This is an album I just couldn’t wait to get to writing about. There is a particular way some singer songwriters embrace their craft, whether it is the intention behind their words or the way they play their guitar, you can tell that they have a special relationship with song. With his fourth album titled Acid Week due out on December 11, transplanted Irishman in New York singer/songwriter John Cathal O’Brien seems to me a bloke who has the gift of song well at his fingertips and his observational tales of life and love lost come straight from the heart and soul without the usual fancy detours. These aren’t exactly happy little ditties about ice cream cake and fuzzy kittens, but really, when is life that bubbly anyway? We all experience pain. We see things that make us shudder. We meet people who cause us to throw ourselves against the threshing wheel in order make good and even then our hearts can still be battered and bruised. We live, lose, love, win, and learn. And if you’re able to pen a good song or campfire tale about it with a sense of irony and humor present then kudos to you, friend!
The first thing that grabbed me about Acid Week was O’Brien’s guitar work. It isn’t particularly smashing down the borders of genius playing, but much like the Loudon Wainwrights of the world the man has a feel for simple and warm guitar tunes with engaging storytelling lyrics, which for this writer is pretty much the tits. It would take a fairly dreadful voice and bubblegum phrase to steer me clear of a decent guitar strum, but thankfully all good things are intact on Acid Week.
O’Brien isn’t a powerhouse vocalist but he tells a convincing tale in a way that is just as emotionally strong. Reminding me a bit of Will Oldham or Mark Kozelek from his Red House Painters years but not as intensely morose, Acid Week is a deeply personal album that had me smiling at one turn of the word and of sinking heart over the next.
Lines such as, “And you had traded your heart for a little bag of cocaine, and we were best friends again.” from the opening track “Leeches” was one of those moments that arrested me where I sat and got me thinking of people and places I’ve known. Though I’ve never had a friend who has given me their anything in trade for some drugs, I feel like I’m right there with him, sorting through the conflicted feelings he sorts out in song, even if his words are metaphor for something else.
Perfect for those rainy day mornings when the house needs a good scrub or a lone afternoon at the beach with headphones on and a bottle of wine in hand, John Cathal O’Brien has penned and shared with us a snapshot of his experienced life and for that we can all be grateful.
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