Born and raised on the Aran islands off the west coast of Ireland, son of Irish songwriter Barry Ronan and nephew of poet Mary O’Malley, Making Sand is his debut album, although, despite writing and singing in both Gaelic and English, it contains only one wholly in the native tongue.
He kicks off in mid-tempo mode with the warmly melodic ‘Let It Shine’, a song about mental confusion (“Something is sort of bothering me, my thinking is out of sync, maybe acting like a weirdo”) and looking for a sense of direction (“So let me fly, fly on to the highway of your heart”).
Keeping the pace roughly the same, but with more of a walking rhythm and influences that are both soulful and feathered by The Eagles, ‘Matthew’ again speaks of finding purpose (“Gimme a reason why, we set sail before the mast”), mentioning how in Matthew’s Gospel “Jesus went down, for the masses, he lay down his crown” but asks “I wonder did he do that for me” before concluding “I just don’t think it does it for me”.
His gaze turns to social issues on the driving rhythm of the country tinted ‘Streetbed Ridden’ which concerns homelessness and how easy it can be to fall through the cracks from a comfortable middle-class life into destitution and “Sometimes you can’t undo or press rewind”. There’s the suggestion of contemplating suicide (“I wake up to face a brand new day, can’t take no more no way, I’m leaving tomorrow”) but it ends with a call to human kindness in your being, to “give somebody your time”.
The Celtic swirl title track with its Irish whistle adopts a soulful slow march shuffle, takes Ireland’s history (“prehistoric forts were laid, out here/Monks and scholars welcomed saints, and peers”) to contemplate the transitory nature of life and civilisations (“The ocean lives amongst us, grinding rocks around us/Were just making sand, out here”). The final verse is sung in Gaelic, but it’s not until ‘Smaointe Cailte’, essentially a revisiting of the track, here translated as ‘Lost Thoughts’, that he adopts it throughout.
An earlier single ‘Minnie’ is a strummed number about the singer’s unrequited love for a young Galway girl who makes a bad marriage to an older man, the light within her dying as a result. She eventually gets free, now a single mother, but, after a one night fling, tells the singer they can only be friends, though it ends on a wistful upbeat note that “Minnie’s happy now, she found love, somehow”.
‘Black Drapes’ returns to the subject of depression (“You think that life, can’t go on/When you feel, the cerebral veil, it’s like the red of hell, draped in black”, the initial tinkling piano giving way to march beat drums as love provides the emotional rescue to a backing chant of “it’s all-right now”.
An upbeat folksy rocking track opening with looped child voices, ‘Hello Mum’ is, as you might imagine, a love letter to the narrator Tony’s mother, here apologising for not being the son he should have been (“I know it’s not your fault/the problem has always been mine”) and visiting on Mother’s Day to make amends. Naturally, he’s talking to her headstone.
Irish whistle making a return, ‘Long Goodbye’ once more visits Celtic-coloured country, for another singalong chorus and another number about loss, here a poignant sketch about a woman living with her dementia-afflicted husband (“With a baffled look he says woman I don’t know you”) who, as Jack poetically puts it, is “weeping memory”, and the inevitable weight it puts upon her own thoughts, needing to get out of those for respite, the chorus reflecting “she won’t wanna come home tonight”.
It ends in spirited anthemic form, again singing part in Gaelic, with Irish pipes introducing the military marching beat bonus track ‘Fighting Irish’ that returns to talk of pride in his native land. “divided by tribe/Yet bound, by an ancient battle cry” and “From O’Neill to Brian Ború/ led by Gaelic leaders old and new….to O’Connell’s free new land”, the line “the spirit of Grainne Mhaol” a reference to the legendary 16th century military leader and pirate queen Grace O’Malley.
While it could have perhaps benefitted from a couple more such dynamic numbers, Making Sand is, nevertheless an assured and accomplished foundation which to build a burgeoning career.
Artist’s website: www.padraigjack.com
‘Streetbed Ridden’ – official video: