Releasing his first single as far back as 1989, over the years Dublin singer-songwriter Marc Carroll has consistently received good reviews and the praise of his contemporaries without ever making the big breakout he deserves. And, to be honest, it’s unlikely that Love Is All Or Love Is Not At All, his seventh studio album, is going to see him headlining the world’s major concert halls. However, having signed to One Little Indian in 2011, they’ve stuck by him, last year releasing remastered and expanded editions of his first four albums, and this is another fine addition to his outstanding catalogue.
Musically, the opening track. No Hallelujah Here, is something of a departure from the norm in that, rather than being led by guitar, it’s a moody, piano driven number, providing a suitably dramatic setting for lyrics which relate the tragedy of four boys killed last year while playing football during the Gaza conflicts. It also sets the album’s general tone and themes wherein Carroll’s political and personal perspectives bring together the universal and the individual.
The mood spills over into Oh Death, Don’t Yet Call Me Home, a swirlingly atmospheric, darkling folk ballad asking for more time with his lover and in parts evocative of early meditative Dylan. But if it opens on downbeat notes, there’s also defiant hope to be found in the ringing guitar and trumpets of Ball And Chain where he channels the big music of The Waterboys in a call for compassion and unity as he sings “I will lend my hand in the hope we stand in this and we are all together….I won’t turn my back on the old, the sick, the silenced, frightened or the lonely. I was born with my hands free, I will die with my hands free.”
The baton’s picked up by the title track as, heralded by tumbling military beat drums, Carroll’s sung title line intro gives way to a spoken poem about the nature of love by the legendary Penny Rimbaud from Crass (the album artwork’s also designed by Crass collaborator Gee Vaucher).
Further shades of Mike Scott emerge out of the Celtic mist for the five minute A Child In Midstream, an apocalyptic contemplation of nature featuring improvised haunted jazz trumpet courtesy of Noel Langley and My Morning Jacket’s Bo Koster on keys. The end of the world also gets a namecheck in the opening line of Brightest Of Blue, though this is actually a stirring, muscular love song built around circular ringing guitar riff and drum pattern. Things calm down for the spare, acoustic Your Ghost and then, having kept the faithful waiting for a while, featuring Big Star’s Jody Stephens on drums, the celebratory Lost And Lonely erupts with those chiming Rickenbacker guitar notes and familiar Byrds comparisons. Then, once more featuring Koster on piano, Pete Thomas takes over the drum seat for the glorious six minute strummed Catalina In The Distance, a song of finding serenity (“I found the solitude that I’ve been missing and the peace of mind I lost along the way”) before the album closes with the equally lengthy gradually swelling chiming guitar instrumental Against All Odds.
In the past, it’s been the Dylan/McGuinn references that have been customarily trotted out in any review of Carroll’s albums, but as indicated, this time round it’s The Waterboys that provide the most striking comparison. And as such, this is the whole of the moon.
Review by: Mike Davies
Love Is All Or Love Is Not At All is Out Now via One Little Indian
Order it here.