Maverick Sabre Has Made His Best Album with 'When I Wake Up'
The third time's the charm for Maverick Sabre, who dextrously combines the past and present in a measured, soulful album, abound with ardour and fellow feeling.
When I Wake Up
22 March 2019
Recasting Nina Simone's "Feeling Good" as a contemplative questioning of his own faith on "Preach", the Wexford County crooner sets out his stall for his post-label offering with a vintage retro-soul standard. The unhurried intro, imbued with a renewed vocal maturity, is Maverick Sabre at his canorous best. Liberated from label constraints, the album, released on his own FAMM imprint is a stirring nod to the past, coalesced with a hip-hop soul.
On his third, and first unhampered record, Sabre breathes new life into his distinctive inflection, shifting between a chirruped falsetto and a warm, throaty warble, whenever the feeling requires it. Tales of Ireland are recounted in a cadence so rooted in its sound on "Drifting" that the lyrics are hard to make out, enduring as tuneful notes in a soulful boom bap consonance - without losing any of their intended emotion. The phonographic warmth of "Into Nirvana" is the album's early highlight; a molasses ode to Britpop and the impetuosity of youth that bursts into summertime nostalgia over an enchanting interflow of rubber bass, refined membranophones and choral chanting.
When I Wake Up's soulful sprawl through the working class experience is tethered to familiar frustrations, and vulnerable at every turn. The production, helmed by Sabre himself, is a decorous fusion of 1960s-sourced percussion, elegantly plucked strings, and 1990s hip-hop, sufficiently temperate for his trademark Irish lilt to take centre stage. On "Guns in the Distance", he raps about the military industrial complex before launching into a knowingly futile cry for an end to gallivanting petroimperialism.
"Don't Talk About It" is a languid slice of psychedelic soul suffused in a ganja haze, while the Jorja Smith duet "Slow Down" marries a Holland-Dozier-Holland verse section with a breakbeat refrain that works better than it should have any right to. Relationships; beginning, middle, and end - though not in that order - weigh heavy on When I Wake Up's orchestration. "Slow Down" muses on arguments between loved ones, while "Weakness" finds Maverick boldy flexing both his falsetto and his mettle in a declaration of post-relationship self-worth on the album's purest pop offering.
"A Mile Away" turns the tenor to infatuation, recalling early post-millennial neo-soul. Striding the sumptuous snares with a mellifluous intone, serene enough to soothe the stylus it was intended for, Sabre basks in the ephemeral felecity of new love. But like infatuation, Mav's merriment is fleeting, and repeatedly tempered by consternation. Dolefully doubling back to societal concerns on "Big Smoke", a caoineadh for the unlawful killings at Grenfell Tower and "Her Grace", an uncomfortable elegy on domestic violence, When I Wake Up, never strays from the soulful parameters of its intent.
Turning full revisionist on "Into Hope", Maverick's inflection transforms into a gular Irish brogue as he dulcetly quavers over a rich retro arrangement. Call it emerald soul. The coda, "Glory, is the record's apogee, a rousing harmony of banjos, bodhrans and free reeds in ode to his homeland, crowned with a sean nós from this father.
Sabre's seasoned vocals are euphonious throughout, invigorating his melodies with fervour and demonstrating the sensibilities of an artist with a discerning ear for a hook. In choosing to bet on himself, Maverick Sabre has created his best album to date. Brimming with brooding introspection and exasperation with injustice, When I Wake Up shoulders the weight of its content matter with poise and purpose.