Counting the beats between the thunder and lightning
Irish singer songwriter Fionn Regan uses images from nature, dreams, and legends to weave his mythic tales of youthful consciousness in an endearing manner. He’s charming without being cloying. He’s a Celtic Josh Ritter, whose literate and melodic tunes intimately suggest what’s going on in his head as he creatively fantasizes about the world in which we live. Regan doesn’t believe in fairies or silly stuff, but he understands that feelings and emotions color the way we look at things. Sometimes we may want to set the world on fire. Other times we just want to relax in the woods. Both are real, but our heightened awareness at such times make us think each may be the only reality at the moment.
And of course there’s always sex, the greatest magical thing of all. The album’s standout track, “While the Horses Sleep”, is an evocation to doing it in the great outdoors. Like good sex, the song is by turns serious and funny, weird and wonderful. “I’m a man,” Regan boldly declares three times. Then he follows it “with a child’s heart” as to admit his tender nature and the joy of sensual discovery. In terms of Regan’s own metaphors, he makes you want to set the forest ablaze one minute and then get lost in the comforting harvest of the farm across the way in the next. The disconnection between the two desires are the before and after of the act, and the descriptions artfully capture the innate sensations.
Thankfully, Regan’s songs always have an edge. Whether he’s celebrating love or drinking in sorrow, Regan expresses an unsatisfied yearning for something more. He’s always anticipating what happens next, or what he calls “counting the beats between the thunder and lightning.” Sure, this tells you how close the peril is, but Regan knows the thrill is when the risk comes closer not further away.
He’s also not afraid to offend. He titles one song with “Sow Mare Bitch Vixen”, a politically incorrect litany of comparing females to animals in an unflattering way. “I have always had a thing for dangerous women”, he sings by way of explanation. The gentle way in which Regan strums his guitar and vocalizes that suggests he provokes as a form of foreplay. There’s something sweet about the way he bites off the word “bitch” that lets you know he values a woman’s independence as much as his own.
Much has been made of the fact on this, Regan’s third album, he has returned to the acoustic roots of his Mercury Prize-nominated first record, The End of History. But this disc is musically very different from his debut, particularly in its orchestrated arrangements that give songs such as “The Lake District” and “Lists of Distractions” a rich atmosphere. Regan and his guitar are still mostly front and center, but there is much more texture and opulence. The instrumentation is more than decorative. It provides context to the sound of one person singing. Instead of being one person alone, he comes across as someone living in the material world.
100 Acres of Sycamore has flaws. There is a sameness to the songs and the arrangements. Yet this is also a compliment, as it shows the way the diverse topics blend together. The title image of a Sycamore woodland serves as an appropriate symbol. We all know that all trees are different, especially Sycamores with their peeling bark. But walking through a big field of them, we would only notice how similar they are and find ourselves lost—within the limits of the acreage.