David Corley erupted into view at the beginning of 2015 with his tremendous debut album Available Light. An astonishing record, his deep voice carrying years of experience (53 years in fact), the music reminiscent of Southern soul and swampy blues, Available Light was an immediate hit with the roots music community in the UK, Ireland and the continent leading to Corley and his band touring Europe. Disaster struck however when Corley’s history of cardiac problems caught up with him, collapsing with a heart attack on stage in Groningen. Fortunately prompt attention and then medical care in Groningen’s University Medical Centre allowed a full recovery and now, after some rest and recuperation, Corley returns to the fray with this EP and will be touring again in May.
With seven songs and running at around 35 minutes Lights Out was recorded following Corley’s illness, some of it on Wolfe Island, Ontario and in Brooklyn with his band, The Wandering Stars, while three songs were recorded in The Netherlands with local musicians, keyboard player and Corley’s producer Hugh Christopher Brown on hand at all of the sessions. Most of the ingredients that contributed to Available Light’s success are in evidence, not least Corley’s voice, more stentorian than ever but there’s a bite here, an urgency that was not in evidence on the album. While there are some languid reflections on a life lived there’s also some punk like ferociousness and soulful funk. His brush with the Reaper is alluded to on the artwork, a blurred heart with a cardiograph on top of it.
Watchin’ The Sun Go opens the disc in fine style. Spare guitars slowly mesh together over a restrained keyboard before Corley (here sounding somewhat like Springsteen) sings and the rhythm kicks in. There is an E Street feel here with organ swells on the chorus while other keyboard sounds add an off kilter edge to the song but overall the effect is uplifting with Corley seeming to sing about his “resurrection”. Under A Midwestern Sky revisits Available Light territory, its sinuous guitar and organ winding like the Mississippi as Corley dips into his finest rough baritone boosted by a gospel like chorus. The song meanders wonderfully, like Dylan’s Slow Train Coming the band coil around the words, the guitars snaking in and out creating something of an epic. Pullin’ Off The Wool dives deeper into soul music, Corley here sounding like a secular Solomon Burke, his words half spoken, his voice stained with experience and emotion as he investigates what true love means. His impassioned pleas here are superbly supported by the excellent Gospel tinged harmonies from Kate Fenner and Sarah McDermott while the band hit a gorgeous Muscle Shoal type soul beat. Mickey Raphael turns up on harp on the parable that is Blind Man with Corley and the band taking up the reins of early Kris Kristofferson on a rusty tale of love gone wrong, the protagonist blinded in so many ways by his lover, well aware of his fate but unable to do anything about it. Corley waxes poetic here as the band tumble along slowly, a wild bunch playing sad saloon music.
Given his heart problems one fears for Corley’s health as he launches into the frantic rant that is Dividing Line. With the band pile driving into a ferocious garage punk riff he rails mightily over snarly guitars about love and hate, “don’t stop this train, of thought“, wailed throughout. There’s a grand shift in the middle of the song when the grunginess is briefly replaced by a brash acoustic thrash. Wonderful. Lighting Downtown meanwhile is a whip smart slice of funk, Corley funnelling Prince and Curtis Mayfield. Down With The Universe is a fine sign off. It opens as another slow Southern groove, organ and slide guitars setting the scene as Corley again seems to reflect on his near death, observing himself from above, recalling tender moments such as “I liked you best when you took off your dress” but eventually surrendering to a universal que sera sera, a dreamlike sitar infused ending fading into oblivion.
Mr. Corley says that Lights Out is “a bit of a departure…conceived during a stay in a hospital”, promising a full new album later this year. However there’s no sense here of this being a stop gap. Indeed it’s more proof, if proof were needed, that he is a writer and performer of the first order, poetic and passionate. You can catch him on tour here including two dates at the Kilkenny Roots Festival, Kilkenny seeming to have adopted Corley as a native son.