With Leamington’s Nizlopi now on an indefinite hiatus, frontman Concannon, who’s relocated to Vermont, returns to his solo career with Ecstatic Bird In The Burning, a second full-length album that sees him flitting around the genres, taking in folk, blues and jazz with the collaborative assistance of wife Stephanie Hollenberg and Hannah Meloy on harmonies, drummer Grant Smith, and Michael K. Harris on double bass and percussion.
Heralded by double bass, it opens in a swing groove that melds bluesy rhythms and a hip hop style delivery with Darius Christian Jones giving it some horns swagger for ‘Absolument’ with its call and response chorus, an upbeat number about metaphorically transforming into butterflies working hard, dancing hard and “making sweet love in France”. By distinct musical contrast ‘Your Heart Is In My Chest’, on which Nizlopi colleague John Parker guests on double bass and Luke Flowers on drums, has an ebullient folk-pop unaccompanied opening with the lead and harmony vocals before the instruments kick in and the track, an unambiguous love song varies between low key steady paced verses and the soaring chorus.
‘Doing Nothing At All’ again rings the changes with folksy summery fingerpicking and a self-reflexive lost confidence and wilful distraction lyric about “not living the life I was born to cos I’m scared of my gift” that wryly references how Ed Sheeran cited him as an influence and the pressure that inevitably entails about “taking the risk of being as bold as him”., although he does conclude by readying himself to get back out there to follow his calling.
Featuring Ethan Setiawan on mandolin, opening and punctuated with a simple fingerpicked pattern between the more uptempo rhythm of the vocal passages ‘Hummingbird’ is a simple song about immersing yourself in nature and getting out there to “drink petunias”, the mood shifting back to jazzier textures for the percussive beats of ‘Feel You In My Arms’ and its lyric about the broken life of someone living on the streets, his mental health damaged by a vicious attack, longing to have a family to hold.
Another musical tangent follows with the drone of ‘It Won’t Wait’ before shifting to staccato bursts of acoustic guitar and ooohing harmonies, Concannon scatting and rapping on a state of the nation commentary of communities adrift where there’s “a darkness coming down…whispering ‘wake or die’”. The train of thought rolls on into the slow funereal march of ‘Coventry’ with its heavy strummed chords that likens today’s society to Coventry burning in the Blitz, people torn apart by a different kind of war with a call to live the love.
It’s there too on the unaccompanied ‘Denial’ with its call to take ownership of past mistakes and truths unspoken through fear, when “We buried our heads in the sand made a mess of my hometown with mud skyscrapers” and how “the wounded lay in rubble” when they metaphorically fell down as he sings of wishing to live in “a greening forest” away from the “warfare of our past”.
Ecstatic Bird In The Burning ends, first, with the fingerpicked simplicity of the 70s troubadour folk-like ‘Grown Wild’ (think Martyn, Chapman, Harper), double bass again anchoring proceedings, a song that adopts tending a garden as a metaphor of love, family, community and renewal. Finally, Harris bowing the bass, it sounds a wake up call to ‘Join The Liberation’, to stop the killing and choose kindness and dignity, the lyrics talking of hearts and people broken in Manchester, Baghdad, London and Libya and, while it may have become a cliché, a reminder that we are all one nation and “I just wanna be your friend”.
There’s despair here, but ultimately, it’s an album that acknowledges how the interplay of the dark and the light make us whole, is infused with hope others will follow that path. It may be a long way on from a story of a boy and a JCB, but Concannon still wants to eat up all the bullies and the teachers and their pets.
Artist’s website: www.lukeconannon.com
‘Doing Nothing’ – official video: