands to the populace; but for many of you out there Judy Collins will be a ‘new name’ too and; especially if you are an aspiring singer-songwriter yourself, I urge you to seek out Grand Canyon and City of Awakening to discover how to take an everyday subject and make it into something staggeringly wonderful. Before I tell you which is my Favourite Song; I must mention that the only only ‘old song’ here is the re-recorded finale The Blizzard from her 1990 album Fires of Eden and stands shoulder to shoulder with the other dozen songs like an elder sibling, or even matriarch. I didn’t know the story behind the Thomas Merton song; but Googled him as I played it …. and when you understand that he was a monk/author, philosopher and renowned anti-war activist in the 1950’s and 60’s; the song will take on a whole new resonance with you, as it has me …… which it ties for the accolade Favourite Song with So Alive, which couldn’t be any more different as it’s about falling in love for the first time and actually sparkles as the notes come from your stereo speakers. I doubt I will be alone in actually ‘discovering’ Judy Collins in the twilight of her glittering career; but while I knew her from her singles in the 1970’s I’ve been lucky enough to have been ‘forced’ to listen to her last four albums for review purposes and it’s been an absolute joy from start to finish.
West on Colfax Arc Light EP Self-Release (Bandcamp)
Just Perfect for a Late and Lonely Night With the Lights Down Low; and a Glass of Something Strong
This is a fascinating release in many ways; but basically these songs were recorded at the same time as the band’s forthcoming new album; but didn’t ‘fit in;’ so they’ve decided to release them as a standalone EP on Bandcamp. The Lo Fi in every which way title track; Arc Light City Night starts the all too short EP in a fabulous manner; as Alan Hay’s talking intro reminds me of Coney Island by Van Morrison; which bodes well for this particular song as the years go by. The next song, The Desert Lives Outside The City blends British Folk with stark Americana in the way Hay’s drole Lancashire accent and stark acoustic guitar is allowed to accentuate a beautifully dark and haunting tale. Continuing the dark and Folky Lo-Fi of the previous two tracks; the finale Lucky Rain finds West on Colfax dipping their collective toes into a pond we’d normally associate with Richmond Fontaine and/or Elliott Smith; and while I’ve only played it a couple of times (this EP isn’t that easy on the ear!) it’s certainly captured my imagination; making it my Favourite Song here. If I didn’t already like/love West on Colfax and this from a brand new band; I genuinely doubt I’d have got past track #1; if the re-mixed version of Arc Light City Night (Mind Glitter Dub) had opened the record; as it’s a bit of a Trance/Lo-Fi ‘thing’ with nefarious overdubs and electronica ….. OK it will appeal to some people; just not me and I think the end of the EP is the best place for it. Wow and whoops ….. I sounded like a Rock Critic there ….. sorry everyone. Apart from that Dub Remix this is a fabulous little release …… just perfect for late at night with the lights down low; a glass of something dark and strong at hand …. and just you and your memories.
Chilling Americana From Scotia That Speaks Directly to Your Soul
There’s a fascinating backstory to this EP; as the man behind Spalted Silverados; one Stuart Campbell from the Glasgow Parish; was a fully formed adult when he took up ‘songwriting’ in 2015, ‘after studying Stringed Instrument Making in Glasgow, learning how to make ‘resonance machines‘. But it wasn’t until 2019, when he plucked up the courage; after an Orphan Brigade gig, to ask Nelson Hubbard to listen to the biographical River Man; and let him know his thoughts. Hubbard was suitably impressed and subsequently mentored Campbell over the next couple of years; which has spawned this EP. Not knowing what to really expect after someone from the band sent me an anonymous e-mail; opening track Cold left me stunned, the first time I heard it. Campbell has one of those voices that ‘speaks directly to your Soul’ and this stark and darkly biographical song caught me at just the right time, as I too was on the cusp of a ‘dark episode’ myself; and in those circumstances it’s a life saver to know that you’re not alone ….. and that’s what this song does for those similarly afflicted. In many ways the instrumentation and production is minimalist; but that only serves to let Stuart’s beautiful words the freedom to seep into the listener’s mind, totally unfiltered. The second song is a bleak observation of the times that we find ourselves living in; and it’s juxtaposed with enough slide, dobro and pedal steel from Malcolm McMaster to haunt you for hours afterwards. It’s staggering to think that this is Stuart Campbell’s debut offering; as everything here is completely fully formed with no ragged edges or even, room for improvement. When you get to the 6 minute opus that caught Nelson Hubbard’s attention; The River Man, you can’t help but sit back in awe and wonderment, as he uses the story of Glaswegian ‘legend’ George Parsonage; who spent his life saving souls from the River Clyde but sometimes tragically retrieving the dead as a metaphor for life as we know it in 2022 …… just don’t expect to hear this on Radio 2 or Magic FM! Then; of course there is the finale; The Song of The End, which for me is my Favourite Track, and arguably the most ‘easy on the ear’ track on the disc. Not that it’s a ‘happy song’ by any stretch of the imagination …. but its melody and the way Campbell delivers his message has been a bit of an earworm for me over the last couple of days; which is odd for a Folk Song about the COP26 Climate ‘Sales’ Conference in the singers native Glasgow! So; there you have it ….. another discovery from RMHQ, and one I certainly expect to hear a lot more of in the next year or two. Even as I finally got around to reading the Press Release I’d already decided that Spalted Silverado’s (ie Stuart Campbell) had shades of The Orphan Brigade and most notably, founder member Ben Glover about them ….. see, I do listen!
Keenly Observed Rootsy Americana to Make You Smile While You Think.
Selecting albums to review isn’t as easy as we sometimes make it appear. Take Friday 28th January 2022 for instance; we received at least 19 albums that were being released that day, and 15 for the following week …… and as we aim to publish one a day, the dilemma is regularly of Solomon proportions. Which is where singer-songwriter and latter day Troubadour, Doug Schmude fits in ahead of a couple of albums by household names and at least two that the hipsters will swoon over, then never actually play. It’s a personal opinion of course; but born in Baton Rouge Louisiana and growing up in Oklahoma and Texas, then stints in Colorado, Arizona & Tennessee; and now based out of Southern California Doug Schmude is the epitome of Americana to me; and his deadpan vocals, clever and intricate songs manage to make me both smile and think every time …. so he gets the RM vote. As the title suggests, there are only five songs here; but each one is worthy of two on albums by Schmude’s contempories in my mind. The opening track is ‘Trademark’ Schmude; drole and pithy ….. but with power-chords and an organ worthy of Ian McLagan in the background; as Doug pushes the boundaries of Alt. Country and Americana in a way I’ve not heard since the glory days of Wilco and Uncle Tupelo …… oh; the chorus is ‘killer’ too. Just to let you get your breath back, track #2 On The Run is initially a lot sweeter on the senses; but just as deep when you give it time to evolve and develop. Are the couple involved a 21st Century Bonnie & Clyde or illicit lovers making a dash for the border? Perhaps we will never know ….. Schmude throws a switch-ball with Nothing But Time; starts by using scratchy acoustic guitar licks to counterpoint his rye observation on the loneliness (I think?) that has affected a lot of people in the last few years; and looks like won’t go away easily; and when the the band finally kick in; it’s like a simmering anger building and building …. but never actually boiling over. Perhaps I’m overthinking it; but final track Voice God Gave Me sounds as if it’s Randy Newman dipping his toes in the Alt. Country waters; and that’s meant to be a compliment towards this clever and self-depreciating tale of woe. That only leaves my Favourite Song on this rather good EP, We Won’t Live Forever; which also holds a hint of Newman in the way Schmude observes a birthday from the shadows; and more or less tells us to ‘live for the moment’ ….. which is a wise and bold thing. If I had more time I’d have filled this review with quotes and snippets from each song; and even out of context would be bound to make you smile.
Articulate, Pearlescent, Breathy and Ever so Sensitive Songs and Vocals Too.
At RMHQ we aim to listen to an album at least three times before ‘putting pen to paper;’ unlike many of our more esteemed contempories who don’t always get past the Press Release (you know who I mean #wink). But occasionally time dictates that this isn’t always possible, and at other times the music is so magical; that’s not always necessary ….. both apply here. My God!!! What an amazing voice Aoife O’Donovan has …… pearlescent, breathy and ever so sensitive too. As I initially listened for the first time and surprised myself by being unable to find any of her previous releases in my collection; apart from the I’m With Her band; even from her ‘band’ Crooked Still ….. I just presumed I would have more. Which neatly brings me to the wonderful surprises on offer here. Best described as haunting or perhaps even hypnotic; opening song Sister Starling treads a fine line between Modern Folk and Lo-Fi; with a smattering of the Avant Garde in the shadows too. It will take you a long time before you actually listen intently to Aoife’s story here; as her voice and gentle melody will reel you in like a big ole salmon on a reel and won’t let you loose until the song is ready to allow you freedom from it. What a stunning way to start an LP. The quality never drops either; even if the tempo and songwriting does change on occasion. The dark title track Age of Apathy deserves aas very wide an audience as is possible; like so many of her elders in the music industry Aoife takes it upon herself to use 9/11 as a starting point for ‘growing up’, emotionally and that certainly comes across in this sometime harrowing tale. It will be all too easy for people to put this on in the background while doing household chores and letting the fabulous melodies ‘wash over you’; and the melody on Phoenix has a fabulous melody and a great story; but doing that means you only get perhaps 30% of this album; as the songs are what you should be concentrating on. You’d never believe Ms O’Donovan had ‘writers block’ a couple of years ago and openly admits to not particularly liking the songwriting process; when you hear the remarkably eloquent Elevators, Town of Mercy and Passengers that closes proceedings. B61 was originally slowly picked out on piano in her New York home during Lockdown; and now gently and imaginatively takes us across a cityscape that could be anywhere in the world. As I regularly say these days ‘there are no obvious singles here’ predominantly because this is a fully formed and grown up album; the type of which my generation knew as Bedsit Albums; and that’s meant as a compliment, as songs like Phoenix, Lucky Star and the stupendously beautiful duet with Allison Russell; Prodigal Daughter are all deeply personal to the writer herself; but will touch the hearts of lonely people the world over, who will feel that there is someone else out there who feels just like them. At first hearing you may think that this is a ‘sad album’ but it’s anything but once you delve deep into the grooves; which brings me to two songs that I can’t decide which is my actual Favourite. Galahad has really taken me by surprise, as Aoife seems to use the Arthurian Knight of olde as a metaphor for a lover in the 21st Century …. and crazilly, it works a treat. Then there is Lucky Star; written on a wet and hot Summer holiday with her family; errs on the side of Avant Garde and may even sound a tad angry at times due to the intense arrangement; but that’s no bad thing on occasion and today; it just ‘feels’ like it’s my Favourite Track; but I also guess that accolade will change as the weeks and months go by. On that very subject; as I’ve been typing the song What Do You Want From Yourself has been unravelling; making me repeat it four times, primarily because it opens with: “Happy go lucky in the afternoon I can do anything I want when I’m with you How I spent my 37 years with around the sun In 33 more, I’ll be an old woman Snap bag with a beer in my hand”
Plus it has an absolutely killer line in it too; “When do you learn that your skin isn’t as deep as you thought?“ You miss these things when you aren’t listening properly! As I said at the beginning, Aoife O’Donovan’s beguiling voice and singing style will captivate you from start to finish; but like Joni Mitchell, Judee Sill, Carol King and even John Martyn before her; it ultimately the quality of her songs that will make this album not just initially a ‘considered purchase’ but ultimately a ‘go-to keeper’ that will be kept for special occasions when only it will get you through the long dark and lonely nights.
I don’t know why, but I have a delectably soft spot for music from Northern Ireland; as there’s always something very sensitive and usually inspirational about it; regardless of the genre. Matt McGinn is a case in point; a friend of a friend who got in touch a few years ago and is now one of my favourite singer-songwriters whos’ songs have evolved over the years, while tackling some very difficult issues, yet making every song eminently listenable regardless of subject matter. If only he came from New York or Chicago he’d be a Star. Enough! Let’s talk about his new album. Like everyone else these days TIME WELL SPENT is a pandemic/lockdown album. The songs themselves were written pre-Covid; but Matt has used the forced home imprisonment to tweek and develop the songs; then using modern technology to bring in friends and fellow musicians to flesh out various missives in a way he’s not necessarily known for. The first song out of the bag is the winsome Annie (Many Moons Ago); a break up song of sorts as the man looks back on a lover that left him with an incurably broken heart. Possibly biographical and probably from his imagination; this song is a stunner beyond belief; and as Niamh Dunne’s haunting fiddle plays in the background, contains the breathtakingly raw lines: “I had to pass our corner four times a day I’ve moved back in with folks now and Mother she says ‘hey’ I thought I heard her say I hope she slowly burns in Hell!” I’m not going to spoil the twist in the last verse btw! The title track Time Well Spent, a duet with Aoife Scott follows; takes the listener on a delightfully dark stroll through the shadows of their love affair of a different hue; and contains some stunning viola from Eliza Carthy MBE. Then; just as you are sitting comfortably the band kicks in …… with a vengeance on Something; which IMHO owes a nod and a wink to Energy Orchard; as does Hands Off My Summer, and I keep my fingers crossed that I will one day witness McGinn and Friends perform these two songs especially, in this exact guise. Presumably the time spent in solitary confinement got the writer to thinking about people and events in his past; which I guess where the extraordinary Me & Tommy comes from; as well as Kinnahalla too; which is probably the nearest to a Traditional Irish Folk Song here. There are certainly emotional highs and lows here; which is what I’ve come to expect from Matt McGinn; and that brings me to what has become my Favourite Song on a rather excellent LP; Woman. The opening verse; sung in McGinn’s slow brogue, opens a door to something of a challenging song ….. but one that should and will touch the hearts of everyone who hears it: “It’s always the woman to have and to hold; Better than riches Rarer than gold.” For some reason; probably because he’s from just down the road I found myself imagining Van Morrison singing this song; although I doubt he can inhabit the the story in quite the same way that Matt does; and btw I love the crazy sub-psychedelic guitar/violin outro to fade. Then the album comes to a close with the something of a pub sing-along and possibly Sgt. Pepper inspired (?) Slide Out of View; which could easily find itself being included in some kind of film or TV drama if I’m not mistaken. There’s an obvious charm to this album; just as you’d expect; but peel away the veneer and these are a collection of back to the bone observations using the light and shade of one man’s life that the majority of us can still relate to in one way or another.