(Rubyworks, out Fri 10 Jan 2020)
He’s an earnest old soul, is young Dundalk singer-songwriter David Keenan. Not for him the mainstream, blokey blandness of Lewis Capaldi and Ed Sheeran. He’s styled in britches and braces, not Top Man high street denim threads.
There’s no wilful experimentation here either, a la Richard Dawson. He sees himself more as a “punk”, but if anything, he’s smoother, more Damien Rice with a chip on his shoulder, or The Waterboys’ Mike Scott when he flirted with Dylan’s back catalogue. So he’s definitely not part of any prevailing musical trend or zeitgeist.
There’s vivid imagery here, referencing Beckett, family legacies, “a tramp with one eye”, sex, poverty, religion and death, all the usual traditional folk concerns. Stripped-back opening track James Dean imagines that he’d survived, and contemplated worked on the railways.
Altar Wine is poppy folk with a swooning, cinematic sheen, in spite of the violin groans, a fair few F-bombs dropped here and there, and an anti-patriarchy, anti-capitalist stance. Yet it’s unlikely to trouble either the 6Music playlist, nor Radio 1 or 2.
Good Old Days, with its ironic title, eschewing the romantic past, has clanking percussion reminiscent of a steel production line, and the highlight Unholy Ghosts succeeds in invoking the spectres of father and son Tim and Jeff Buckley when it burbles with aggression and attack, his voice a growling and yelping wounded beast.
But in the main, it’s a little bit polite and too polished. Tin Pan Alley with its terse piano lines and quest to go roaming seems like a plea for simplicity and ease, and it’s surely no coincidence that it shares the name of old music producers and publishers from the early twentieth century in New York City. He harkens back to the raw talent of the new singers of the past, possibly the reason why his album title references those starting out and finding their feet.
Keenan is an undeniable talent, with a fine voice and gorgeous guitar picking style. He has amassed a loyal following, and rightly so. It’s perfectly assured as debuts go; now let’s see him sharpen his teeth on the follow-up. A great deal of promise here, but show the real punk side.