Cork City-based Conor O’Sullivan served his musical apprenticeship by playing sessions with local musicians at the popular Corner House pub, which led to him filling in with award-winning energetic traditional Irish band North Cregg. He has since made a name for himself as a founding member of Deluce’s Patent before joining Irish/Nordic fusion outfit Silta. More recently he has performed with Fuinnimh and as half of the duo Leif. Now, Conor moves from the shadows and into the spotlight to deliver his first album Good Day Señor, a collection of mainly original songs alongside a contemporary cover and a couple of traditional pieces, all held together by the skills of renowned producer Christian Best, who also contributes drums and percussion.
Fruit Field starts pleasantly enough but when the song’s lyrics are paid close attention to, the dark nature of the album’s path becomes clear. Against Conor’s banjo and mandolin and Martin Brunsden’s growling double bass, a plantation slave’s ghost tells how he was whipped, beaten and ultimately hanged for daring to quench his thirst with a piece of fruit. The death theme continues into Love Letters but this time, it’s the revenge-driven murder of a soldier’s sweetheart who married another while he was away at war. The gentle backing builds with drums and Isaac Alderson’s whistle providing a military air as the awful events reach their conclusion.
Gorgeous instrumental piece The Drive South allows a little time to ponder the depression of the preceding tales, with a five and a half minute journey through Ireland. Beginning slowly with an intricately-picked guitar, a mandolin increases the pace briefly before it again becomes more relaxed, as if to reflect the Irish pace of life. By the time that flute and fiddle take hold of the melody it’s easy to imagine the emerald beauty of the countryside passing by.
The upbeat love ballad Honeydew Rose offers a short lifejacket of light relief from drowning in the album’s sea of lyrical despair. Written by fellow Cork songwriter Ricky Lynch and included on his 2008 album Can’t Stand Sitting Down, Conor has fleshed out the originally guitar-backed song with a full band arrangement that lends its rhythm a cèilidh dance feel. It’s soon back to business, though, as the cold air of January reminds us that not everyone will manage to keep their children warm during the coming winter without recourse to desperate actions. The song is lent an added poignancy with the chorus’ vocals being shared with Pauline Scanlon, like a child’s parents reflecting on their situation.
Murder raises its head again with Conor’s arrangement of the traditional Scots Border ballad The Dewey Dens of Yarrow, as it details the plot between a young woman’s father and her nine noble suitors against her lowly plough boy lover. Upon defeating his attackers, he suddenly meets his end at the hands of her sibling before she declares that she will never love another. Staying with the traditional for a short while longer, Tunes is a set of three instrumental pieces. The first is unknown but it fits seamlessly with its banjo-led partners The Powder Mills and Humours of Glendart.
The melancholic Small Whispers is the first of a trio of songs about longing to be somewhere else and considers how an elopement plot might fuel neighbourhood gossip but also upset the woman’s mother. The equally subdued Train describes a woman embarking on a journey to an unknown destination as she escapes heartbreak on her birthday, echoed by Conor’s blues guitar solo and Pauline’s additional vocal. Final song Rio Grande isn’t the famous sea shanty sung on South America-bound British vessels but follows a fortune seeker on his way to El Paso. Resonating percussion combined with shimmering guitar and Nigel Grufferty’s fiddle help to evoke the despairing atmosphere as the traveller finds himself charged with murder when a body is washed ashore.
With the freedom to concentrate on his own material away from his other musical commitments, Good Day Señor shows Conor O’Sullivan to be a songwriter and arranger of formidable talent. The songs are far from foot-tapping sing-alongs but thought-provoking, bleak tales of love and loss, human brutality, murder and escape that demand close attention. Conor will doubtless return to playing with other acts but this accomplished debut is likely to be only the beginning of a highly promising solo phase in his career.
Review by: Roy Spencer
Good Day Señor is available now via iTunes or via: www.conorosullivanmusic.com