RUBYWORKS 10th Jan 2020
What a voice! Whatever David Keenan was singing would sound like poetry but, as luck would have it, he is big on the sort of street-life poetry favoured by Danny George Wilson (Danny & The Champions of The World). And that voice and sound have flavours of Mike Scott and Van Morrison. The accent helps of course but there is an ecstatic whirl to some of the songs that recalls the best moments of early Waterboys. The musicianship of his band is extraordinary and the album is surely sign of the arrival of a new cult hero.
It is the sound of a man composing lyrics by walking about rainy streets and compiling memory and dreams into echoing packages. Then he might speak-sing them to a quiet acoustic guitar or tie them to a spinning and reeling fiddle band and give his voice full expression. His country is an invisible republic made of imagined past lives, cobbled streets, an island that used to be and the spiralling words of friends in pubs. Not afraid to dream up this other place and populate it with words that reach up to and beyond pretension into an impassioned world that we usually live only in retrospect.
You’d imagine this is a man inspired by deep history (and to a degree he is) but his early influences are The Libertines, The LAs, Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave and Tim Buckley. Channelling the spirit of Kerouac, instead of hopping a West Coast US freight train, he took a ferry to Liverpool in search of the reclusive LAs and found a lack of cash forced him to earn his bed for each night with busking or gigs. The experience inspired him and he returned home to work on his music and shoot demos out. Damien Dempsey took him on tour and things started to happen. Many open mic nights and pick-up gigs saw him grow and determine what he did and didn’t want to be. He seems to want to be a living romantic, extolling a partially imagined history of hidden lives. Songs carry the smells and tastes of small towns, images of times past and snippets of story from relatives and family acquaintances.
“I’ve always understood that music, language, prose and poetry transcend modernity or any kind of time,” Keenan says. “I don’t attach myself to this period, or any past, present or future. Through the relationship with art and language I grew closer to my true self.” Songs like The Healing exemplify a spinning Sufi ecstacy of image and sound, also found elsewhere on the disc and Origin Of The World hurled me into the memory of a particularly wild Dylan live performance of All Along The Watchtower. It’s not all poetry and history; the closing track is about Dublin’s housing problems and a plea for a better, kinder city – but tied into a universal longing for something better and fitting the whole.
Rather than pick samples and list songs, I’m recommending plunging into the album as a whole.