ROBBIE CAVANAGH – To Leave / To Be Left (At The Helm ATH 99021)

LeaveOriginally from Portland, Maine and now based in Manchester, Cavanagh’s second album, To Leave / To Be Left, explores, as the title succinctly puts it, the end of relationships and what’s taken away and what remains behind. As such, it opens with ‘Get Out Alive’, a full-bloodied slice of guitar-driven Anglicana that sparkles with hooks, tumbling melody lines and punchy chords as he sings “We took our time and then we screwed it up, but it we screwed it together. There’s no use pretending it was good, but there’ll come a point where we both regret it.”

However, save for the shuffle along feel of ‘Reverence’, this is atypical of what follows and he quickly rings the changes, taking the tempo and the volume down for the fragile, falsetto-voiced mid-tempo ballad ‘Godsend’, his voice taking on a softer, more vulnerable note for its euphoric awakening of salvation found in love. It’s a mood that continues through the more soulful, organ-backed ‘Love Comes Quickly’ where he slightly recalls the Eagles circa their first two albums mingled with hints of Dobie Gray and Van Morrison.

Indeed, the lyrics often more impressionist than narrative, the rest of the album continues to mine this quieter, more reflective side. ‘Still Talkin’’ is again an organ-backed soulful number with a steady slow repetitive drum beat that briefly swells midway before falling back into aching melancholy while ‘Let You Down’ offers a simple acoustic guitar backdrop to its lyrics of regret and pessimistic view of love’s eventual collapse with ‘Fool’ another bluesily soulful slow sway that gradually builds on almost gospel waves towards the end.

Interestingly, ‘Roles Reversed’ offers a tangent to the dominant theme of fractured romance in a poignant vignette about a son and his ageing father and the onset of dementia as he sings “We have all the time that the lord can give, but the lord’s time is running out. Your hands are strong and your eyes are sure, but I can see in your smile that the memories are blurred.”

Although I think breaking up the pervasive languid musical mood slightly in the latter half of the album might not have been a bad idea, that in no way reflects on the material, closing with an emotionally wrenching picture of the disintegration of a dysfunctional relationship in the pedal steel-streaked finality of ‘He’s Alone’. It may not be the most optimistic and affirmative album you’ll hear this year, but it will surely strike a chord in anyone who’s known that there is best part of breaking up.

Mike Davies

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