If great music can come out of a remote wee town in Ulster County, New York State at the end of the 60s (I am reading Small Town Talk about Dylan, The Band and Van up in Woodstock) then we shouldn’t be surprised that Agahagallon, a tiny village on the edge of Lough Neagh in Country Antrim in the province of Ulster could be the fertile place for a cycle of amazing songs.
Ciaran Lavery is yet another brilliant songwriter from Northern Ireland. I keep saying that in sheer depth of songwriter talent we are way ahead of what we should be be producing head per head of our small population.
It is more obvious and not journalistically lazy to set Lavery alongside Foy Vance and even, if you go island wide, Glen Hansard. He has their ability with song craft and that rasp of a voice - oh yes.
I guess if you dug through the surface of the songwriting sonic intrigues of Lavery you might find a Ryan Adams as his bottom line template. Yet, he does with his songs far more interesting things than Adams has done for some time.
Okkervil River is as close as he gets to Adams but then this distorted brass thing kicks in and takes it in Lavery own particular direction. Though a seamless collection of songs there is much variety, delicate piano of Sonoma, the almost unaccompanied Let Bad In, Wilder’s sweet strings, Failing Light’s beats and his voice gives drama and authority on Train.
The whole thing is constructed around growing up. Bless him but at 29 Lavery thinks he has grown up! Yet, he delves a childhood on the shores of Lough Neagh and asks who he was and what he has become from the nurture he has had. My favourite is the guitar driven Tell Them All where he shares his dad’s wisdom in a May You Never or Forever Young kind of way:-
“Give a hand while you can give it
Give a life where you can live
If you hang it on the string you’ll watch it fall
Never raise a glass to someone’s sorrow
Never talk about tomorrow
And if the hang man comes to have you on the stall
You tell them all”
It’s Aghagallon Proverbs on a record that declares a weight emerging talent.