Kevin Doherty. Seeing Things

A member of exuberant Irish folk group Four Men & A Dog, Kevin Doherty has had a fertile solo career running in tandem with his band work. He’s recorded with Levon Helm and Rick Danko and been described as a “Donegal Leonard Cohen.” Seeing Things is his fourth solo affair and immediately one can hear the reason for the Cohen comparison on the opening song, To Begin and on the excellent I’m Going Now which begs comparison with Cohen circa New Skin For The Old Ceremony. However it’s unfair to labour this point as throughout the album Doherty shows kinship with such excellent tunesmiths as Harry Nilsson, Paul McCartney, Randy Newman and, going back a century and a half, Stephen Foster. Although there’s a slight brogue in his voice there’s little to suggest that this is the work of an Irishman (musically I mean, lyrically it’s loaded with the Emerald Isle) and there’s nary a sight nor sound of a fiddle, banjo or bodhran. In their place we get a suite of intimate songs which drizzle out of the speakers like snowflakes, gently fluttering and caressing as they fall. With some excellent string arrangements by Michael Heaney the album is bare boned with guitar, piano and occasional accordion the primary instruments while Doherty’s fine vocals are supported on two of the songs by Charley Webb (of the Webb Sisters) and Lise O’Neill. As for the words Doherty is a great writer with a poet’s touch and almost every song has an arresting or striking lyric contained within it while there are nods and allusions to Dylan Thomas, John Donne, James Joyce, Paul Bowles and in the title song Seamus Heaney. Doherty’s online notes on the songs are especially worth reading.

With the exception of I Wish I Was On A Train which sounds somewhat underdeveloped all of the songs here are almost perfect examples of the songwriter’s craft. The miniature morning song of To Begin, the tender Latin American tinged Esplendido Corazon, the Cohanesque (sorry) Rambling Irishman would deserve attention anywhere. Doherty however excels himself on two songs that elevate the album into a contender for the annual best of lists at the end of the year. The title song Seeing Things opens with the arresting line “We’re slamming through clouds in a loud piece of shining steel” as Doherty slides into a wine fuelled reverie on a flight. The baleful horn and gentle backing support the song like billowing clouds. New York City (Going Back) has a subtle laid back organ groove with some muted horn and is an impressionistic report on meetings and encounters in the Big Apple with Philip Roth and John Henry offered walk on parts. So far we’ve avoided mentioning Van Morrison but Doherty’s vocal manner and lyrics here recall Morrison’s as Doherty slips oh so easily into the big feller’s stream. A magnificent song.

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