The tune of the Irish singer-songwriter has been well and tritely versed, and strummed out on Glen Hansard’s knackered acoustic guitar with a hole in the body and minus a string. Yet, can Jon Hughes manage to deliver an album worthy of counting him amongst the abundance of merits attributed to Galway (The Saw Doctors, proximity to the Aran Islands, a Filipino restaurant), with his sophomore effort Voices From A Broken Window?
According to his biography, ‘Hughes’ voice has been compared to Cat Stevens and Nils Lofgren of the E Street Band’, yet on first listen to opening track -Named My Find’, the vocals sound suspiciously similar to James Blunt, which, according to common parlance (particularly cockney rhyming slang), is not the most favourable comparison. Whilst restful harmonicas and languid bluegrass guitar lines add to a warm, opulent tone not far removed from Elliott Smith’s From A Basement On The Hill, the song really develops towards the end with interruptions from angular electric guitars.
What Jon Hughes is pedalling is an appealing but comfortable brand of alternative folk songs, each one benefiting from pleasant refrains and twee melodic trimmings, perfectly demonstrated in -Factory’, with its sprightly, small but exuberant bursts of organs, banjos and twinkling chimes. Hughes sings -play it safe’, and it’s reasonable to assume that for much of Voices From A Broken Window, he’s following his own dictum. With quaint song titles like -Your Antique Parasol’ and -Bermuda, The Girl’, many of the tracks are simple and heartening; acoustic loveliness and evocative, anecdotal lyrics and the odd jaunty piano line. Voices From A Broken Window, in eschewing the unfamiliar and unknown, prevents Hughes from reaching beyond his comfort zone, rendering him reserved (think Duke Special sans dreadlocks) and repetitive.
Yet the album harbours several striking songs. -403′ is an ominous take on a piano ballad, eerily interspersed with muffled wails and undulating organs. There’s a haunting resonance in the repetition of layered vocals, and what makes it all the more arresting is how incongruous it is to the rest of the tracks, with its glut of jerks, static and distortion. Meanwhile, -You’re Not Here’ shows how beautiful a simple song can be, with lingering piano and acoustic guitars that play on the heart-strings create an evocative sense of yearning and wistfulness.
Whilst Voices From A Broken Window could never be accused of being pioneering or innovative with its relatively standardised tracklisting, Jon Hughes has succeeded in creating a charming cluster of sweet and simple songs which have their folk sensibilities firmly in place. Galway should be proud.