Album review: RONAN FURLONG – The King Of Leaves

Ronan Furlong - The King Of Leaves

Thoroughbred Music [Release date 20.11.20]

Ronan Furlong’s ‘The King Of Leaves’ is an essential jagged-edged, genre bending, Celtic tinged roots rocking album of the highest order.

It’s shot through with unrelenting intensity, yet understated swagger. And there’s enough musical diversity, consistent lyrical weight and integrity to confirm his credentials as a heavyweight singer songwriter.

It’s an album that never takes the easy option. He indulges himself in lyrical and musical explorations which impressively fit together as part of a sequential flow.

It’s an album full of sparkling musical bombast tempered by vulnerable introspection. He effects several changes in style with a sleight of hand, born of startling dynamics, unexpected tempo changes and sharply contrasting intricate acoustic and rip-roaring electric solo bursts.

The opening ‘Your Joy’ is a good example of what to expect. It moves from a low-register vocal with an edgy guitar sound to an ascending Celtic guitar break. A sudden tempo change then ushers in a flighty flamenco acoustic break while he double tracks his guitar lines over feverish drum rolls and a closing vocal couplet.

Above all, Furlong is a stellar wordsmith who delves into mythology, legends, history and philosophy. He voices eclectic tales over folk and Celtic rock work-outs. Surprisingly perhaps, they are never too far removed from full-blown Led Zeppelin hard rock arrangements.

He also uses the timeless quiet-to-loud rock dynamic to reveal the dexterity of his playing, but always as an integral part of a song.

He’s in his element on mystic lyrical imagery, while his voice straddles folk and hard rock with occasional hints of gothic.

As on his previous ‘Minerva’s Meddling’ album, he makes good use of his unique vibrato, while on the more musical complex ‘Silencing The Beast’ he explores an early Neil Young style vulnerability over a subtle choice of chords.

By contrast, he is in a more expansive Robert Plant mode on ‘This Won’t Happen To You’, while his sinewy timbre also evokes Rush’s Geddy Lee.

And it’s that same style of rock-blues bluster that infiltrates ‘It Came To My Attention’, and puts us in mind of Joe Bonamassa’s recent output.

In short, there’s always room for the unexpected, as he combines disparate but musically related strands.

‘Endless Caravan’ weaves it’s way between a jammed out Celtic instrumental break and an eastern riff-filled tableau. There’s also an unsettling tension building staccato mid-section  that suggests he’s nothing if not adventurous.

On ‘Looking Back On Yesterday’, the up-in-the-mix rhythm section helps facilitate the transition to another electric Celtic rock break. And it’s that sense of adventure – be it word play or musical improvisation – that makes ‘The King Of Leaves’ such an interesting album.

On the closing instrumental ‘Fever Dreams’ he rocks as hard as any of his hard rock heroes. The double-time, Celtic tinged riff-driven piece is full of keen dynamics, a stop-start middle and a loose ending.  The latter works because he successfully draws us into a perfect tension building finale to the album as a whole.

It also illustrates his constant search for an equilibrium between his lyrical minutiae and rough-hewn musical improvisation as part of his overarching musical vision.

‘The King Of Leaves’ is passionate uncompromising music on its own terms. It’s interwoven with lingering melodies and colourful electric lyrics that leap from the speakers with total conviction, as he marries his lyrical craft with inspirational playing.

On ‘Eudaimonia Blues’ (Greek for happiness), he reaches for a deeper intensity by roughing up his throaty vocals to mirror a restless, tough blues-rocker with a perfunctory finish.

‘The King Of Leaves’ might be regarded as a slow burner if only for the fact there’s so much to digest here. But it’s better understood as a musical jigsaw that successfully searches for a ground breaking Celtic rock niche.

It’s a beguiling album on which the portentous title track nods in the direction of more Zeppelin-tinged folk rock, but lyrically stands on its own merits as he delivers lines such as: “A chilling breeze is sharpened in the night, an army of the wind is on the rise.”

In the hands of anyone else this would simply be a great opening line, but he’s already drawn us into his lyrical thrust over significant tempo changes and power chord bluster, There’s a further a further acoustic /electric guitar drop-down over a nuanced drum track, as he returns to his theme: “The King Of Leaves has vengeance on his mind.”

‘Seneca Says’ is another example of his song craft as his weathered phrasing explores the concept of: “The fire inside and the warmth of new adventure.”

His suddenly illuminates the song with a brusquer vocal attack as he sings: “No more time at the assembly line I’m gonna vanish.” His vocal also mirrors lyrical feel on lines such as: “Blown by the breeze of a deep unease.”

His musical arrangement of ‘The Waves’ cleverly evokes the title, before he adds his own inquisitive philosophical bent, “Would like some notoriety, could you taste a little fame, ‘cos it’s just a tarnished legacy that greets you when you wake. “

Ronan Furlong’s music has a jagged edge and is all the better for it. ‘’The King Of Leaves’ is a pivotal release shot through with the true spirit of early 70’s progressive rock and a contemporary singer-songwriter vein.

The fact that his own roots lie in Ireland merely adds musical and literary depth to his palette. He stands proudly above a market obsessed by genres and labels and invites us to immerse ourselves in his unique world by pressing the button marked repeat play. ****½ 

Review by Pete Feenstra

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