This sublime album from Dublin singer-songwriter Declan O’Rourke was originally released in his native Ireland in 2004, where it reached Number 5 in the Irish charts and spawned the singles Galileo and No Brakes.
For its first release in the UK and Europe, it’s being re-released with the same track listing but new production courtesy of Martin Terefe (who’s previously worked with Chris Martin and Cat Stevens among others) and mixer Michael Brauer; their changes have been cosmetic rather than sweeping.
The fact that it’s taken more than two years to get a UK release under any circumstances should be considered a crime, as is the fact that O’Rourke is virtually unknown outside his homeland despite the fact that he’s appeared on compilations alongside Sinead O’Connor, Steve Earle and Natalie Merchant and on the same bill as Bob Dylan. He’s opened for Eddi Reader, Paddy Casey, Thin Lizzy and The Divine Comedy and he’s as good as any of them. Maybe it’s the fact that he’s been known to play more than 100 concerts a year in his homeland that has been his main bar to getting better known further afield.
Besides, while in some ways O’Rourke is easy to categorise, in others, he’s impossible. He’s a typical Irish singer-songwriter in the mould of Ewan MacColl or Ronnie Drew, who can appeal across the generations and the indie/folk divide. He mixes traditional melodies and vocal structures with tales of love and romance and adventures at sea all told with a gentle guitar and the odd bar-room piano, creating something that sounds age-old and timeless all at once. He can sound like Leonard Cohen on one track, the Beautiful South on the next, Travis-cum-Snow Patrol on others and somehow make it all work perfectly.
There are times when he’s almost pulling a Bacharach on breezy pop such as Galileo (Someone Like You), 1-Way Minds and Love is the Way, skirting close to cheese in a way that should be thrashing Fins dressed as orcs to the Eurovision Song Contest hands down. Then he’ll come over all tortured on laments such as No Place to Hide and the vocal-only Marrying the Sea – Til Death Do Us Part, or smoky late-night blues club piano (We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea) that drag out every note just far enough. At times its reminiscent of the Pogues at their most leftfield, and others its as simple as music gets. Throughout it all, you can hear the influence of his early teenage years in Australia as well as New York, where the album received its second-time-round tweaks, and every great Irish singer in between.
In short, it’s near perfect, gentle and raw, upbeat and welcoming, with so many gems it’s difficult to pick out any one to praise more than the others. Faster, rockier love songs such as Your World and No Brakes, with its infection chorus of “Whenever you’re near I know I’m in the right place/When we’re out for a walk it’s like I’m running in a race/You’re driving my heart girl, you’ve got no brakes”, should easily hold their own in the upper reaches of the charts while the slower, whispered tracks such as Sarah (Last Night in a Dream) prove that less can always be more in the right hands.
It all ends on Marrying the Sea – Til Death Do Us Part, a beautiful sea shanty that starts off on a vocal-only mournful lament of sailors, fishermen and whalers until O’Rourke’s voice fades away and a gentle organ grinder melody takes over where he left off, floating away over the Irish sea towards to distant horizon where very soon, this man should be very, very famous.