Mumblin' Deaf Ro - Dictionary crimes (Popical Island)
Here's a review I wrote for We Are Noise, originally published on this link - http://wearenoise.com/index.php/2012/09/mumblin-deaf-ro-dictionary-crimes-popical-island/.
The reason I'm reprinting it here is that I think it's a monumental piece of work, as you can read below. Not just that though. I think there's something about it that could even salvage the whole "singer-songwriter" tag. So if you're someone who thinks that tag has been demeaned by bawlers or chancers or moaners or emoters, give this a go. It might renew your faith in something.
The third album by Mumblin’ Deaf Ro is largely autobiographical, the songs dealing with bereavement, grief and parenthood, among other things, and shows the touch of a true writer. In fact, it might just put the “writer” back into “singer-songwriter”. The songs launch from small, everyday situations, leading to broader emotional and philosophical reveries, much like some of the best short stories do. The lyrics are full of the tiny details of family life - such routine shared banalities as fridge calendars, food, DVD’s, games of Scrabble, Spiderman motorbikes, persuading kids not to stuff tuna into their trains – all of which creates a packed, layered portrait of domesticity, and personal identity, over 10 songs. (Ro has a dedicated website for this album, with plenty more background information on the songs, lyrics and other things, which is an essential companion piece to the album itself - http://www.dictionarycrimes.tumblr.com/.)
And what plainly beautiful songs they are, one of the best sets committed to record by an Irish artist ever, possibly – personal, heartfelt, by turns sad and funny, with frequent memorable turns of phrase, giving an earthy flavour of life as it is lived. The songs employ mostly folk styles of fingerpicked acoustic guitar as settings for their stories, never showy but not quite ordinary either, with minimal bass and sympathetic brushed drum backing.
The album opens with the majestic ‘Cheer up Charlie Brown’, using, ingeniously, a reference to the film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory to tell a story about fatherly responsibility, over a sublime guitar duo. (If Ro was looking for an immediate fast track into my good books, he went about it the right way with this near-namecheck of 'Cheer up, Charlie' from that film, one of the greatest pieces of film music ever recorded, I've long thought.)
The brilliantly wonky rhythm of ‘Sister ill, better now’ follows, in which the high-low bassline and slide electric guitar work like a dream together. It stands as one of the strangest, yet somehow most obvious, additions to the canon of folk pop. With its complex lyrical rhythms, it also reveals fresh layers on every listen.
The jaunty, pseudo bossa nova beat of ‘Little mite’ makes a superb and poignant counterpoint with the song’s narrative, two parents taking a weekend away following a miscarriage.
And ‘The Birdcage’, a memoir of his mother’s final days with cancer, has something of the classic pop of David Gates/Bread (a major plus point for me) in its emotional, plaintiff delivery and harmony acoustic guitar work.
The delicate guitar playing of Ro and Donnchadh Hoey is a feature throughout (‘The harm’ and ‘What if my children get bullied?’ are two of my favourite examples – the latter has a faint air of The Wicker Man soundtrack about it, I thought, in its pastoral/cautionary folk instrumental tones). And the production of Enda Bates (of The Spook of the Thirteenth Lock and a contemporary composer in his own right) is immaculate, allowing plenty of space for Ro’s lyrics to take centre stage.
The album shares something with the recent Sfumato album, These things between, in being completely unattached to any scene and also in its heart on the sleeve sincerity, nakedness even. As it goes, that would deserve credit for bravery. However, these songs are so strong, so get-under-your-skin, slow-burn catchy, that no patronising, feign praise is needed - this album stands up to scrutiny on any kind of pop music terms.
It’s always a little hard to evaluate albums just as they come out, to put them in the proper musical and historical context. Having said that, I think this is a modern classic.