It’s impossible to review Fionn Regan‘s second long-player without reference to the not-so-benevolent godfather of folk rock: the spectre of Bob Dylan looms so large over The Shadow Of An Empire¸ he should be given a co-production credit. This is not the Dylan who crooned metaphysical about life’s big questions blowin’ in the wind, however: it’s the re-energised, electrified 1966 -Judas’ of Manchester’s Free Trade Hall. Indeed, Regan’s intonation even mimicks that of His Bobness on tracks like -Catacombs’ and the almost hysterical anger of the brilliant -Genocide Matinee’, although the Bray native has the edge in the vocal stakes over Dylan’s trademark nasal stylings.
Where Regan’s acclaimed debut was winsome and folky, at least half of Shadow… sees him and his band plugging in and turning the amps up to six for an electro-folk-country hoedown. Lead single and album opener, -Protection Racket’ is a perfect calling card: a rollicking anti-capitalist rant, masked with some toe-tappingly addictive torch and twang. Like the rest of the album, it oozes confidence, as Regan steps out of the bedsit and onto the soapbox with no little aplomb, proving he’s as comfortable with the personal (-Little Nancy’) as the universal (the title track), as he weaves his visual vignettes with a deft display of wordplay .
Songs like the aforementioned -Genocide Matinee’ and -House Detective’ could be excerpts from the electric half of Bringing It All Back Home, while -Violent Demeanor’ and the tender -Lines Written In Winter’ echo the Nick Drake-esque tendencies of his debut, although the former manages to cram a cell-full of anger in amidst the gently plucked melody.
Regan is far more than merely the sum of his influences, however, and it’s when he cuts loose from his musical heroes that he really shines. Standout track, the extraordinary -Lord Help My Poor Soul’ may be only four minutes and 46 seconds long, but it feels epic, its stream of consciousness narrative transforming from plaintive plea to biblical brimstone and back again over its duration, while the closing title track is a stunning piano-and-vocal music-hall snapshot of 21st century life, delivered like a 19th century call to arms.
Musically adept and with something genuine and affecting to say, Fionn Regan is growing up in public and for that we should all be thankful. At this rate, by the time he’s 30, he’ll be a national treasure.