April 24, 2024

David Keenan
What Then Cried Jo Soap

RUBY WORKS  15th October 2021

Mmmmm…… The ‘difficult’ second album. You have your whole life to prepare for your first album and a year to prepare for the second. But then, thanks to COVID, David Keenan got a little longer. The whole social distancing thing put a bit of a damper on any Spring / Summer promotional activities he’d planned. With a romantic back-story involving bunking off to Liverpool as a teenager to search for The La’s singer, Lee Mavers and ending up stuck and busking on the streets there, Keenan was off to a good start. He spent part of last year in Paris as an artist in residence for the Irish Arts Centre, published a book of poetry, and here he is with a widening of his horizons on a new album.

This set features the same remarkable voice, though allied to a blend of songs; some with the complex wordplay and imagery of the first album, some a little more accessible through flashes of memory. There seem to be more ballads and the big one, ‘Philomena’, is a good sample. Keenan is not scared of sounding pretentious and poetic words are frequent, if less so than the first album. Theatrical arrangements, like ‘The Grave Of Johnny Filth’ make for hypnotic listening that communicates emotionally, while not always making literal sense. Elsewhere, as mentioned, some songs are more direct and it feels like that might be a conscious effort at accessibility. I hear more warmth in the vocals, with the biting aspects used more for emphasis and the soulful aspect brought forward. Rhythms, if you boil them down, belong to country music and the backings to a warm fill than an integral illumination.

The chorus of ‘Boarding House’ exemplifies David’s unusual turns of phrase. A gentle ramble through his emotionally worn head, chorusing; “Tonight I want to lie with someone who doesn’t care if my laces are tied”. The title (and opening) track has more than a hint of the Spaghetti Western in the intro. Keenan said about the song, “we are all Jo Soap – heightened like never before as a result of the great trauma that has affected all our lives in countless ways since the pandemic began.” ‘Beggar To Beggar’ is a rolling country stroll, hosting a picaresque wander through Keenan’s stream-of-consciousness.

The use of reflection, unusual imagery, ties to cultural roots, religious iconography and repetition remind me of the late and lamented Jackie Leven, another Celtic bard. There is a lot of reflection; having looked at the image he’d built of himself, he has questioned what might be caricature, what might be true. Hence a marginally more grounded set of lyrics. But not by much – flights of fancy and poetic connections are plenty present.

Relax and let the imagery wash into your ears while that remarkable voice tickles and draws the words into ecstatic whirls.

Our review of his first album is here: https://www.vanguard-online.co.uk/david-keenan-a-beginners-guide-to-bravery-a-great-irish-voice/

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