James O’Connor is a singer-songwriter from Portlaoise, in the heart of Ireland’s Southern Midlands. Although his roots lie in Folk and traditional Irish Folk music, on his new album “Cluster of Narratives” the artist ventures stylistically deep into the genres and subgenres of modern popular music.
Growing up, James was exposed to music at every turn. In school, alongside traditional Irish folk tunes, he learned the music of Woody Guthrie, Elvis Presley and Willie Nelson. He eventually learned to play the guitar as a teenager. From there the world of songwriting opened up to him. Music became a catharsis for dealing with the trials and tribulations of teenage life and family discord at home.
In adulthood O’Connor turned that creative energy outward and began performing all over Ireland and the UK. He has shared the stage with Folk and Rock legends, both regional and international. He performed at a number of festivals including Electric Picnic, Lissadell Fringe, Helium Festival, the Westport Bluegrass festival and Fortstock. In his travels he discovered the tremendous communal healing power of music.
Music is a powerful form of expression for me. I can get up and sing for people and everything else goes away. If I’m lucky then other people connect to that same power and they can find comfort in the music. Nowadays, regardless of the outcome, I’ll get lost in the process and that’s what keeps me doing it. It’s very therapeutic.James O’Connor
Since 2009, James O’Connor has released a string of ever more adventurous original recordings. His debut EP ‘Falling Up’ (2010) reached #9 in the Irish Top 50 singles charts. He followed that success with the critically acclaimed album ‘Behind the Scenes’ (2014). Along the way he found further chart success on collaborations with fellow Irish artists Audrey Trainor James and Andy Irvine.
“Cluster of Narratives” is O’Connor’s brand new collection of stories and observations on life, death and the passage of time. Over the course of eleven songs he explores the weight and worthiness of past, present and future. I grew up in an Irish home. These are the themes of our culture. The Irish read between the lines. They try to find a purpose to the madness of life. When they find none they are just as likely to laugh at the void as they are to be consumed by it. In the case of either outcome, they sing.
Some of the songs on James’ new record take a wide view of humanity. Tracks like “We Are the Stories” and “Average City Street” have a seat on a quiet park bench and look around, making sociological observations on our modern world. The former establishes one of the album’s theses with the line, “We are the stories we leave behind.”
James looks inward on songs like “A Day Away From Madness” and the confessional and introspective title track. On the latter he sings another of the album’s themes, “I’ll leave the past where it belongs.” On the surface that line seems in conflict the previously established thesis. That sort of contradictory internal philosophical conflict is another Irish thing.
Stylistically the album moves through the decades of Rock, Pop and Folk. Tracks like “Greatest Escape,” and “Good Old Days” use retro synths to conjure the sounds of classic 80’s Alternative. For instance, “Dark Side of the Rover” would feel right at home on U2’s “The Joshua Tree.” Whereas, songs like Leonard Cohen-esque “Working Class Waltz” hint at James’ Folk roots. “Victims” rightfully takes the Catholic church to task for the rampant worldwide sexual abuse of children at the hands of priests. O’Connor chooses to do so in the form of a traditional Irish folk song. It is a brave creative choice and certainly not one made without intent.
“Cluster of Narratives” is a nuanced and creative record. It is also a lot of fun to listen to. You can check out “A Day Away From Madness” on the Deep Indie Dive playlist. And follow the links below to connect with James O’Connor. Keep up to date on all of his current and future projects.