David Keenan released his debut album, A Beginner’s Guide To Bravery, in January. That rather bald statement doesn’t really give a sense of what’s in store when you play the album. Let me quote Keenan, “I’ve always understood that music, language, prose and poetry transcend modernity or any kind of time … Through the relationship with art and language I grew closer to my true self.”
Maybe it’s the sheer commitment – Kerouac-like, he disappeared to Liverpool to find the singer of The La’s without telling anyone he was OK, he’s busked and played open mics both to hone his craft and to find the money for a bed each night; maybe it’s the Irish background; maybe the love of language, stories, characters; I’m not sure, but for the first time in years my memory has been jogged back to the days when I was reading Joyce and reading/watching Beckett.
This album is similarly full of individuals and their stories “Here’s to the fathers of the lost sons and the unholy ghosts/It’s the ones who seem destined to get left behind interest me the most” (from ‘Unholy Ghost’). There’s a nice wit, simultaneously making me smile and hitting me with an image that’s thought-provoking – “I had a dream that James Dean was alive and well today, looking for a quiet life, working for Irish rail” from ‘James Dean’ or “On the third day I’m going to wise up again” from ‘Love In A Snug’, which is a lovely song capturing everything from a slanging match to memories of a time when “we danced on the cobbles till the gritters were gone” played and sung slow-fast to capture the emotional changes.
Musically, Keenan can do that very difficult thing, and make it work, of talk-song, changing tempo, taking you with him on the song’s extended journey, repeating the line and phrasing while the band climaxes behind; Van Morrison is the obvious reference, and nowadays I can think only of Ross Wilson as another parallel – these are pretty good name checks for a debut album. If you like that kind of thing, check out ‘Subliminal Dublinia’ for both the musical style and the sense of wandering round Dublin and capturing snippets of life while demanding “Occupy the city with original ideas”.
The album has eleven tracks, lasts nearly an hour and is well worth the listen. The video below is of ‘The Healing’ and serves as a great introduction: a story that doesn’t shirk from the harder edge, a great tune, the changing tempo and very different rhythmic influences in the same song, and the strength of Keenan’s vocal.
It’s a fine introduction to the album. On the CD sleeve, Keenan describes both the creative process and its cathartic quality, “The process of sculpting this album and it sculpting me, brought joys and euphorias and pains and sadnesses in equal measure. All of it was of importance!…..all of it led to healing, reset and renewal. None of it would have had any merit for me if it hadn’t of had to be grafted for”. That pretty well captures the mix of moods and sounds on A Beginner’s Guide To Bravery.
Keenan is on tour in Britain from March 5th – 17th, details on his website.
‘The Healing’ – official video: