Album of the week: Hugely ambitious...but sometimes less is more
Album Review: Julie Feeney Clocks (Mittens)
Julie Feeney likes to challenge herself. Most musicians would baulk at the prospect of using 10 different choirs in 10 different towns, but not the 34-year-old Galwegian who has promised to tour this, her third album, with a large cast of backing singers culled from each of the places she visits.
It suggests Feeney is not your average singer-songwriter, but then anyone who has listened to her output since her Choice Music Prize-winning debut album 13 Songs will know that already. Not for her a single battered acoustic guitar: Feeney's vaulting ambition frequently outstrips her budget, but suffice to say a widescreen, maximalist approach is her guiding light.
Clocks arrives three years after her creative high water mark, Pages, and it shares that album's orchestral flights of fancy and numerous quirks and ticks. Feeney's voice remains a startling instrument – and her west of Ireland brogue hasn't been diluted one bit.
Dear John is a tender, confessional ballad in a glittering sonic wrapping, while the comparatively stark If I Lose You Tonight sees Feeney dipping liberally into Ireland's ancient sean nos tradition.
It's fair to say that her singular vocals on the latter track – and throughout much of Clocks – are likely to irritate those who have been weaned on the sort of homogenised singing that's been clogging up the charts for aeons.
Feeney's voice is many things, but identikit it certainly is not and that's patently apparent on the lush and lovely Galway Boy and on the homespun intimacies of Cold Water, a song that largely dispenses with the kookiness that characterises some of her better compositions and, truth be told, partly mars her less successful ones.
Feeney's confidence in her own abilities is apparent throughout and it's a trait that has served her well before. Yet, in a myriad subtle ways, Clocks falls some way short of Pages' shimmering excellence.
Her everything-and-the-kitchen-sink principles don't always serve her songs as well as she might have hoped and you can't help wondering if the age-old less is more cliché might have paid greater dividends in certain places.
The singer's insistence on producing her own work ensures her creativity remains untarnished, but it does allow for self-indulgent eccentricities to creep in.
A judicious producer, one senses, could harness Feeney's strengths, and dispense with the waffle – and yet keep her heartwarming vision intact.
Key tracks Galway Boy; If I Lose You Tonight
Day & Night