Following his days as singer in Energy Orchard Bap Kennedy has not made a bad album, from his Steve Earle produced debut Domestic Blues onwards. Now this album, produced by Mark Knopfler, is continuing to establish him as a mature, thoughtful and rewarding songwriter as well as a distinctive and understated singer. There is a subtle celtic feel to many of these songs and Knopfler has brought some of his cinematic scope to bear on the production. The opening Shimnavale was inspired by a sense of place and of that particular place. Jimmy Sanchez takes its theme from a statemnet of the miner of the title who was one of those rescued from the recent averted Chilean mining disaster. There is an overall gentleness to these songs that feels natural and neccessary. He returns to a song from his album Howl On for a re-take on his song The Right Stuff that reflects on his boyhood interest in American in general and in the astronauts who travelled into space in particular. His album Lonely Street was dedicated in part to Hank Williams Sr. Maybe I Will, here, is another heartfelt tribute for a song that he says "I'd love to hear him sing". For now Bap's does a pretty good job himself. It features some atmospheric playing from Jerry Douglas on dobro. He's just one a many fine transatlantic players involved here that includes guitarist James Walbourne, Keyboardist Guy Fletcher, bassist Glenn Worf and Michael McGoldrick on flute, pipes and whistle. Please Return To Jesus is a plea for faith to be restored in the wake of human failings. The title song is another song influenced - in this case the port city of Belfast he grew up in. Celtic Sea follows on in a song that washes on the shores of Europe in an ageless ballad. There is a sense of peace and love that pervades this album but much more in a personal rather something more outgoing. It is though universal and unvarnished and should bring Kennedy the acclaim he has long deserved - about time too.
This is a solo album in every sense with Amy McCarley producing, recording, mixing and playing everything on the album in her home studio in Huntsville, Alabama. A process that gave her complete control over what she is recording but can sometimes make the process insular. Much of the music here is minimal, the essence being the voice and guitar and then this is embellished with touches of percussion and instrumental embroidery as required. The songs deal with relationships and the internal strength to not give up when things go wrong. "... I still won't give it up, because I think for sure that luck, will turn my way again" (Faster Than Truth) or the realization that life can be tough but the truth is "there's so much more to life than what's on tv" (Hollywood). McCarley delivers her songs in a committed clear voice that brings here words the emotional content they require. Her only cover, suggesting one of her key influences in Gillian Welch is Look At Miss Ohio and while she is no David Rawlings, who is?, her guitar skills are strong enough to underpin these songs. There are a lot of singer/songwriters out there right now and it's difficult for one to stand out from another. Amy McCarley has the belief and really needs to see if she can find an audience outside of those who get to see her play in person to take her music to a wider audience. Her songs suggest that she will keep on doing what she does and she can only grow from that endeavour.