2013 was an incredible year for Damien Dempsey. He toured Australia and America on the back of his 2012 release Almighty Love and supported Bruce Springsteen at Kilkenny Stadium before returning to Dublin for a now annual set of Christmas shows in Vicar Street. And now we've got It's All Good, the first compilation of this kind from the proud Dubliner, and one that attempts to encompass his entire career into a the space of a double album. And sometimes that's a problem.
If you're going to listen to It's All Good, the chances are you already know Damien Dempsey's music and what it stands for; modern day Irish ballads that effectively fuse Irish history and politics with a rebellious attitude has been Damo's niche since day one, and songs of such nature are supplied in bulk on the record, and often make for highlights with their ferocious, passionate delivery- 'Colony' standing tall as the best of them all. Alongside these self crafted rebel songs are traditional covers of old in 'The Rocky Road' which the singer-songwriter fills with his own energy and particularly 'The Auld Triangle', an absolute stable of Irish music that Dempsey makes his own.
But it's not always politics with Dempsey. His unbridled honesty and genuine emotion shine through on reflective pieces like 'Patience', 'Negative Vibes' and the suicide ballad 'Chris And Stevie', a track which Dempsey himself disclosed as being his most meaningful to him in a recent interview with us. Arguably the greatest track of the album comes in the form of an early song, 'Factories', a simple reflection on Irish life and childhood in the city which is both powerful and tender to anyone who can relate.
However, as with all compilations, the analysis is not so much in the music as it is in the construction of this record and its purpose. As a fan already familiar with Dempsey, his unique brand of patriotic acoustic pieces and magnificent connection with the Irish audience, how does this stand as a release that supposedly defines over a decade of work by the man? The answer is sometimes good, sometimes not so good.
While for the most part every track of Dempsey's that the casual listener (surely the target audience for every greatest hit/best of album) will want to hear is included, the fact that this album compasses a total of 29 songs over 120 minutes makes it a daunting task even for the most dedicated of Dempsey fans, let alone the average music fan trying to introduce themselves to the Irishman. For loyal listeners of Dempsey's music, such an epic release at this astounding length of time may be a blessing, but they may also find themselves at odds with the track listing at times, with even Dempsey himself admitting he found it hard to omit tracks like 'Cursed With A Brain' and 'Born Without Hate'.
Damo spoke about attempting to gain the feel of a setlist with the order of songs, and while certainly you could imagine an incredible night in Vicar Street with this collection of tunes as the backdrop, you'd also have to dedicate a huge chunk of time on any given night to make it the full way through It's All Good on a single listen, not something that is necessary appealing to most. It's a problem that its perhaps surprising was overlooked in the production process; with most of Dempsey's songs clocking in around the 5 or even 6 minute mark, surely a collection of the bare essentials at just over an hour in total would have made for a more marketable product for Sony, who one can only assume, are trying to gain a larger fan base for Damo with this release.
Ultimately though, this is a collection of songs from one of the more original, heartfelt and passionate Irish performers in recent memory and Damo certainly deserves to be breaking further territory overseas with the release of It's All Good. This compilation should only be the first of several as the singer songwriter develops his palette and follows in the footsteps of other legendary musicians of our country like Christy Moore and Luke Kelly, the likes of which it's not unthinkable that he could be recognized among someday soon.
Review by Andrew Lambert