Fionn Regan - 100 Acres of Sycamore
Opening with resonant strings, the title track 100 Acres of Sycamore is a ponderous, slow-burner that builds intensely over five minutes without reaching any kind of clichéd crescendo, coming instead to an abrupt halt with a slight knock of drums. Sow Mare Bitch Vixen sounds to gentle to be a genuine diatribe against the female sex: indeed, there's a tenderness to the intonation of “vixen” that conveys a sweetness 'bitch' never could.
Tempo is important here: relying on lovely but limited instrumental arrangements, individual pace is what makes each track noticeable. Regan's guitar playing is lovely but quite subtle overall - strings feature predominantly on this album but the lead instrument is undoubtedly the voice and with the quick pace of The Horses Are Asleep, his voice is given free rein to rise.
Low piano on The Lake District adds sombre cadence that culminate in brief, lush, soaring sections. While Dogwood Blossom is similarly sedate it's also sparse, stripped back to just guitar and the merest strain of violin.
Stand-out track on 100 Acres of Sycamore is the enchanting For A Nightingale. It's a serenade that heralds the first point on this album that Fionn throws off the doubts and reservations that shade his music with such depth, without compromising on sincerity. “I would walk you home/and then I'd sail you to the door” begins his litany of romantic overtures. There's the sweet jingle of bells and a 'doo-dooo' chorus before the finale of “I love you and I always will”. Which may be soppy but sounds adorable.
To follow the love song, List Of Distractions would have been funny if it was a recital of ex-girlfriends' names but Regan shows no such disrespect and instead reels out a folky, foot-tapping number. While the grammar of 1st Day Of May grates, sonically it sways gently with slow bass and a deep vocal. Continuing with a similar tempo at first North Star Lover is a perfect pairing with a higher turn of key that steps up with more of a rhythm 'n' blues slant and a lovely female harmonies and comes second only to For A Nightingale in terms of the album's best.
There's a strong theme of organic signifiers, most apparent in the title and while they mostly do well, Woodberry Cemetery sounds like a mawkish Sylvanian Family add-on and is the briefest of all the tracks at only 01:44. This is however countered by the following Vodka Sorrow which is the grand finale and to these ears, an unfortunate down point strays to repetition. It's so intensely dejected that it seems to have come on the back of the worst hangover and while the music itself is up to scratch with the record's overall high quality, it does unfortunately bring 100 Acres of Sycamore into the whiny area of the singer-songwriter realm.
Golden Light, a low and light composition with a high, distant vocal. It's slightly underwhelming after the fabulous use of lyrics and imagery that carve details in relief over the heavy slabs of music. For newcomers, 100 Acres Of Sycamore not quite as good an introduction as Fionn Regan's 2006 Mercury-nominated debut The End Of History but is certainly strong enough to keep the man firmly ensconced on the throne of Irish singer-songwriters.
100 Acres of Sycamore is out on Friday 12th August and is available via iTunes
Review by Naomi McArdle | 09:00 | Friday 12th August 2011 | Album Review
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