The Lost Brothers
Mark McCausland and Oisin Leech channel the finest songwriters in Derry
The Lost Brothers arrive in Derry~Londonderry on a tour promoting their fourth album, New Songs of Dawn and Dusk, which was released in September 2014.
Their hour-long set at Sandino's starts with two songs from the new album, 'Gold and Silver' and the catchy 'Derridae'. They are warmly received and set the tone for the remainder of the evening.
Both songs echo Simon and Garfunkel, an obvious influence on Mark McCausland and Oisin Leech's songwriting, but the debt owed to Ray Davies of The Kinks on the latter number is maybe too obvious.
Yet there is a lot original about The Lost Brothers' sound, such as their distinctive guitar work. There is also an admirable authenticity to many of these songs, which perhaps makes it easy to forget that they were penned by men from counties Tyrone and Meath, who struck up a musical partnership while studying in Liverpool.
The limitations of such a spartan line-up – two vocalists and two acoustic guitars with occasional harmonica from Leech – are overcome by the intertwining melodies of the instruments and the harmonisation of the vocals.
The result delivers a sound which is greater than the sum of its parts. Even tracks such as 'Soldier’s Song' and 'Poor Poor Man', which are complemented by brass on the new album, are served well by the more minimalist live approach.
The set comprises songs from across The Lost Brother’s four albums, and 'Now That the Night Has Come' – from their 2012 long-player, The Passing of the Night – is one of the livelier numbers. The musical chemistry and confidence within a partnership that was forged through busking on the streets of Merseyside is obvious.
Elements of Derry audiences have not always proved to be the best listeners over the years – a characteristic seized upon by Richard Hawley when he played in the city two years ago. But the full-to-capacity back room in Sandino’s allows the reverent silence demanded by the often gentle Lost Brothers' canon.
As for themes, the songs themselves are full of lost love, regret and tears, and are populated by broken-hearted lovers, down-on-their-luck journeymen and exploited prostitutes. Many journeys are started, roads wind, trains are boarded, hundreds of miles are travelled and remedies for the blues are sought as the duo display influences such as Townes Van Zant, The Byrds, Neil Young and Woody Guthrie.
Gram Parsons raises his head in 'Can I Stay With You', while 'City of the Rose' – from their second album, Trails of the Lonely – recalls Van Zandt’s 'Tecumseh Valley', not necessarily in musical style as in subject matter. It is one of the few songs where Leech sets his guitar down and in doing so allows Omaghman McCausland to demonstrate the full range of his talents as a guitarist.
Tributes to Bob Dylan come in the form of covers, namely 'Corrina Corrina' and a gorgeously rousing version of 'Forever Young', which has members of the audience joining in.
Leech is an engaging front man, his patter charming. Loud laughs are extracted from a story about an episode that occurred on their tour, which could have come straight out of a Johnny Cash number, while McCausland, in a long trench coat, strikes the look of a gunslinger from a gritty western. A battered vintage suitcase is the only stage prop.
A tour that began in August is soon coming to a close. It has seen Leech and McCausland sell out London’s St Pancras Church and fill Whelan’s in Dublin. More performances like this and full houses in larger venues than Sandino’s are guaranteed.