Last Days of the Night Owl
Irish singer/songwriter Ultan Conlon deliver his third album, recorded in Galway over the winter of 2017. Songs were written on both the west coasts of Ireland and America (where he lives in Santa Monica part-time) . The album features 15 musicians in the credits including strings and horns, mixed in Nashville by Grammy winning producer Colin Dupuis. Conlon may seem like a relatively newcomer, but he has been writing and performing for almost two decades. He’s got that special talent inherent in many of the best Irish songwriters like Christy Moore and Paul Brady with a voice that’s in a high register, oft compared to Roy Orbison.
The opening track “As the Light Gets Low” was penned in his apartment in Santa Monica. “It came to me in a hurry, one summer evening just off Pico Blvd., within view of the legendary McCabe’s Guitar Store. It’s a song about trying to let go of circular negative thoughts,” says Conlon. “The Town Square,” the album’s oldest song, was written ten years ago and is about repeating habits and rituals, some which are unadvisable.
The album’s strongest and most memorable track in “Hall of Mirrors” which Conlon describes as a stream of consciousness with echoes of Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks. That’s an album that Conlon immersed himself in as a teenager and he uses that vibe to recall the innocent days of child love in the summertime. It’s replete with images of an amusement park as the title suggests. The use of acoustic guitar, piano, and double bass give it that Astral Weeks feel. It stands remarkably apart from the other album tracks in sound.
“Fond Memories” conjures up poppy Buddy Holly/Everly Brothers early rock n’ roll while “Sorrow Ease” fits easily into contemporary Americana with lyrics about how one little word can throw one into spiraling despair, endlessly repeating the same questions. Russ Pahl’s pedal steel and the strings add some nice textures. The companion song “Time to Mourn” plies similar subject matter with a more upbeat rhythm. Conlon’s message here is to go easy on oneself.
“Ojai” begins with swelling organ and horns before giving way to sparse instrumentation as Conlon revisits a road trip to small town north of L.A. only to find on arrival that’s nothing like he first remembered. As the song progresses, layers of horns and strings enter again, creating some interesting dynamics before fading beautifully.
He delivers the folk song “Hurt Inside” about our inner emotions with mostly acoustic guitar, a gorgeous fiddle and a few background vocals in places. He follows with the upbeat shuffle “The Measure” before bringing back the pedal-steel driven “Twice A Child,” about how we are born and die as a child with everything in between dreamlike.
The gorgeous love song “A Weak Heart of Mine,” co-penned with Mary Coughlan, compares panic and excitement to that electrifying feeling that falling in love brings. The slow pace of the closer “The Fine Art of Happiness” fits the message of flickering optimism with the lyric “hope, embers burning bright.’
Conlon delivers an ambitious recording with provocative lyrics, a wide range of instrumentation, and some masterful gems.
- Jim Hynes