Album review: ULTAN CONLON – Songs Of Love So Cruel

ULTAN CONLON – Songs Of Love So Cruel

Darksideout [Release date 09.06.14]

The fact that the ‘Songs Of Love So Cruel’ dominates the CD sleeve tells you all you need to know about Ultan Conlon’s mindset, on an album full of enduring relationship and love songs.

He treads a thin line between heartfelt lyrics and outright sentimentality. Indeed the hammy strings and poppy melody of the opening ‘In The Mad’ comes worryingly close to Country and Irish, except for the veracity of his lyrics, delivered by emotive phrasing that never wavers over 10 songs.

And having made a splash with the melodic opener, he retreats a shade on the beautifully crafted ‘Eternally’, a song on which every lyrical nuance is conveyed by a vocal that draw you into his love torn milieu.

At times Ultan’s songs sound a shade contrived for a thirty year old apparently singing teen laments, except that the combination of his words and lofty arrangements envelope you in a way that only good songs can.

On ‘The Lumberjack, You And Me’ he sounds like ‘Nashville Skyline’ era Bob Dylan, but with his own poetic bent and occasional half rhymes: ‘A wry smile, we will meet in September, All political lives end in failure, We feel flat, as if a tree, There was the lumberjack, you and me’.

Above all, Ultan has a resonant, emotive voice and a rare ability to hold back and he let the spaces between his delivery and the bv’s fill tracks like ‘A Place Of Sanctuary’ with a sense of expectation.

His voice is wracked full of emotion as befits an album of love songs that dwell on the past and present with a sense of longing, poignancy and even wonder.

On ‘Dance To ‘Paper Roses’ his emotional fragility is  reminiscent of Nick Drake, as he voices his feelings over Eoin McCann’s slide guitar and a choral accompaniment, while the intro to the beautiful ‘Bristlecone Pines’ could be a ‘Harvest’ era Neil Young, except that Ultan’s phrasing carriers so much emotion on a timeless love song that many can surely relate too: ‘If You go I’ll love you for all time, If you stay here we will only fight, For my love it grew with every mile and year that came then passed us by,  Now we stand in time, like bristlecone pines’.

Having nailed his singer singer-songwriter credentials he almost over eggs the cake on a country tinged ‘Lonely Avenues’. The distant pedal steel and sugary bv’s come far too close to MOR for comfort, but then adds a sweeping chorus with drum accents on ‘The Golden Sands’, all neatly offset by a big tremolo figure.

The constant tension between his essential lyrical beauty and an imposing production is finally swept aside on a gem of a track, ‘The River Flows And The Woods Creep’. It’s a duet worthy of the sweeping string accompaniment as Ultan’s voice croaks with emotion, almost as if in the realization he’s found somewhere to voice his heartfelt lyrics with, as Sabrina Dinan brings an extra dimension to one of the best tracks on the album.

‘Songs Of Love So Cruel’ could be dismissed as the introspective work a tortured love torn teen, except it’s tempered by a lyrical maturity in constant search of equilibrium.

Ultan finally achieves his goal to give the album a much needed resolution with closing verse of ‘When I Fell In Love With You’: ‘For All that is gained there will be something lost, I give it al away for you, There was something that I lost, No it was only misplaced, For I found it when I fell in love with you’.

Ultan Conlon’s combination of voice and songs make ‘Songs Of Love So Cruel’ an emotional strewn journey worth sharing.  ***½ 

Review by Pete Feenstra

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