Music Review: Steaćn Hanvey РSteaćn Hanvey and the Honeymoon Junkies

Hi all!

As a child of the 70s with parents who listened to folk songs, I often fall back that musical orbit. And lately I’ve been encouraged by the new artists who bridge the gap between traditional folk (even down to some of its Bluegrass and Blues roots) and rock-and-roll. With artists like Wes Kirkpatrick, the Indigo Girls and Matt Duke, I’m able to enjoy folk music while not giving in completely to my folkie roots. (Yes, it’s a minor rebellion but I’ll accept that!)

But let me introduce you to Steaƒán Hanvey. Hailing from Dublin, Ireland, he brings a gift for rich arrangements, storytelling, and a voice you want to believe has lived those stories. As I listened to Steaƒán Hanvey and the Honeymoon Junkies, I was reminded of other artists such as James Taylor and Donovan as well as more modern folks like David Gray and Matthew Mayfield. His easy style with lyrics and guitar make him seem very genuine. I suspect that if I get a chance to listen to Hanvey live, I’m not going to want the concert to end.

Steaƒán Hanvey and the Honeymoon Junkies was released in Europe a while ago, but is just now coming to the U.S. Hanvey has even moved here to focus on building an audience while traveling back and forth to Ireland occasionally. Over the last 3 years, he’s also been working on his sophomore album called Nuclear Family that is due out in 2012. But don’t let that stop you from checking out Honeymoon Junkies.

What caught my attention while listening to the Honeymoon Junkies is the effortless way Hanvey tells his stories and finds just the right musical style to go with it… It starts with a simple rhythmic guitar intro in “Rooms,” transitions to the upbeat ballad “My Woman (Ode To You),” moves to the anthem-ish “Love’s A Decision,” flows through the hard-edged “Desperation,” and eventually ends with the James Taylor-ish “Show Me”…

And as I listened, there were more than a few that I’d have to tag as favorites, the first of which being “Love’s a Decision.” This one should be required listening at any couple’s therapy session. “Love’s a decision between you and me / not some half-baked scene from a movie screen… if you want it to last / you’d better let go of the past.” And I don’t know who’s singing in the background, but she has an amazing voice that completely complements Hanvey’s with the anthem guitar riffs and solid bass/drum beat.

“Fair Weather Friend” on the other hand feels like something from Colin Hay and I love the guitar riffs. This one tells the story about a guy who lost his way, finds his way back again, only to wonder how others see him. I interpret the story as someone coming back from alcohol or drug use and finding that some folks don’t like who they see when someone is sober. But I’m thankful whatever Hanvey’s story is for this song, that he came back with a “head full of songs” as he says. And I hope when something happens to me or someone else I’m not a fool or a fair weather friend… sticking through thick and thin.

In “Desperation,” he breaks the song mold a bit and it works. It starts with a vaguely Australian/digeridoo-ish funky beat that leads to a story about a relationship gone wrong. This is a darker tune telling the story of a man who knows it’s over, but she’s the one pulling away. “You will blame me and you’ve tried to shame me / What more could I do…” It’s interesting to me that it feels vaguely uncomfortable to listen to this one, like we’re voyeurs in some lover’s quarrel.

Check out the video for “Desperation”:

Then he turns it completely around with a tune you can’t help but smile while listening to… “Everything’s Happy” shifts to everything bright and cheery, but it has a hidden message. The rhythm of the guitar along with the acoustic bass in the background keeps it light and moving along quickly where you hardly have time to think anything but happy thoughts… “The sun changed it’s mind / decided to shine on my day / The girl on the street never misses a beat and she smiles as I catch her eye…” And a bit later there’s the dark side: “Everyone’s happy / Everyone’s ok / Everyone’s looking for someone to blame.”

Steaƒán Hanvey has a way of making the music fit the lyrics that isn’t forced or created by some crowded room of movie producers. Every song on Steaƒán Hanvey and the Honeymoon Junkies tells a story and I for one enjoyed the ride. I’m already looking forward to his next album – Nuclear Family – sometime next year! For tour news and everything else Hanvey-related, be sure to check out his web site SteafanHanvey.com.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

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Music Review: The Sea, The Sea by Solomon’s Seal

Hi all…

Folk music is alive and well. Simon Petty has resurrected the sound of 1970’s English folk music by merging his smoky voice with strong piano licks and guitar. Each song seems to merge a melancholy feel with powerful melodies to evoke an emotional connection. Petty also uses unique sounds like the beat of windshield wipers in “Sleeping in the Car” to provide an organic quality to the tracks.

But at the heart of each song, is his lyrics and his voice. The voice is hard to describe without using words like “smoky” and “husky”, but I would most compare it to Peter Gabriel in some respects. Not that Gabriel ever did this style of music, but I think Petty has the same English-born quality that Gabriel has.

Add to that the amazing guitar work and I was in seventh heaven. As an amateur guitar player, I am always listening for picking patterns and transitions and Petty’s style evokes some of the mystique of folk legends like Bob Dylan, Gordon Lightfoot, Simon and Garfunkel, and James Taylor.

Almost 10 years ago now, Petty came to America with the quartet Minibar to record an album with T Bone Burnett and Universal Records. Though that album, Road Movies didn’t do well commercially, Minibar stayed in California and made two more albums, touring with bands like Willco, Teenage Fanclub, The Jayhawks, and The Wallflowers.

The Sea, The Sea is Petty’s first solo album, produced by Seth Rothschild and recorded between Texas and Brooklyn. The CD includes eleven great songs, but I found myself gravitating towards tracks like “State of the Union Address” and “A Part of the River” for their strong guitar parts and stirring lyrics.

“State of the Union Address” is a beautiful song about letting a girl down easily, but contains some imagery about the cruelty of such an act. “I know it hurts like / Cigarette burns … but you’ll see / you’ll see / it’s all gonna fade / eventually…” The guitar work reminds me a bit of David Wilcox with the simple, yet moving baseline that keeps the song chugging along with a light feel even with the heavy subject matter.

“A Part of the River” tells the story of a man telling his lover that it’s not going to be an easy road if she stays with him. “And cruel, cruel as I am / I know there’s nothing to rely upon / But the weight of your hand” – it’s a pained love. And he’ll eventually come back to her, but “it won’t be an easy ride / if you try and stay with me / I’m a part of the river / that flows away from the sea” – but he may leave again. Their relationship is like the waves rushing in and out with the tides. With the melody, Petty adds to the simplicity of his guitar and vocals with some backing strings to provide some additional depth.

“Diamond in the Sand” features Petty alone with a guitar and is beautiful in its simplicity, telling the story of a man and woman trying to find a perfect relationship – like trying to find a “diamond in the sand”. Love is hard to find and in the end, he comes to realize that he has what he’s been searching for. “And it occurs to me that we’re wasting our time / I can’t believe what I hold in my hands / Why am I trying to find a diamond in the sand?” He’d already found his diamond in the sand.

If you, like me, are a folk junkie, I think you’ll find The Sea, The Sea by Solomon’s Seal much to your liking. You can take a listen to some of the tracks at Petty’s website – SolomonsSealMusic.com. But be sure to support this great artist by picking up his album at his website.

–Fitz

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