Not Nearly Dark

Fans of Tom Waits and Bon Ivor will find much to love in Ciaran Lavery's 'mature and affecting' debut album

There's more than a touch of the Tom Waits about Ciaran Lavery – and I'm not talking about the seven-dwarves-clanking-mallets-on-metal din that passes for song craft on much of the great man's more recent work.

Rather I’m referring to those wonderfully woozy songs of regret and remorse that used to linger like blood stains on old Tom's more gin-soaked offerings. Albums like Small Change or Blue Valentine, where the stinging throb of shattered dreams practically pulsed from the vinyl grooves.

Yet the traces of Tom Waits on Not Nearly Dark are subtle rather than overt. It may just be a muted trumpet here or the occasional reference to drowning your sorrows at 3am in some god forsaken bar. Regardless, the signs are there and that’s what counts.

While Tom Waits resides somewhere deep shagged and air conditioned Stateside, Ciaran Lavery calls Aghagallon home, and prefers a gently strummed guitar to a piano as his instrument of choice.

He’s also young enough to be old Tom’s good-looking grandson. While Lavery may be fresh of face, though, he’s also got form, with seven years under his belt fronting the excellent alt country rockers, Captain Kennedy.

Mixing old school Americana with their natural Lurgan wit and wisdom, Captain Kennedy earned their stripes on the live circuit and left behind a few impressive recordings. Were there any justice in this world, they would have made it into the big leagues.

As it is, there isn’t and they folded before their potential could be fully realized. If Lavery’s work with that band suggested greatness, nothing really prepares you for the power of Not Nearly Dark.

Firstly there’s the voice. Deep, dark and with a rasping quality that suggests a 60-a-day habit (though Lavery is as clean living a rock star as you're likely to meet), it is a thing of real beauty: hushed when required and powerful when the song calls for it.

Then there’s the instrumentation to consider. Made with the trio of Mike Mormecha on drums, Joe McGurgan on bass and Conor Scullion on keyboards, it’s a subtle and understated listening experience.

Horns, arranged by Conor’s brother Donal, swell soulfully, and there’s even a touch of saw courtesy of Ellen Turley. Together these musicians create a magnificently coherent mood piece that hangs together over nine tracks like all proper albums should.

Lavery’s songwriting is strong throughout as well. Tracks like 'Lovers Who Make Love' and 'America' suggest an old head on young shoulders, and extended mood pieces like the closing 'Follow You Down', that clocks in at a leisurely seven minutes, suggest confidence isn’t an issue either.

Those who take pleasure in the high, lonesome wilds of Bon Iver or swoon for the cracked melodies of Elliot Smith will find much to love here. There are even echoes of Heartbreaker era Ryan Adams in a track like 'Turning To Rust' that aches with a world weariness all its own.

Lavery is his own man, though, and all these comparisons don’t really do him any favours. Mature and affecting, Not Nearly Dark is a seriously fine record that's proud to show off its bruises and not afraid to wander into some dark corners when the mood takes it.

Brave in attitude and given to painting his stories in the boldest of colours, Ciaran Lavery is an artist worth investigating. Once you do you'll wonder how you got by without him. Now who does that remind you of?

Ciaran Lavery launches Not Nearly Dark in the Black Box on March 3. Pre-order the album via Lavery's website.