By Conor O’Neill
A couple of Sunday’s ago I woke up to the most polite email asking me to give the author’s album a listen and wondering if I would like to review it?
The writer was North Antrim’s Aaron McMullan and the LP is called Swing Hosanna, Sing The Salt. I gave the album a few listens, intrigued and blown away by the lyrical beauty and tenderness, the strength of the voice and most importantly the distinct phrasing of the voice.
The voice put me in mind of Dr John or Tom Waits. I emailed back asking how old the writer was, expecting him to be a 60-year-old folk singer who lived a hard life of whiskey swilling and smoking forty a day. Surprisingly McMullan’s just turned 40. He writes and sings with a hard won wisdom beyond his years
Over the next few days I happily bought more of McMullan’s albums from Bandcamp, until over the space of two weeks I had everything he’s released, going right back to 2007’s debut Yonder! Calliope?
2020’s God May Relent may arguably be McMullan’s most ‘radio friendly’ recording to date but Swing Hosanna, Sing The Salt is definitely his most complete and adventurous LP . It’s only nine tracks all in, but the variety and themes of these nine songs is what got me intrigued in the first place.
Opening with Tilt To The Maythorn the listener enters a world of one who’s not afraid to bare his soul for all to dissect and interpret. Indeed, in the album’s notes there is an acknowledgement that he may have said too much. Themes of mental illness, drug references and sexual ambiguity run through the core of this LP. The latter hinted at in both track two Of An Architect’s Assistant and again on track six Swoon Calliope.
Of course I had to Google ‘Calliope’ and depending on the site she’s either the eldest of nine muses of song, dance and music, while another states she’s the muse who resides over ‘eloquence and epic poetry’. Whichever definition is true, either happily fits the material that’s on offer from this record.
Musically, Swing Hosanna, Sing The Salt is also McMullan’s most ambitious and challenging record to date. There’s beautifully played acoustic guitars, ukulele, mandolin, accordion, with percussion provided by the drumming of fingers on a table, hand claps and by the sounds of it a little bit of bodhran. The entire album is written, recorded and produced by McMullan. Quite an achievement and a testament to what can be done with talent and today’s home recording technology.
The words and phrasing are what’s most beguiling with this LP. Each song a story with a narrative, some more immediate than others. Yet the more challenging tracks are the ones I found myself listening to the most. Song number four, Lamplight Suite, For Soot And Tall Mirrors comes in at 13 minutes and 10 seconds and there’s at least three songs of lyrical themes and steppings of musical tones and time signatures in that time.
The album flows, each song connected by an unspoken theme yet able to stand alone in its own right. Rags Mountsandel is a tender song, one of the most melodious on the record. Track eight, In The Limbs Of Things has an edge of the political, and like most of the songs has that distinct touch of North Antrim accent. It’s often the sign of a good singer/Songwriter that you recognise it’s them within 10 seconds of the song beginning. That’s immediately true of Aaron McMullan’s work.
I implore to listen to Swing Hosanna, Sing The Salt. You’ll thank me later. If you have half an ear for quality, integrity and close-to-the-bone honesty, this is a ‘must own’ album.
Swing Hosanna, Sing The Salt is available on Bandcamp now.
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