posted on November 09, 2007 12:31
Review Snapshot: The balladeering Dubliner distinguishes himself from the singer-songer crowd with a second fine album of charming melodies, intriguing lyrics and a sincere, likeable approach to songwriting that's worthy of the Salmon Of Knowledge (ask your primary school teacher).
The CLUAS Verdict? 8 out of 10
Ronan Hession's nom de rock suggests that he's some sort of gnarled old Delta bluesman, when in actual fact Mumblin' Deaf Ro writes acoustic pop tunes. "So far, so what?" says you - Ireland is fairly well stocked with singer-songers; no fear of a sudden shortage. And if you should lose one, well... the next one will do just as well; they tend to be interchangeable. Can Hession be any different to the mass of Tanglewood-bashers in Eire?
"Yes" is the answer to that, thank God. Mumblin' Deaf Ro's 2003 debut, 'Senor My Friend...', received enthusiastic notices (the CLUAS review prominent among them) for its witty, catchy and thoughtful songs. The album made Hession something of a cult figure, and its follow-up should consolidate that - 'The Herring And The Brine' is a fine record.
For many, Hession will be an acquired taste. His style is that of a balladeering minstrel - simple tunes arranged sparingly, sung with the plain, innocent voice of a poor Dickensian orphan. Opening track 'The Drowning Man', for instance, is not so much sung as recited sing-song-style like a primary school poem.
The simple, naive delivery is in contrast to the craft and complexity of his lyrics. Characters (a doubting clergyman, a Central American ex-president, a fish-packing "reformed rake") tell their sories and reveal their thoughts and fears. This may all sound pretentious to some, and Hession certainly risks Julian Gough-style smug showing-off. But Mumblin' Deaf Ro never falls into that trap - his lyrics wear their learning with good humour and genuine sincerity.
One example will suffice. Even from its title 'What's To Be Done With El Salvador?' looks like trouble and when Hession (as the deposed president) sings "Don't let the country that I loved but let down / Fall into pieces / Splinter in the hands of a confederation" it all sounds clumsy and forced. Then the song changes up a gear and floors you with the catchiest economic dissertation this side of David McWilliams: "If you don't protect the currency / The people can't live / But the foreign trade suffers / And the country goes adrift". All served on a lovely little melody. It's thrilling stuff, and this album is full of such charming moments.
"All very well for the words, like", says you again, "but what about the choons, man?" Well, fortunately Hession crafts melodies that are just as lilting and likeable as his lyrics. Admittedly his voice is a wee bit limited in range, which probably holds him back from writing stronger hooks. That said, the voice he has is perfectly suited to the intimate, conversational stories he tells. And the arrangements are fresh and lively, shown to the best effect by Peter Sisk's fine production job.
'The Herring And The Brine' is a charming and accomplished acoustic pop album, and Mumblin' Deaf Ro has a refreshingly good-humoured and thoughtful approach to making music. He may yet make Irish singer-songers respectable again.