Album review: David Keenan - A Beginner's Guide To Bravery
PUBLISHED: 14:42 08 January 2020 | UPDATED: 14:46 08 January 2020
A strong, evocative debut from the Irish singer-songwriter.
The seeds of singer-songwriter Keenan's musical growth were sewn as a young boy, perhaps piqued by the discovery of his uncle's guitar in the wardrobe of his granny's house, a visit to the Ulster Folk Museum, hearing Leonard Cohen, Tim Buckley, Nick Cave and Dinosaur Jr - and, later, The Libertines on the school bus.
There weren't many prospects for him in Dundalk, a small border town halfway between Dublin and Belfast, so at 17 Keenan bought a one-way ticket to Liverpool to find his idols and learn his craft, busking to pay for his hostel accommodation and playing open nights at The Lomax, honing his way with a pop melody, folk arrangements and poetic couplets.
Support slots with John Power, Damien Dempsey and, more recently, Hozier, would eventually follow, and this debut was recorded in a studio on the outskirts of Dublin in just a week.
It is incredibly well composed, with assured performances and an obvious commitment to give each song its due - several sail past the six-minute mark, and justify it.
Filled with characters and aphorisms culled from his 26 years, snatched from Dundalk pubs or his own family's past, the songs are rich and evocative.
There are suggestions of Jeff Buckley in Keenan's vaulting vocals, Damien Rice in his maudlin but catchy melodic turns and arrangements, and Ed Harcourt in his intelligent and poetic lyricism.
The record opens with James Dean, Keenan alone on acoustic guitar, and closes with a surging crowd-sung coda in the anthemic frustrations of Subliminal Dublinia (in which he calls on everyone to "occupy the city with original ideas").
In between, he paints vivid vignettes rooted in his Irish history (the acerbic, gloaming Good Old Days that casts aside rose-tinted glasses), to reverie of exotic new experiences (the intimately pared-back, Buckley-esque reverie Eastern Nights).
Love In A Snug waxes and wanes majestically from intimate, emotive confessional ("Tuesday morning is dawning, I'm still stood in my Sunday best") to a catchy, pub-filling anthem with fiddles, piano, guitar, drums and a throng of voices.
Keenan's debut is accomplished, assured, ambitious and evocative - check it out.
David Keenan plays the Moth Club, Valette Street, Hackney, on March 17.