If you like the sound of an acoustic guitar and a melodic vocal, this is an album for you. Ciaran McMeeken‘s The Valley is full of great guitar lines and beautiful lead vocal lines. It all comes together for a comforting, enriching audio experience. For folks who like that “read if you like” teaser, I’d say listen if you like early John Mayer or Adam Levine’s earthy, indie cousin (seriously… that tenor vocal…)
The opening track “I was gone” gets the listener’s attention right away with crystal clear vocal quality and some perfectly-executed high parts. The harmonies balanced out with a driving, exceptional guitar part all work to make a wholistically beautiful track. The lyrics lend themselves to the hope of the future and the optimistic major chords lead gently in that direction as well.
It probably seems repetitive to keep harping on McMeeken’s vocals, but really he’s so smooth. He reminds me of a crooner in that he generates such intimacy for the listener. He seems comfortable on tracks like “Morning Song” in swinging the beat a bit, while still keeping it subtle and soft in the right way. He really gets the notion of dynamics, reeling listeners in with softer parts, then blowing us away with louder, soaring parts.
The harmony on “Boy” along with the fantastic rhythm of the acoustic guitar creates an almost R&B vibe. The intimate “looking at a boy barely holding on” lyric is extremely powerful. There’s a gentle and genuine sentiment delivered in each line. It’s not necessarily the kind of track you’d expect on an album that otherwise has the feel of a folksy singer songwriter, but it works well.
“Hang Me Down” has a gospel feel to it. “Hang me down – give me a place to be.” It’s a soulful lament about existential crisis. It’s a little bit of blues and a little bit of gospel all in one. Then “Whole,” which follows it, is a totally different aesthetic. Much more of the folksy singer songwriter style of the rest of the album, “Whole” is a colorfully melodic piece. Some of the light and airy tones in the guitar part are comforting and sweet.
The final track is the title track “The Valley” is appropriately grandiose. There’s just enough reverb to fill the space, while allowing McMeeken’s honest powerful vocal to soar in its own right. Tones at times as much Luther Vandross as any acoustic artist, there so much subtext in the vocal styling alone. The lyrics highlight the challenge of enduring hardship. It’s an anthemic track about perseverance in the midst of trial.
All told McMeeken’s work is really exciting. It’s not a party or jam album, but it’s the kind of music listeners will want to have on in the background while studying or spending time with loved ones. At times the album tempts me to call it “pop” but really, whatever the label he’s just a superbly talented vocalist and songwriter. Give this album a spin, especially if you’re a fan of higher-register male vocals.