On ‘The Great Famine’, the opening track of his latest album Storyteller, Dubliner Eamonn McCormack begins in reflective mode, with gentle acoustic guitar and hushed vocals. The latter are delivered in his native Irish accent, and given the dark subject matter of the Irish potato famine of the 1840s, good on him for that. And the arrangement of the song as a whole is satisfying too, drawing in some flute-effect organ along the way, with a good shift into the satisfying electric second half in which McCormack’s clear-toned guitar licks respond to the melody.
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Unfortunately though, the lyrics are pretty ropey schoolboy fare that often descend into limp imagery. What’s more, it’s a failing that recurs regularly, with a host of clichés and lazy rhymes, now and then compounded by weak melodies and vocals. Which is a pity, because there are often things to enjoy on Storyteller, not least McCormack’s fine guitar playing. So let’s try to accentuate the positive for a while, eh?
McCormack and his three-piece, now and then augmented by producer Arne Wiegand on keys, often sound more comfortable in uptempo mode, not least on ‘Tie One On’, an amusing pub crawl tale that’s fun right from an opening chord progression that briefly invokes ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’, with a semi-spoken vocal, a good groove from Edgar Karg on bass and Max Jung-Poppe on drums, and some daft little guitar interjections suggesting different nationalities of restaurant.
Similarly effective are a couple of outings that remind me of the energetic R’n’B of The Sharpeez. ‘Cowboy Blues’ is a cheerful boogie that chugs along at a decent clip, with well-judged injections of slide from McCormack and driving bass from Karg, whose playing frequently catches the ear. And they rock out even more effectively on ‘With No Way Out’, with Jung-Poppe’s drums rattling along in fine fashion – though I could wish for a bigger drum sound at times, even if Karg’s resonant bass compensates somewhat – while McCormack’s guitar has bite and direction from start to squealing finish.
Similarly ‘Cold Cold Heart’ is a toe-tapping shuffle with a propulsive riff reinforced by the bass, a gruff, semi-spoken vocal, and a gritty, energetic guitar solo on an outro where McCormack sounds right at home. And the closing ‘Make My Move’ is a hurtling effort with hammering drums, piercing guitar breaks aplenty, and a touch of Gary Moore about the guitar solo.
It’s not the only time Gary Moore springs to mind either. The slower stuff may not be McCormack’s comfort zone vocally, but the Moore-like bluesy intro on ‘In A Dream’ is very appetising, and is followed up by some tasteful weeping guitar lines over subtle organ from Wiegand. And on the following ‘Every Note That I Play’, a love song with a simple, pleasing arrangement, there’s some beautifully weighted, emotive guitar work, including some fluttering passages that show a light touch rather than flash.
‘Help Me Understand’ occasionally hints at something more expansive, its opening combining muted vocals and twinkling guitar in a manner reminiscent of psychedelic-period Beatles and the Floyd that could usefully have been explored further. Instead McCormack opts to go for something more angsty, and if the melody doesn’t quite carry the day then Karg’s bubbling bass and McCormack’s mood-capturing solo surely do.
There’s a good album lurking within Storyteller, one that intermittently breaks the surface with moments of startling quality that make you prick up your ears for a while. What it needed was someone to insist on more graft on some aspects, so that Eamonn McCormack could deliver his best throughout.
Storyteller is released by BEM Records on 3 April, and available from his website here.