Johnny Rayge, a varitable stalwart of the Irish music scene, erstwhile front man of irish band ITO, driving force behind Dublin’s Underground Beat and all round nice guy releases his debut album Vigil this week. Spread over 9 tracks, it sees Johnny commit to record some of the many songs he has been stockpiling over the years. Spilling over with energy, raw emotion and accomplished musicianship, this debut album packs quite the punch.
Opening track ‘Do What You Can’ is a slow-building number with hints of stadium rock about it. This song is almost mantra like with Johnny intoning “rise up and shine, you’re still alive” and “just do what you can”. The cyclical nature of this song, and the gradual build up of instrumentation, makes it a striking opening track.
This is followed up by ‘Not Without You’ which was released as a single. It’s an upbeat number complete with a catchy melody throughout and it’s easy to see why this was selected as the lead single from the album. With it’s immediately infectious “woah woah woah” chorus and punchy delivery this song benefits from repeated listens.
The pace is changed again and arrangements pared back for ‘Need’. Just piano and voice, low-register and fragile, exposed. The listener is drawn in. It sounds like he is inside the speaker. Halfway through the song it develops into a stadium rock number redolent of Coldplay or Snow Patrol. Midway through the album, Johnny reminds us of his love for words and poetry and of course the guitar with ‘Cracks in the Wood’, a standout track on the album which sounds at times like Dylan and at other times like Paul Simon. The sparse instrumentation allows the lyrics room to breathe. And there is a lot of lyrics here, with an unstoppable train of thought hurtling towards an end.
‘Uncharted Sea’ sounds like a lost Queen song with Rayge singing about going back to the coast where he feels free in a flawless falsetto. It’s a rangey, operatic number with a muscular chorus and a classic Brian May / Slash style guitar solo moment at 2:43 which should be listened to with the speakers turned up to 11.
‘Parisian Skies’, at over 5 minutes, is the longest song on the album, but it doesn’t feel like it. A slow acoustic ballad which builds steadily with a memorable sing-along coda, which is clever enough to not overstay its welcome. Closing track ‘One More Time (For The Road)’ is a swaying, waltzy number complete with whistling solo and accordion. Its a nice understated way to close the album.
Johnny Rayge ploughs his own musical furrow, it’s obvious who his musical heroes are, he wears them proudly on his sleeve, right beside his heart. And as anyone who has seen him live can attest, he is a formidable performer, even when it is just him and a guitar, he captivates with ease. As debut albums go, Vigil is ambitious in places and aims high. Its doesn’t always hit the mark, but when it does the results are wonderful.
It’s taken him this long to release his debut album, lets hope that this signals the beginning of a long line of releases from the man. You get the feeling, he is an artist that could develop exponentially with each subsequent release.