‘It’s All Good – The Best of Damien Dempsey’ “… unbridled intensity”(February 11, 2014)
My experience of Damien Dempsey runs from ‘They Don’t Teach This Shit in School’ through ‘Shots’ to ‘Almighty Love’ - albums that present his unique amalgam of Irish tradition, cutting rock, mournful folk, history, politics and shed-loads of attitude. For those without experience of the dark side of life; hardship, dole, injustice, bleak bitterness or dreadful loss, this double-album ‘It’s All Good – The Best of Damien Dempsey’ introduces meaningful lyrics and puts right any omissions of experience to slowly and inexorably build some level of understanding. The man forges hard narratives into music with tough journeys, relentless struggles and harsh outcomes. Nothing dressed up, nothing sanitised, raw as it comes, bare essential truth – waiting for the ‘feel’ to take you and it’s all the better for that.
The stark ‘Sing All Our Cares Away’ lays out its stories of life and faint messages of hope through the power of Dempsey’s formidable vocals delivered in his striking Donaghmede accent. He moves the mood between the searching angst and expectation of ‘Apple of My Eye’ through the mournful ‘Kilburn Stroll’ and the deeply affecting ‘Not On Your Own Tonight’ to the fear and anger of ‘Serious’. This album ranges through years of songwriting output, exposing a host of emotions and sensations, and all the while those vocals make each song a profound experience. There’s pain in this album that some will find excruciating, ‘Chris and Stevie’ articulates the spectre of loss, while the achingly profound truth of ‘Colony’ delivered in a rage of spoken-song, hits hard. The word ‘compromise’ is missing from the man’s vocabulary and that omission feeds the force of his music.
Dempsey weaves both tradition and contemporary alongside self-penned, and this album includes some fine examples, the labourer’s story in ‘The Rocky Road To Dublin’, ‘Kelly From Killan/The Teetotaller’ the tale of Irish loyalist John Kelly, the eternally wretched ‘The Auld Triangle’ and a fine rendition of ‘A Rainy Night in Soho’.Relentless sums up this music, the stripped back ‘Ghosts of Overdoses’ is harrowing in its honesty: “… and the ghosts of overdoses replace the ghosts of tuberculosis.”
Its unbridled intensity makes absorbing the double CD unlikely to be a one-sitting meal but the breadth and depth of sustenance on offer here will make this an ongoing feast, especially when that ‘feeling’ takes you.
‘It's All Good, The Best of Damien Dempsey’ - a manner of observance to its contributing albums and one man’s years of music. You can find it here:www.damiendempsey.com
Reviewer: Tim Carroll