Decidedly Good

Jacinta Owens attends the live launch of John McGurgan's debut Alone, in Two Minds

John McGurgan greets his audience at the Black Box as if he has known them all his life. He sits cross-legged on the floor and tucks his acoustic guitar into position as if it were another limb. And it may as well be, as he hand-crafted it seven years ago and is rumoured to practice up to eight hours a day.

The proof is in his playing and it is no surprise to learn he was awarded the ‘Guitarist of the Year’ accolade at the Ards International Guitar Festival two years ago.

His live set is a collection of original, quiet-but-strong folk tunes with the odd surprise thrown in.

As it seems de rigueur these days for live musicians to attempt a challenging cover version, none could be more surprising from this brooding young man than Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean. Further proof, if it were needed, of McGurgan’s natural talent for musical phrasing and also a glimpse of the tongue-in-cheek humour that is peppered throughout the album.

His brand of acoustic folk and blues is, self-admittedly, influenced by a host of old masters, from Bill Evans to Hank Williams. The most notable influence on his vocals may be Joni Mitchell and if you like Mitchell’s pendulous melodies, you'll love McGurgan’s debut.

The entire album was recorded in three sessions and tracked live, giving it a beautifully raw quality. While the title track and 'Wake Up, Listen' are the most interesting musically, 'Book Club' (featuring support vocals from Rosaleen McGonagle) is quirky and catchy without falling comfortably into the folk-pop genre.

This album is one to listen to in the dark after a hard day; it is mellow but intelligent.