Begun in mid-2021 as the follow-up to Lessons Of War but then placed on the back burner as other priorities took precedence, McGinn’s encounter with Covid saw him use the enforced isolation to finish off Time Well Spent, declaring it far from perfect but at least completed. He’s being a bit hard on himself, actually, since this is well up to his high standards of songwriting and performance, opening with one of the early singles, the slow walk paced, pizzicato strings ‘Annie (Many Moons Ago)’, framed as a letter to the narrator’s ex-wife who walked out on their daughter’s fifth birthday, not one of acrimony or regret but, rather, about having come to terms with events and finding that life didn’t end after all, that the past is the past.
A similar note of loss, acceptance and memory (“Nothing lasts forever but it won’t have to/It only has to live in me, be a part of me”) is struck on the rippling acoustic title track, a duet with Aoife Scott and featuring Eliza Carthy on aching viola, again focusing on the good moments summed up in the title.
A more upbeat folk rock approach is taken with the marching anthemic ‘Something’, Damien McGeehan’s fiddle driving it along, a song of resilience and determination (“Someone keeps pushing me on/It just takes one, to keep me going on and on and on and on and on/Something keeps pulling me on”), both in sustaining a relationship and facing life in general, Niamh Dunne taking over the fiddle part, joined by Sean Og Graham on accordion and Jon Thorne’s double bass for the arms-linked swayalomg ‘Lighthouse Joe’, a first person storysong about being let go from a job that’s passed down through the generations but, with the “homes that once housed my friends and good neighbours…empty and slow to decay”, is now no longer required as “the old ways get lost to make way for the new”.
The storytelling continues with the mid-tempo shuffling ‘Me & Tommy’ which, featuring Kris Donegan on electric guitars and Colm McClean on acoustic, is another reflection on times past, of the formative relationships of childhood and youth that make you who you are (“If it weren’t for Tommy I don’t who I’d be”), that first broken heart, the leaving home and, as it draws to a close, the toll of mortality (“now we’re home at last, together by our tree no dandelions or docken leaves… just flowers and wreaths”).
That call of home and the pull of reminiscence continues with the sparsely arranged five-minute ‘Kinnahalla’, McGheehan’s waltzing fiddle accompanying the wistful vocal, softly brushed with keyboards, guitar and drums on an immigrant’s thoughts of his Irish roots (“California I’ve landed, I know not a soul/My life is all packed in this suitcase I hold/But while I remain here, for one thing I’ll plea/I hope Kinnahalla is waiting for me”).
By way of a departure, featuring fiddle, accordion and vocals from Emma Hughes Martinet, the lightly swaying ‘Le Ciel est Bleu’ is sung in French, the music evoking images of sidewalk Parisian cafes and, perhaps Maurice Chevalier., the mood shifting one more for the jaunty folksy fiddle-led bounce of ‘Keep Your Hands Off My Summer’ (another song rooted in happy memories of past relationships) that has the feel of a young pastoral Van Morrison hanging out with Ronnie Lane.
It ends with the two most fulsome arrangements, first up being ‘Woman’ with strings by Rachael Boyd playing over the fingerpicked intro, Irish soulfulness infusing a hymn to mothers and sisters who, while sometimes forgotten in “a blurred history”, provide the rock, the light and the wisdom throughout the years, the track building to a muted sonic storm. And, finally, returning to a light, slightly Gilbert O’Sullivan waltzing musical mood, comes ‘Slide Out Of View’ which featuring accordion, fiddle and backing vocals from Gillian Tuite, Eadaoin Hynes and The Instagram Choir, is an ode to either serenity or wilful ignorance depending on your point of view as he asks “How come I am smiling when everything around me has lost its shit/Falling to bits/When I should be terrified and then some?”, a la la la-ing call to shut your eyes to the chaos outside, stick your fingers in the ear and sing.
A considerably more reflective and mellower work than its predecessor, personal rather than political, Time Well Spent has a gentle warmth and sense of underlying optimism. Available initially on Bandcamp with a streaming soft release to follow, listening to it will indeed be time well spent.
Artist’s website: www.mattmcginn.bandcamp.com
‘Annie (Many Moons Ago)’ – official video: