This is Irishman Marc O’Reilly’s debut album and it has already made waves for him outside his home country. One man and his acoustic guitar is what he does, a folk singer of rare intensity with a blues-infused guitar technique that has to be witnessed (via youtube in my case) to believe that really is just one instrument that you’re hearing. He does that intense busy-ness on the guitar that I’ve heard other people do, making a wall of sound that just blasts out at you, but it’s the subtler aspects of his playing that really impress. On Get Back, for example, (which is his own tune, not The Beatles’ one), he scratches some ugly, anguished chords from the lower strings whilst playing a richly resonant line on the bass string. The song picks up pace as he rides out in a frenzy of picking, a mournful trumpet making for an emotional counterpoint.
The introspective intensity that is his style is still there when he’s picking a sweet melody line, but on these occasions it feels more like he’s inviting you into his world, not holding you at bay as the more fiery pieces do. There’s an instrumental piece, An African Day, which employs African rhythms as a launch pad for a complex combination of fast fingerwork and metronomic beat. The African influence does nothing to open up that introspection though and the piece is an intense as the rest of the album – not much sense of sun in his bones, really. In fact, the warmest, most beautiful moments come right at the beginning of the whole thing, as he opens the title track with a beautifully played guitar line – way more blues than folk – that seems to carry the weight of a whole host of emotions. Generally, very little is added to the performance of the main man for the sake of the record, but My Friend Marx does feature a lush string section coming in towards the end, which sits nicely with the mood established on the guitar.
Lyrically, he tackles all the preoccupations that a thoughtful young man is likely to have; his disgust with the overbearing militarism of Bush-era America comes over in Lord of War, whilst on Narrow Street he contemplates the difference in perspective between those who play the game straight, leading normal lives, and those such as himself, in pursuit of something more fulfilling. Other lost souls attract his attention as he finds more to learn in the stories of those who seem to have failed in some way, whilst, of course, the travails encountered in looking for love find their way into his writing. His style varies somewhat, with some lyrics not fully explaining the context from which they come whilst others, such as Family Reunion, being as clear and straightforward as could be. Paradoxically, I’m stuck with a military metaphor for this man’s music; having been bowled over by the intensity of his playing here, I reckon this is the “shock and awe” stage. “Hearts and minds” will come next.
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