herald

Tuesday 17 October 2017

Blues-wailin' Hozier stays true to his roots

Hozier Hozier (Rubyworks/Island)

From Van Morrison to Rory Gallagher, Henry McCullough and Gary Moore, Ireland has had a fine tradition of artists directly and tellingly influenced by roots blues and soul.

It's something you still find in America, the home of the blues, where Jack White and The Black Keys have shown how the old music can dramatically inform exciting new departures.

But on this side of the Atlantic these days it's unusual to come across an emerging new talent that's convincingly plugged into the wider mainframe of delta blues misery. Sure, every second pub has its blues shouters and rapscallion Robert Johnson wannabes.

But originality, creativity and empathy is thin on the ground. It's a year since Wicklow musician Hozier released Take Me To Church, the ersatz gospel song which lit the touchpaper that turbo- boosted his career.

If we had a bottle of beer for every act that claims they grew up listening to their parents' collection of old blues albums, we'd own a small brewery. But in Hozier's case, the proof is "in the groove" as those old juke joint cats might say.

Some commentators might see the 24-year old as an easy target for a few cack-handed cheap shots. He doesn't come with a back-story of deprivation, depravity or deal-making with the devil. He doesn't even make his own guitars from dustbin lids like Seasick Steve. And, as far as we know, he never worked on a chain gang on the Wicklow by-pass.

But he was a member of Anuna and so, like many artists, including Aretha Franklin and Al Green, he has first-hand experience of how a gospel choir can work effectively in a secular setting.

Distinctive More importantly, Hozier can sing. And he possesses a distinctive voice.

On the sweet soul hymn Someone New he displays a lightness of touch not dissimilar to early Van. The crunching rhythm of the formidable Jackie And Wilson swings with an appealing Finley Quaye groove and is embellished by celestial harmonies befitting a song celebrating his ideal companion. "We'll name our children Jackie and Wilson, raise 'em on rhythm and blues.." he vows.

Throughout, producer Rob Kirwan does a notable job mixing booming percussion with cello, violin and expressive guitars.

Wiry Lightnin' Hopkins guitar ushers in the stinging domestic worksong To Be Alone with its disdain of a society in which "they're playing the anthems of rape culture loud.."

Woman as femme fatale is the theme of Angel of Small Death & The Codeine Scene, a post-modern Bukka White-style wail of lovesick existentialism.

It's a lengthy album which means there's plenty to choose from here, including tracks that are sure to provide future hits for this welcome new star. HHHII

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