Fionn Regan is a talented acoustic guitar musician from Ireland. His music is far more popular than most Americans realize. You’ve probably heard him and didn’t realize it. His style is a blend of many decades of music all melded together in an enjoyable acoustic flavor. Regan’s new album The Bunkhouse Vol. I: Anchor Black Tattoo is a stripped down version of his music, giving listeners a welcome collection of acoustic songs along with Regan’s introspective writing.
After playing big rooms on tour with Feist, Fionn Regan was excited to get back to his simpler self with this new release. So simple, in fact, that he recorded it with a four-track recorder and a single microphone. That allowed him to capture a totally different sound that is in one sense “lo-fi,” but also has the sophistication of a well-groomed artist. It’s the best of both worlds. I’m certain regular readers of this blog will enjoy this album.
The opening “St. Anthony’s Fire” is a wonderful meandering acoustic song that expresses sincerity through the balance of guitar and vocals. Regan’s soothing vocals work well with his adept guitar playing, particularly with the classical flourishes that complete his guitar phrasing. This is clearly the work of a well-established acoustic artist.
“Clara to Calary” has a beautiful full fingerpicking sound that reflects Regan’s UK roots with the local name, but also with the song’s construction. It just feels like an old Irish folk song. The lyrics similarly reflect Regan’s sophiscated style. He writes, “When I go off the planet no headstone of granite… scatter my ashes on a wave as it crashes.” The tale weaves on, but it is evident throughout that the writer is reflecting on the depth of human experience.
“Anchor Black Tattoo” sounds like it could have come off of any number of Americana albums. With a touch of “roots country” and a bit of mid-20th century folk music, the song has a spirited feeling. It really is a song about a tattoo… and his desire to get one that matches. It’s a bit silly, but that’s part of what makes it work.
Regan’s tune “The Gouldings” has a more melodic feel than the other songs on the album, really highlighting his ability to deliver sincere lyrics with great feeling. His ability to adeptly shift rhythm and melody lines shows a higher level of songwriting than many folk singers in the current music climate. He’s not strumming a handful of chords with a reflection on love lost. Instead, he switches time signatures and melody patterns throughout the track. All the while, expressing a tangled narrative of the complexity of romantic relationships.
“Salt and Cloves” is the best song on the album without a doubt. If any of them make it into “pop” culture, this is certainly the best candidate. It begs of film or television soundtracks. “Behind your eyes there was found a holy ground…” Add to those poetic lyrics a soothing fingerpicking guitar and soft, subtle vocals… it’s just a wonderful song. It’s a candidate for song of the year.
“Midnight Ferry Crossing” makes several sonic references to songwriters that have gone before. With a little Elliot Smith, Nick Drake, and maybe a touch of Bert Jansch, Fionn Regan created a beautiful soundscape as colorful as the Irish hills. What makes this track superb is the ease with which Regan plucks the strings of his guitar to make a wonderfully easy listen. Some may find it a fighter with “Salt and Cloves” for best on the album.
Taken together this is a wonderful collection of songs that many listeners will adore. This is not the kind of stomp-and-fight folk music made popular by Marcus Mumford and his band in the past few years. This is, instead, a sublime and melancholic folk that nonetheless brings inspiration and comfort. Fans of classic folk music, especially acoustic guitar-driven poetic music, will thoroughly enjoy Regan’s latest offering.