Fionn Regan 100 Acres of Sycamore (Universal)
It's easy to like Fionn Regan, the singer-songwriter from Bray who quietly created a stir with his debut album, The End of History, five years ago.
Fionn's inoffensive. And so is his music. That doesn't mean he's drab or dull. It's just that Fionn's repertoire sometimes lacks a sense of danger.
While that may not be essential, we could debate how a certain contrariness has marked most of the truly great singer-songwriters from the 1950s onwards. Damn it, even the Romantic poets, beloved of fusty middlebrows everywhere, were revolutionaries.
This isn't meant to dis Regan, who allies an insightful talent with warm winsome charm. Attributes which are much in evidence on this languid 12-track collection.
However there's a suspicion that Fionn may be too polite for his own good. Even on these songs of heartbreak, he refuses to succumb to melancholy, despair or anger, preferring to whisper his laments and cautiously glide above his pool of personal sorrow.
Even this thematic collection's most cathartic blues wail, Vodka Sorrow, is neither speckled fish nor feathery fowl. Regan possibly had in mind to let rip with a gut-wrenching primal scream but became either too coy or hamstrung by studio musicians who proceed so uncertainly they simply create a wobbly blancmange.
Where we might expect to empathise with the singer's most desolate sense of isolation and grief, we're treated to death by chocolate and custard.
On his last album, The Shadow of an Empire, Regan moved into a basement and mixed up a new sonic medicine, akin to the energy that Dylan discovered playing with Al Kooper and Mike Bloomfield.
This time out, the drums are quieter as Fionn embellishes his acoustic songs with strings and piano. The overall effect is gentle, delicate and arresting. The tracks unfold as an engaging song-cycle telling a tale of a doomed love affair. Arrangements are stately, metaphors are beguiling, the guitar-picking reassuring but, like trying to read a novel by moonlight, the effect is more spectral than substantial.
As the album washes by, it's impossible not to wish for a grabby, impossible to shake off, single. For A Nightingale comes close. That it sounds uncannily like something Ron Sexsmith might have written is no harm. Ron knows about hooks and memorable choruses.
1st Day of May ("bedroom of stars . . . diamonds laced with sorrow in that pillow . . .") is beautiful and brief and would flatter Noah & The Whale.
Howard Gott's string arrangements are perfectly pitched throughout, uplifting on List of Distractions and elegaic on The Lake District.
There's much to become entranced by on Regan's third album. Sow Mare Bitch Vixen sets the tone with its caveat "I've always had a thing for dangerous women". But it's the sweeping North Star Lover that has the chorus that might just get the nation singing in harmony.
Fionn Regan is almost there. His is a journey we should enjoy. HHHII