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(Lost Highway 9135 As broadcast on WVIA-FM 8/1/2007)
What do you say about yet another singer-songwriter? They are more than numerous on the recording scene. One could probably populate a whole town with them. But like the citizens of any town, they are all different and each has his or her own personality and some are more skilled than others.
This week, we'll focus on one of the relative newcomers to Singer-Songwriterville, and an impressive one at that, Fionn Regan, whose new CD bears the somewhat apocalyptic title, The End of History.
Fionn Regan, who is in his mid-20s, grew up in a small Irish coastal village. The son of a painter and musician, the younger Regan was surrounded by music. He recalls that in his youth, his father's gang would retire to his house after visiting the pubs and rather to sing. Fionn said he would often entertain the revelers with improvised poetry about what may have happened that day. That kind of seemingly improvised style carries over into some of his lyrics. Despite his very Irish roots, Regan's musical influences are more along the lines of American and English folkies of the past, rather than Celtic music. One can hear the unmistakable musical footprints of Nick Drake, early Bruce Cockburn, some Donovan, and little early Bob Dylan, plus a smattering of Bert Jansch of the English folk group The Pentangle. In other words, Fionn Regan seems to have fallen out of a time warp from 35 to 40 years ago. And like the folkies of the past, he is literate, lyrically cryptic, and depends heavily on his acoustic guitar for the bulk of his accompaniment. And he is a very good player. The musical backing is sparse, and much of the accompaniment is by Regan himself by means of overdubbing, though sometimes it's just Regan and his guitar.
Though Regan released a couple of EPs in the UK previously, The End of History is his first full album. It was apparently released in the UK last year, and recently picked up for US distribution. It's an impressive recording that captures the essence of good folkie albums from back in the day -- a simple, appealing sound, with subtle musical twists, and poetically oblique lyrics, with very appealing vocals, that might remind one of a kind of slightly higher-pitched version of Nick Drake, and all that might imply.
What added musicians there are include some drums, mainly played by one Jamie Morrison and a couple of string players on cellos and violas. Simon Raymonde, the bassist from the Cocteau Twins, was enlisted to help with the mixing of the largely home-made recording.
The CD opens with probably the closest thing it has to a single -- a video was made of the song -- Be Good or be Gone. The parallels to the aura of Nick Drake's music, and the 1960's-folk style guitar finger-picking are immediately apparent. The lyrics are perhaps more impressionistic than narrative, though a relationship seems to form the appealing song's premise. <<>>
Also with a distinctly retro, or perhaps one could say, timeless sound is The Underwood Typewriter. Regan, in an typically cryptic self-interview he put on his website implies that the song is about a surreptitious affair, rather than about the mechanical writing instrument. <<>>
Hey Rabbit also evokes venerable folk recordings. Regan used animal metaphors in his consideration of the relationship in question. <<>>
The energy level is cranked up some on Blackwater Child with the addition of the drums and some backing vocals. <<>>
Put a Penny in the Slot is one of the more lyrically appealing songs. The fanciful story has more details than most of Regan's songs, though the musical backing remains understated. Regan shows his influence by early Dylan. <<>>
The CD is not all just vocal and acoustic guitar. The Cowshed, features some ominous-sounding percussion and even a musical saw to provide the right atmosphere. <<>>
Regan's guitar playing is highlighted on Abacus, with its very attractive finger-picking lines, while the lyrics weave numbers into its metaphors. <<>>
Regan is joined by a pianist named Louis Vause on the song Bunker or Basement. <<>> It's a nice touch, but at the end Regan and Vause get into much too long a jam. <<>>
The CD ends with a hidden track, Campaign Button, about the closest thing on the album to a topical or political song. It's not Regan's best effort performance-wise, but he is able to make his point. <<>>
Irish singer-songwriter Fionn Regan's new debut CD The End of History is an impressive recording, in both content and style. Regan's got the lyrical savvy, and his sound hinting at the contemplative moods of Nick Drake and the pretty guitar riffs of Simon & Garfunkel, make for music that will likely warm the heart of old folk fans and may well find an audience among younger listeners who have been finding more old folk influence in other contemporary releases. The CD has a few weaker moments, some relating to the instrumental parts, but overall, its an engaging recording that introduces us to a worthy new talent.
Sonically, we'll give the CD about a "B." This was plainly mostly a home-made recording, with some shortfalls in mic placement and technique, and the dynamic range is also a bit inconsistent among the various tracks. But sometimes the less than slick sound can impart a bit of charm.
It's often said by those of a certain age that they just don't make music like they used to. Fionn Regan does, evoking the sound and spirit of the poetic singer-songwriters of the flower-power generation, while asserting his own identity and sound.
(c) Copyright 2007 George D. Graham. All rights reseved.
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