Like many folk musicians, Eamon O’Leary has spent a life in-transit including a move that took him from Dublin and his homeland to New York where he’s lived for over twenty years. It’s been much the same in his musical life where collaborations have involved Glen Hansard, Bonnie Prince Billy, Anais Mitchell, Anna and Elizabeth, John Doyle and Martin Hayes. He’s probably best known for his duo with Jefferson Hamer, The Murphy Beds, where the focus has been to offer their take on some traditional songs. However, with ‘All Souls’ on Reveal Records, O’Leary gathers together ten of his own original songs to put before us.
Various others have already observed that the songs in this collection have echoes of the much missed Leonard Cohen and it’s easy to see why that’s the case. Firstly, the arrangements have that gentle acoustic lilt that soaks into your senses as well as predominantly female background vocals reminiscent of those favoured by Cohen. Secondly, the lyrics are poetic in nature offering the bare bones of a tale but surrounded in layered mystery. Then, there is Eamon O’Leary’s soporific voice which wafts over you like a cooling breeze that, as with Cohen, acts like a soft pillow to rest your head on.
It’s a stark yet beautiful sound that O’Leary makes his own by infusing it with his traditional folk music sensibilities. Aided and abetted by old friend, Jefferson Hamer, along with multi-instrumentalist Benjamin Lazar Davis, there is a small but constant group of musicians involved who help maintain the soothing mood to this record. The opening track, ‘Harbinger’, sets the tone straightaway with its plucked guitar introduction, backing vocals and some mournful pedal steel guitar from Thomas Bryan Eaton which becomes something of a trademark sound for the record.
Lyrically, the songs never stray too far from relationships with both people and landscapes. The former most obvious on ‘The Second Bottle’ where the relationship seems smothered in guilty pleasure. Whereas Montreal is as much the inspiration as the woman of the title for standout track, ‘Marina Blue’. Towards the end of the song, images from traditional music shine through as he sings “I’ll skin a rabbit and nail it to a door for you”. It’s a perfect example of how Eamon O’Leary puts his own stamp on a style that has much to be admired. Hats off to all concerned with ‘All Souls’, it’s a collection of songs that deserves to be widely heard.
Eamon O’Leary is on tour in the UK with Sam Amidon during October 2018 – sounds like one not to be missed.