Pete Feenstra chatted to Ronan Furlong for his Feature show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, first broadcast 7 June 2020, and including tracks from the album ‘Minerva’s Meddling’.
Thoroughbred Music [Release date 29.06.20]
To say that Ronan Furlong’s ‘Minerva’s Meddling’ is an album full of honesty, integrity and aspiration doesn’t in itself make it essential. But from the album art work through to Furlong’s three pronged attack – the arresting vocal, his deep lyrics and cross genre musicianship – he’s inviting us into the kind of aesthetic in which art is the key to understanding the world.
‘Minerva’s Madness’ is a mix of the autobiographical and wholly fictive, taking it’s point of departure from the album title itself.
The Irishman dips into the imagined psyche of Minerva, understood to be the Roman goddess of wisdom, strategic warfare and the sponsor of arts, trade, and strategy.
It’s the perfect touchstone for an artist who revels in ancient history, philosophy and is inquisitive enough to ask, what if?
He’s a painstaking lyricist whose songs act as a gateway to the thought processes of a succession of colourful characters, contrasting moods and universal emotions. He exquisitely explores all 3 in a musical journey that frequently shifts from acoustic to electric guitar lines during the course of one song.
At other times a belated cathartic guitar break frames everything that has gone before. Then there’s his voice – very reminiscent at times of Pavlov’s Dog’s lead singer David Surkamp – which will either have the listener enthralled or struggling to empathise.
There are no half measures with Furlong as he’s a chameleon who changes with the mood of a song. Sometimes he casts himself as a narrator with a fractured vulnerability in his phrasing, especially on the outstanding ‘Persian Sun’.
The latter is the perfect meeting of voice, acoustic guitar and subtle string parts. His voice hovers on the song title and then gently rises to lever us into one more magical alliterative line: “When this war is won, we’ll go home on sails to golden shores. Come to me be my shield.”
The Eastern flavoured ‘Mystic Mountain’, is all about the way the musical ambience reflects the song title. It also illustrates that he’s far from being genre bound, as the value of the song is determined by where his unfettered creative process takes him.
Listen to the way he fuses different styles on ‘Empires Of The Mind’, moving from a meditative acoustic opening to another proggy finish with a mix of wah wah and double guitar lines.
‘The Digital Savant’ is the other way round, opening as an edgy guitar-led Celtic rock instrumental, before a sudden acoustic drop-down and back again, almost as if to re-emphasize his rock roots.
It doesn’t quite feel like the rupture it might otherwise have been simply because from the moment you play the opening Celtic tinged ‘The Deal’, you enter a different world in which many things are possible.
The Deal’ establishes a template for an album on which the voice, musical arrangement and lyrics are inextricably entwined on a song that outlines a Faustian contract: “You’d sell your soul to change your situation, and forever isn’t such a long long time.”
It’s nicely juxtaposed by ‘Hoplite Armour’ an intricately woven song full of gently plucked guitar and one man band accompaniment. It’s another memorable outing full of illuminating imagery and is one of at least 4 possible singles that might not fit any pre -exiting genre, but can potentially make a big enough impact to make the listener wonder who it is.
And it’s Furlong’s ability to keep you guessing and his willingness to immerse himself in the moment that serves him well throughout an engaging album.
He’s honest, raw and emotive, but never loses sight of an essential songcraft in which no word or note is wasted. He’s into imagery, feel, history and mysticism. His voice evokes all those elements and his lyrics are the gateway to another world as he taps into different sensibilities and the subconscious.
He lets creativity flow within some carefully chosen scenarios from an imaginative narrative to highly original historic contexts.
The lead single ‘Keep On Turning The Pages’ sounds like an idea from Neil Young’s ‘After The Goldrush’ era with a salient the hook. He mixes some lush imagery with an unexpected burst of piecing guitar on a proggy finish.
He consistently aims to match his musical feel with related thematic content in an esoteric mix that makes ‘Minerva’s Meddling’ worthy of your attention.
He rounds things off with ‘Deep Within My Soul’, a slow building acoustic-into-rock finish, on which the music again evokes unsettling lyrics via intricate acoustic guitar, contrasting electric power chords and lingering words: “The key to my redemption is a crown of pain and thorns, and I can feel this tension sinking in my soul.”
The perfunctory ending leaves the kind of void that you can only fill with anther listening session, always a good sign of a great album. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 20 September 2020.
UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 ( BST, GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 22 September 2020.
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