Over the last ten years or so, the Irish music market has become completely saturated with guitar toting singer/songwriter types sporting country and folk influences. On first glance, Navan man Simon Fagan could easily be deemed as another to lump on top of the increasingly dull pile. Thankfully, along with the Americana and alt-country influences he wears on his sleeve, Fagan infuses his brand of bouncy guitar pop with hints of soul, jazz and blues.
It's a shame the first few tracks of 'Outside Looking In', though pleasant and certainly radio friendly, are predictable and dangerously close to being cheesy. Still, with patience, Fagan demonstrates why he has been compared to the likes of Ray Lamontagne, Ryan Adams and Paolo Nutini. Latin influences dominate the exotic rhythms and plucked acoustic guitar of 'Tired of Tryin'', while the a cappella opening of 'Water's Edge (The Baptism)' gives a distinctly bluegrass feel. Elsewhere, gospel flavours can be heard in the simple melody and soft backing vocals of the discreet acoustic title track.
Though its primary tone is cheery and optimistic, 'Outside Looking In' is most successful during more downbeat tracks. One of the bleakest tracks here, 'Love Don't Work' is a clear highlight, drawing you in with its bluesy electric guitar, mournful strings and changing tempo. Elsewhere, the lengthy 'Time To Go' makes a perfect closer, concluding the album with an elegant string codawith an elegant string coda. It's string arrangements like these, courtesy of Brian Byrne and the Prague Philharmnic Orchestra, that give 'Outside Looking In' its edge.