Ultan Conlon Hits New York With His Broodingly Lyrical, Vivid Grey-Sky Chamber Pop
Irish crooner Ultan Conlon sings with the same kind of hesitancy at the end of a phrase that Morrissey worked for so long – and for all we know, still is working. But Conlon can also sail up high like Orbison and belt like Pierce Turner when he feels like it. His latest album, Songs of Love So Cruel – streaming at Spotify – is a gloomy cycle told from the point of view of an old man looking back on his marriage with all sorts of angst and regret. Right now Conlon’s in town, with a Dives of New York tour in the works. Tonight, August 27 at around 8:30 PM, he’s at Hifi Bar, with the lyrically brilliant, increasingly harder-rocking Linda Draper opening at 7:30. Then tomorrow, August 28 at 8 PM he’s at 12th Street Bar & Grill in Park Slope; on the 29th at one in the afternoon, he’s at Little Water Radio in South Street Seaport.
Conlon’s site doesn’t credit the musicians on the record, and that’s a pity, because the arrangements and playing are first-rate, purist and inspired: a lot of work went into this. It opens with In the Mad, a brisk janglerock anthem with a lush string section that kicks in on the second chorus. Trouble’s brewing right from the start: “It’s wild and desolate in this snow-cold land,” Conlon grouses. He follows with The Golden Sands, a backbeat janglerocker. Conlon’s narrator longs to be swept off his feet, and “You wait for the day but it’s not coming round.”
The Lumberjack, You and Me, the first of the Americana numbers here, is an elegant waltz:
On the way to the Galway railway station
With your brother there so I can’t say what I’m thinking…
A wry smile, we will meet in September
All political lives end in failure…
I don’t grow, I just cling to the vine
“There’s a trail we wore down across the years,” the protagonist laments in the elegaically shuffling, slide guitar-fueled Dance to Paper Roses. Bristlecone Pines is even more wintry and morose, contemplating what hell must be like: “My limbs will mend but there are cracks, and those ones won’t.” Then the band returns to a shuffle groove with Lonely Avenues, the closest thing to the Smiths here, Conlon reaching for the rafters.
The lush art-rock ballad Eternally evokes Pink Floyd, especially when the slide guitar enters: “Oh how my eyes deceive me now, looking out on this minefield…like seeds waiting to explode, to go up in flames.”
Conlon follows the vampy stadium-rock anthem Place Of Sanctuary with the lush, gorgeously bittersweet art-folk ballad The River Flows and The Woods Creep, a duet with Sabrina Dinan. By the time the album closes with the spare, harp-speckled When I Fell in Love With You, it’s clear that this relationship is now one for the ages. Fans of the sad side of chamber pop will have a field day with this.