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Dublin songwriter chronicles the great unravelling of the economy
Olaf Tyaransen, 29 Jun 2011
As with much of his previous output, this fourth solo album from former Jubilee Allstars frontman Barry McCormack is very much a capital (city) affair. Indeed, Small Mercies is something of a coda to his acclaimed debut Lights Of The City – another bleary-eyed, unsentimental, folkish take on contemporary Dublin. Given that the place is currently buried under a mountain of Celtic Tiger shit, it’s not the most joyous record you’ll hear this year.
There are shades of Dylan, Behan and Vlautin in these songs, but probably the most obvious influence is that of Shane MacGowan. McCormack writes about his native city with the same cynical poeticism that the Pogues singer applied to ‘80s London. His imagery is stark, sharp and sometimes shocking (“Zombie junkies were lurching towards death”).
In parts, it’s an album about relationships wrecked by drink (‘The Secrets Of The Buckfast Monks’) or by high expectations (‘Hard Is The Road’). Mostly though, it’s about a city, and country, wrecked by excess. Not to worry, though, at least religion is making a comeback: “The good times had slipped through our fingers/The shadow self of the gloom and the rain/We were back on our knees/We were uptrodden now/Our Lady had returned again.” Mother of God!
Recorded by Stephen Shannon – who also played bass – at his Experimental Audio studios in Dublin, Small Mercies features a full band for the first time since McCormack went solo. Joss Moorkens (The Dudley Corporation) is on drums, Shane McGrath and Gary Fitzpatrick (both formerly of the Sick And Indigent Song Club) add guitar and backing vocals respectively, while John Hegarty’s cinematic keyboards bring something special to the mix.
They occasionally add a touch of Americana to proceedings (notably on ‘The Ghosts Of Pigtown’), but the lyrics are the heartbeat of this particular musical document. His cracked vocals are like crushed cigarette butts in a piss-stained gravel pit, but McCormack has a rough-edged melancholic croon that’s utterly distinctive. And appropriate.