James O’Connor is an Irish folk singer-songwriter, performer and recording artist. Blending upbeat rhythms and a sense of yearning with an inherent folk spirit, O’Connor’s debut album ‘Behind the Scenes’ (2014) was praised by critics, with Hot Press describing lead single ‘Tightrope’ as “a terrific start [with] Kinks-like observational vignettes.” Prior to this, O’Connor’s EP ‘Falling Up’ (2010) reached #9 in the Irish Top 50 singles charts. Creatively influenced by traditional Irish folk music and country-blues artists like Willie Nelson, as well as more contemporary rock and indie groups such as Snow Patrol, Arcade Fire, Villagers. His new album ‘A Cluster of Narratives’, is a folk rock journey that celebrates the joy of living. From uplifting legacy anthem ‘We Are The Stories’ to redemptive titular track ‘A Cluster of Narratives’, O’Connor’s latest music is defiant and rousing, with unabashedly honest lyrics and a melodic Irish lilt that sets him apart.
The album opens with We are the stories, a dark track commenting on the humans being influenced by society and their surroundings. The lyrics are powerful which is O'Connor's trademark, coupled with an uneasy feeling the listeners get when they pay close attention to the words. It's clear immediately that these songs are demanding to be listened closely, can't be just be put on in the backround.
The title track, A Cluster of Narratives, is a lively and more optimistic number in which you hear the singer count his blessings and there's an intetion of looking forward and never look back because you can't change what's been said and done.
These songs present O'Connor as a solo artist yet you can very well imagine him somewhere on a big stage with a full band. However, an intimate space allows the lyrics to shine more and leave a deeper impact which is essential for the Portlaoise artist.
Greatest escape is probably the only track on the album with a romantic theme. You have to dig into the words and search in the meaning to find the true intention. It shows love and romance as a complicated journey full of highs and lows which sometimes leads you to the point of questioning the sense of it all.
Working class waltz is slow, deep, dark track that carries strong resemblance to Nick Cave. Mostly spoken than sung, it shows the power of the human voice. The unsettling feeling is present as you listen, the songwriter's mission accomplished.
It wouldn't be a James O'Connor release without a track or two addressing the social issues. A Cluster of Narratives offers two powerful and direct takes on some of the problems the society isn't really willing to talk about. The first one, Victims, hits you flat in the face. The singer isn't hidding anything, you can hear the anger and resentment in his voice and that sends shivers down your spine. The child abuse by the Catholic Church is like a wound on the skin of the island of Ireland not wanting to heal.
"who will be the voice for the ghost of the child who suffered the abuse in silence and denial"
The follow up tells everything just by its title, Why did she stay. This isn't an Irish issue exclusively, yet there's even stronger need to talk about it in the times we find ourselves at.
A Cluster of Narratives closes on a deep note. Ask for help speaks for itself. Mental health is very important for everybody and just because you aren't affected by what's going on around you doesn't mean somebody close to you isn't going through the darkest.
"there's no shame in crying, I often do."