Miesta Music/Warner UK
Arrivals is the seventh album for Irish singer-songwriter Declan O’Rourke and represents his first new material in two years, and importantly, a new raw, intimate sound encouraged and realized by producer Paul Weller of Jam fame. Weller is also a multi-instrumentalist who chips in now and then along with some strings and other well-placed instruments on some selections. Mostly though, this is O’Rourke’s lived-in, resonant, and highly credible voice across personal and a couple of political songs, all recorded at Weller’s Black Barn studio in Surrey, UK.
O’Rourke was born in Dublin, spent his childhood in the Australian town of Kyabram and now resides in the Galway village of KInvara, which he nods to in the gorgeous “The Stars Over Kinvara,” a multigenerational tribute to his grandfather’s life in the same village. O’Rourke feels that family is the most important aspect of life, and thus many of his songs speak to a family issue or history. Early in the album we have the aforementioned song as well as “Harbour,” in the style of Paul Brady, which paints little portraits of working-class characters who dream of bigger things – “Johnny cooks a steak from Lidi’s on a Friday night/After spendin’ all the week long workin’ hard layin’ tiles” and “I’ve got a friend named Pete/Who sometimes helps me with my trees” all paid off by his own “And I look for pretty stories for to sing as mind and fill my sail/And when you live by the weather/Every wind has a tail.”
A clear highlight is “Olympian” where tells the story of young Syrian swimmer Yusra Mardini and her courageous swim across the Aegean Sea to escape her war-torn homeland. It is rendered quietly and subtly but he creates drama by having the backing strings recede in few places to his recital three times of “Olympian” his voice climaxing alone in the mix. It’s a touching moment. The understated piano imbued title track is an homage to emigrants, so integral to his country’s history. “Have You Not Heard the War Is Over” is the second somewhat political song, and it is themed on the futility of war with provocative lines like “The word border is a man-made invention” and “They say War is a state of illusion/Just made up to remind us we are free.”
“Convict Ways” decries the travails of men forced to travel across the globe to pay for their crimes, a kind of opposite notion to the title track. “Andy Sells Coke” departs form folk vibe slightly as O’Rourke uses the story to point out the uselessness of drugs. He seems to be using the relationship of the gods Zeus and Apollo as an analogy to his own conversations and conflicts with his own parents in “Zeus and Apollo.” For the closer, he throws a real curve ball with “This Thing That We Share,” creating a late-night jazz vibe with Weller’s tinkling piano and a soft tenor saxophone, evoking a bit of Chet Baker.
O’Rourke is a terrific songwriter and Weller’s stripped-down production allows O’Rourke’s acoustic guitar, textured vocals, and articulate lyrics all the space they need. It’s a quiet record for sure but its content speaks rather loudly.
- Jim Hynes
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