Irishman Matt McGinn might share his name with an infamous Glasgow singer and writer but he’s one of Ireland’s foremost artists. His 2013 album Latter Day Sinner was one of The Telegraph’s top ten folk releases of that year and he has played Nashville’s famous Bluebird Cafe and shared a stage with the likes of Elvis Costello, Nanci Griffith, Crowded House and Crosby Stills & Nash. Latter Day Sinner was an excellent collection of Celtic tinged songs which at times recalled Blue Rose Code’s similar forays into that hinterland but The End of The Common Man is a much more robust beast concerned as it is with many of the current woes of the world. There are still sweet moments of glistening folk but much of the content is informed by McGinn’s anger (and bewilderment) at the state of things – populist leaders, corporate greed and an increasing groundswell of warfare across the globe.
The album comes out punching from the bell with the horn laden title song, a powerful rant against big greed pointing out that it’s the common man who suffers as jobs and homes are lost while fat cats coin it in. With its pummelling percussion, brassy riffs and whiff of clangourous guitars the song recalls Blood Sweat & Tears and drives its message home with a slow burning anger. McGinn revisits this fuller band sound (with some twists) on several of the songs with Bells Of The Angelus sounding as if it were being played by some swampers from the South as an electric piano and sinewy slide guitar come to the fore while Out Sinner rings out with some Gospel fervour. The Right Name has one foot in a Springsteen like groove with the other planted in Van Morrison territory as it swings with a fine sense of street cool. However the full fire and fury of the band is kept in rein until the rude and raucous blues eruption of Trump, a no holds barred diatribe against the current incumbent of the White House. An easy target perhaps but the ramshackle and gritty blues riff along with McGinn’s spat out vocals and his clever adaptation of Nelly the Elephant’s chorus will certainly delight those who are not fans of the orange skinned buffoon.
Elsewhere McGinn advances the sounds he conjured up on Latter Day Sinner with more adventurous arrangements. There are aching love songs such as Somewhere To Run To, borne aloft with strings and rippling piano and The Overlanders with its mournful muted horns and softly throbbing rhythm. The pinnacle is achieved on McGinn’s grim tale of a father driven to crime to support his family and ultimately losing them on Marianne. Here the arrangement is delicate with dashes of acoustic guitar, pedal steel, a burbling bass line and weeping strings forming the skeleton of the song while a Theremin adds a lonesome eeriness to the mix. The album closes with another fine arrangement on The End Of Days with its sweeping strings and horns lending a sense of portent to McGinn’s bitter sweet ruminations as he despairs of information overload while sensing that there might be a way out, a light at the end of the tunnel, although the song collapses at the end into a babble of voices snatched from the ether.
The End Of The Common Man is a brave and adventurous album. It growls and protests without pointing fingers (aside from the Trump song) while it still has enough balm to satisfy the soul. There was an album launch last week in Belfast and the good news is that McGinn is touring to promote the album with a show in Glasgow at The Admiral Bar, a Fallen Angels promotion, on Tuesday 20th March.