Friday 15 November 2019

Music: Mag Pai Zai by Declan O'Rourke ***

(Rimecoat Records)

John Meagher

John Meagher

Self-produced and self-released, Declan O'Rourke's third album is a labour of love that demonstrates his growing maturity as a songwriter.

This is a subdued collection that largely eschews the commercial nature of previous offerings in favour of tender ballads and folk-inflected songs. Inventive guitar and percussion provides the dominant sound, although strings are used time and again to add texture. O'Rourke's warm baritone remains a thing of beauty too, especially on the more sparsely arranged material.

Opener Slieve Bloom pits discordant drums against an upbeat, sweetly picked guitar. Swirling strings are employed mid-way through and O'Rourke displays real skill to marry the sounds together as effectively as he does. It's an appealingly evocative composition as the singer ruminates on a nocturnal journey he took on a midlands road "between isolated towns".

Lead single A Little Something is an unabashed love song, replete with horns and strings. "I can feel something so soothing in the way she speaks my name." It's a quite lovely composition in which O'Rourke lets his voice soar appealingly. Jimmy Webb would surely approve, especially in the way O'Rourke hints that his feelings may remain unrequited.

The album title, incidentally, is a bowdlerisation of "magpie's eye", a term that appears on the compelling Langley's Requiem. It's based on the true story of the Collyer brothers -- a pair of hermits in New York, who in the 1940s were found dead amid mountains of rubbish they had hoarded in their Harlem brownstone. The song offers clear proof of O'Rourke's storytelling qualities -- and his desire to seek inspiration from unlikely subject matter.

At times, however, one senses that O'Rourke might have achieved more with a producer in tow. The bones of strong songs can be discerned, but some -- such as the upbeat Caterpillar DNA -- are not developed as well as they might have been.

Despite that, there's much to recommend -- and not just to existing fans. Even those hitherto immune to O'Rourke's talents might be seduced by the lovely piano-led The Hardest Fight. It suggests that he has the capability to make a great album one day.

Burn it: Langley's Requiem; A Little Something; The Hardest Fight

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