Dungannon-born singer-songwriter Chris Steenson's debut outing as Cedric Has A Name, 2011's What We Want + 3 Songs EP, introduced his earnest approach to both writing and recording music.
Steenson's pared-down creative philosophy – he records his own work, and plays most of the instrumentation himself – was, perhaps, essential, given that he was an emerging rather than an established artist. Still, his songs had an endearingly elemental quality that set him apart from a lot of his contemporaries.
A year of gigging, and a series of live support slots with the likes of Rams' Pocket Radio and Dublin indie-rockers Bouts later, Steenson has stepped up his game on his second four-track EP, Farewell To Reason. On first listen, it's immediately evident that Farewell to Reason is something of a departure for the now Belfast-based tunesmith.
The low-budget production remains, but it no longer defines Steenson. Now, the sound is fuller, the production a lot less raw, and tonally Farewell To Reason seems much more optimistic. Steenson has left the lonesome acoustic meanderings of What We Want... largely behind.
The initial bluster of opener 'Empty Avenue' (above) isn't like anything Steenson has offered before. The up-tempo drama soon subsides to a more familiar, reserved pace, and the addition of backing harmonies and melodic overdubs on subsequent tracks is a pleasant surprise.
Steenson's writing is clearly still in the developmental stage. It would seem that he hasn't truly been able to place his own voice just yet. Amidst a nifty bit of slide guitar in 'Last Line', for example, and a beautifully delicate use of strings throughout the mellifluous 'After Image', Steenson's vocal delivery at times falls flat.
Lyrically too there's room for growth. A touch less cliché would be welcome, but more conviction is what's really needed for these songs to satisfy on a higher plain.
Yet these four tracks show definite musical evolution. They lack the nakedness of his gaunt earlier compositions. The kitchen sink is nowhere in sight, and even in Steenson's distinctly lo-fi way Farewell to Reason introduces a welcome brush stroke of grandeur to the musical canvas.
The decision to expand his studio wings is an admirable move. It hints at a bigger, more confident sound in the years to come. The clever flickers of instrumentation and determined energy on this EP already showing signs of potential greatness. But young Cedric still has a way to go, and experience to gain, before his full potential is realised.
Cedric Has A Name launches Farewell To Reason tonight (June 14, 2012) in Catalyst Arts in Belfast with support from Best Boy Grip and Kieran Lavery.