At the start of “Two Wrongs” – one of the standout tracks here – they play a bit of audio from the studio. The first voice says: “what key is this in?” Paul J. Bolger replies: “D, I think.” Then they proceed to play a glorious, laid back, soulful, yet bluesy jam.
Nothing seems to up the mood better than that.
Bolger is a successful Irish film director, animator artist and publisher. I’ll cut a long story short, but basically, it goes like this. He was asked to support David Corley when the American played a show in Waterford. He hit it off with him and his producer Hugh Christopher Brown. The result are these eight songs. A mere 25 years after the last album he put out.
Thing is though, as lovely as that story is, it would count for precisely nothing if the songs weren’t good enough to back it up. The happy ending here, if you will, is that “Paul J Bolger” is a brilliant album.
The first thing you notice about “Swim” is the gorgeous Lap Steel played by Rocky Roberts, while Brown (simply listed as HCB throughout) tinkles the piano. It gets better with repeat listens too, like some lost track on “Exile On Main St,” as much as it sounds like Americana.
The idea that this is not one thing is all the way over “How Many More Tears?” way more soulful, the vocals of Hadley McCall Thackston are wonderful here, while there is something particularly poetic about the way “Wedding Gown” lurks a little more in the shadows. “She always wanted her wedding gown, it became her funeral shroud” is striking, and a special mention for Joey Wright here. His guitar is exceptional. It’s different to the rest of them, but it is a superb song. One of the best here – and there’s plenty of competition.
“Pillarstone” seems to be perhaps the most autobiographical. “I fell in love in London Town – couldn’t wait to get away. Now I am back in my home ground” he sings, and it sounds like he’s settled. The Wurlitzer piano makes this, but as he notes in the hook: “its hard to make a living selling stories and songs….”, which might be the whole truth.
It is staggering how much this takes in over its eight tracks. The piano led “All Those things” also has such lovely harmonies from Sarah McDermott, while the purveyor of what was termed as “Gog Gothic” way back when, explores the metaphorical dirt roads of middle America it seems on “Unkind” and pretty gives a sign post as to how it should be done.
The last one “I Believe” is the most sparse arrangement – there are no drums and broadly speaking it is acoustic – on it he sings: “I believe in how I feel about you”. Whatever it is, personal stuff, the music in general, this album in particular, it seems to hit the nail squarely on the head.
On “Pillarstone” he actually laughs at one point, and it is kept in the mix. Maybe it is something in the Irish psyche, but this kept coming back to me listening to this. I don’t walk very well. 10 years ago or so I went to Dublin for a concert with my brother and his then girlfriend. We were on the bus back to the hotel and we weren’t sure which stop was closest, so what is now my Sister-In- Law asked the driver. Upon seeing my sticks he said: “ahhh don’t worry” and when we got to where we were staying he slammed his breaks on, stopped the bus, and with a cheery: “this’ll be where you’s all want” we got off. It was Friday rush hour on a busy road.
Nothing has ever summed up the kind of carefree nature of a people better, and the feeling on this record is just the same. The idea that brilliant things happen by chance and if you let them seems to underpin “Paul J. Bolger” too, and this collection stands as a shining beacon to what happens when fantastic happenstance is allied to fantastic talent.