By BRUCE DENNILL
Ireland punches well above its weight in terms of hard-hitting singer-songwriters. In recent years alone, the relatively small island nation has yielded Damien Rice, Glen Hansard and now Foy Vance (to say nothing of the many great bands from the same region; this is just the male solo acts).
Vance is probably less acquainted with the mainstream than any of his abovementioned countrymen, but is also more likely to inspire the sort of cult enthusiasm that can sustain an artist’s career without them ever having a chart hit. His first album, Hope, featured a song called Indiscriminate Act Of Kindness, which essentially compresses all the pathos and dram of Les Miserables into a six-minute ballad.
That tune is likely to be zenith of Vance’s creative output for some time to come, but new long-player Joy Of Nothing (there have been a number of EPs since Hope) comes close in many instances.
The moustachioed minstrel’s burgeoning reputation is underlined by the quality of his guest performers. Of similar vintage but notably higher profile is Ed Sheeran, who joins Vance on gentle, lyrical closer Guiding Light. But it is Bonnie Raitt on the slow-building, cello-tethered You And I who lends real industry weight to the affair, especially when it is noted that the harmonies she offers are delivered in the raw, natural, unprocessed way she favours in her own work.
Opener and first single Closed Hand, Full Of Friends has it all: rootsy drum and piano rhythms driving it forward, bolstered by sweeping strings and a soaring vocal. The title track is a harder sell, slower and with fewer distinct focal points, but once you’ve assimilated its subtle charms you won’t be able to shake it.
At Least My Heart Was Open will be describes as “a bit Mumford & Sons” whether Vance likes that or not. Regardless of the provenance of the sound, it’s great. Janey is a simple acoustic foot-stomper – all of Vance’s songs are written in such a way that they are just as effective stripped down or with band backing – that gets a bit of orchestral muscle as it develops.
As such, it’s not surprising that there are echoes of a songwriter and performer with similar talents – Americana wonder-boy Ryan Adams – on the lovely Paper Prince.
A captivating talent, Vance’s status as a “so good I want to keep him all to myself” discovery won’t last long. It’s too late to say “I was one of the first to notice this guy”, but early enough to stake a claim for “At least I didn’t only jump on the bandwagon once he became a cliché” status.
- Closed Hand, Full Of Friends 8.50
- Joy Of Nothing 8.00
- At Least My Heart Was Open 7.25
- You And I 8.00
- Feel For Me 7.25
- Janey 7.50
- Paper Prince 8.00
- It Was Good 7.50
- Regarding Your Lover 7.25
- Guiding Light 7.75