Bronagh Gallagher clearly knows her soul music. And we’re not just talking about the Soul 101 basics that informed the Derry-born actress and singer’s big breakthrough film The Commitments.
Roaring through Wilson Pickett standards may have been enough for Alan Parker’s adaptation of Roddy Doyle’s story of Dublin soul obsessives, but take one listen to Gallagher's new self-titled album and it’s obvious she’s been dabbling in the seriously hard stuff of late.
From heart-stung confessionals like 'Fool', which opens the album, to the highly personal 'Shortcut' that winds things up ten songs later, the evidence is clear. This is someone who knows her Motown from her Muscle Shoals, her Aretha from her Arthur Alexander, and crucially knows how to mix it up to make her own unique musical brew.
The end result is an album of almost shockingly assured songwriting and storytelling. Writing alongside her cousin Caolin McLaughlin and co-producing with guitarist Conor Brady, Gallagher's songs take in tales of lost love and found purpose, and flit from Derry to Paris, Berlin to California with effortless ease.
The best of them – 'Mexico, Here They Go Again' and 'Make A Move' – pull off that age-old songwriter trick of sounding as old as the hills yet oddly modern. The lesson for budding songwriters is obvious: marinate yourself in the juices of the great stuff for long enough and your own sound will find a way through.
There are other influences at work here, of course. Anyone familiar with Gallagher's splendid debut, the aptly titled Precious Soul will know that world-weary country and singer-songwriter styles also play their part, but it’s impossible to ignore the S word here. Soul, in its most heart-wrenching southern fried form, oozes from just about every note and informs the majority of songs.
You can hear it in the timeless heart break of 'I Fall Apart', a entirely self-written confessional that suggests that those tear-stained weepies of Patsy Cline and company are rarely far from the front of Gallagher's well worn record collection.
Where Precious Soul had a rough hewn, almost home grown quality, the songs here have a sheen that suggests a major step forward both in sound quality and songwriting confidence.
On her debut album, Gallagher played a lot of the drums herself, but here that duty is given over to Graham Hopkins, and together with Clare Kenny (Bass), Justin Carroll (Organ) and the horn section of Michael Buckley and Ronan Dooney add punch to proceedings.
As befits Gallagher's proud Derry upbringing, there’s a no nonsense quality in the lyrics that leaves you in no doubt that you’re listening to the real thing each and every time she opens her mouth.
A fine actress, capable of inhabiting any number of offbeat characters on screens both big and small, Gallagher brings a depth to story songs like the gangland fable 'Mexico'. Even a cursory look at the lyrics, with its memorable chant of 'Holy Guacamole Taco Stands' and 'little Moses with the slicked back hair', evokes late night LA ghetto life with a screenwriter's panache.
Like all good songwriters, Bronagh Gallagher’s work hints at the kind of self lacerating honesty you find at the heart of all good art. Filled with sharp, hook laden songs performed with real passion, Bronagh Gallagher suggests a real talent with plenty of things to say. The work of a precious soul indeed.
Bronagh Gallagher is out now on Salty Dog Records.