The fighting Irish
We may be living in a day and age where singer-songwriters appear at every street corner but the amount with anything of interest to say has certainly decreased. The art of storytelling, of political idealism and of proving an outlet for a communities frustration have all suffered with the rise of commercialism and writers of substance are being overshadowed by the strains of your Blunts, Morrisons and Matthews.
One artist with a difference is Ireland's Damien Dempsey and his latest album, 'To Hell or Barbados.' With the title a reference to the ethnic cleansing of 50,000 Irish people who were sent as slaves to Barbados by Oliver Cromwell, it's clear that Dempsey has an awareness of his history and it's refreshing that he seeks to retell the stories for a new generation.
There are many who suggest that "political correctness" has gone mad in Britain and that the treatment of foreigners has reached a level where they benefit more than the indigenous citizens but in Scotland, that's not quite the case. There is still an institutionalized ill-treatment of Irish Catholics, it is almost as if they're the one group it's okay to still be racist about, and whilst dwelling on the past can sometimes hold a people back, it's interesting to consider some of the historical elements that has led to the Irish Diaspora. Make no mistake, for all the atrocities and unjustness that people consider the British Army are involved in with Iraq, comes nowhere near to the actions carried out by the British Government and its representatives in Ireland. The background and origins of these problems are discussed by Dempsey and make refereshing listening.
It's not all historical musings though as drugs, the economic surge in Ireland and yes, even some love songs complete the mix of tracks that Dempsey has moulded into the album. It doesn't all work, 'Serious' may have seemed a good idea at the time, and as warning about drug abuse it may be justified, but a song it doesn't work. Coming across as a rap set over a nagging acoustic riff, it's the one instance where Dempsey's vocals jar and it comes across as a bad pastiche.
Thankfully it's the poorest song on the record and is far outweighed by many better songs including 'Summer In My Heart', a slower aching ballad or 'Kilburn Stroll', a powerful reflection on re-finding yourself. At times Dempsey does show off his powerful Irish voice to full effect, sounding every inch the stereotypical Irish singer but at others showcases a softer approach to singing.
Musically, it's fairly consistent, there's not a lot of variation on show but the guitar playing is strong and the arrangements are sparse but fitting. It's maybe not an album that is going to grab you by the shoulders and demand that you listen to it but underneath its lack of front, there's a strong heart beating throughout this record. An album that has something to say, an album that looks at problems facing the singers people over the centuries and an album that can sit in the background and fill the air as much as any other of Dempseys peers at the moment. If you only buy one singer-songwriter album this year, you'd be better off buying this one.