Cormac O Caoimh
Silence and Sound
Silence and Sound is available at:
15th September, 2017
The album, Shiny Silvery Things, is available at:
I always aim to keep reviews relatively brief…
but, when approaching a subject, find myself going on forever! That is going to be the case when I tell you about Cormac O Caoimh. When assessing O Caoimh; one must talk about a number of things. I shall start, I think, by looking at Ireland and the variety of landscape – not only geography but musical. Then, I will come to investigate more established/mature artists and longevity in the music industry. From there, rather niche, I want to look at Joni Mitchell’s album, Blue – as an example of a Folk album that has stood the test of time. O Caoimh’s songwriting has been heralded and celebrated by big publications and gained kudos around the world – I need to address that. Finishing off with a word about the underappreciated nuances and pleasure of a finely-crafted lyrics. Let’s talk about Ireland/E.I.R.E. and the sheer depth of its art. Yesterday, when reviewing Dublin-based Indie-Folk artist Blake’s Fortune (John Lennon); I was stunned by the artists coming out of the capital – so many different flavours and varieties of a musician! It is amazing how many great musicians Dublin has in her midst. I have never been there but, from reliable testimony, there is a very strong and productive music economy. That does not surprise me because, looking at O Caoimh, and one discovers a musician who feeds and writes from that energy and supportiveness. Although he is from Cork; that gives me chance to look at that part of the country. Many might look befuddled and perplexed when being tasked with naming famous musicians from Cork. It is a part of the world not many are over-familiar with. I, myself, have a little knowledge of the place but, bringing to mind a couple of artists, it is clear there’s a healthy music economy there. Miracle of Sound (Gavin Dunne) has made headlines because he has wracked-up millions of views on YouTube. His speciality is writing songs based on fictional characters – including those from Breaking Bad and Guardians of the Galaxy. The music, it has been written, provides uplift and hope for a long of young people; a niche and original take on songwriting – no wonder he has amassed a loyal fanbase.
Altar of Plagues and Simple Kid are (diversely) two artists that call Cork home – it is a county that has produced some fine musicians but does not give the credit it deserves. E.I.R.E. is a wide and varied landscape so, depending which part you travel to, the sound is likely to change. What amazes me about Irish music is the fact people like Cormac O Caoimh are world-class and established – yet there are many here yet to discover him. That is not his fault but the media, to an extent, who tend to stick with particular kind of artists. I often wonder whether we overlook certain nations and genres because it does not fit into the traditional moulds and commercial remits. Regardless of sound and quality; music should be a meritocracy that promotes the finest and most pure – rather than those with a certain look, mannerism and attitude. O Caoimh is a notable and dignified artist who has crafted some of the world’s finest music – over the years – and is one of those songwriters we should use as a guide and inspiration. There are few who can pen a lyric like him and I wonder how much that has to do with his surroundings. I mentioned how evocative and diverse the Irish landscape is. Such is the beauty of the surroundings; songwriters cannot help but be moved and compelled by what they see. I know O Caoimh borrows and sources from his own life but I wonder how much of nature goes into that extraordinary music. It is interesting to ponder but, one knows, the nation, in general, is a key Muse. One wonders whether O Caoimh would produce the same quality of music was he based somewhere like London. I will move on to another point but wanted to recommend people investigate Irish music more. From Dublin’s hard-hitting and memorable Pillow Queens to the likes of Blake’s Fortune; the eclectic mixture of musicians one can find in all the counties – it is a stunning country that warrants huge acclaim and attention. I hope that will come but, for now, there are steely godfathers like Cormac O Caoimh who are leading a noble charge.
We often think of music as being about fresh and brand-new artists. I think there is undue focus and exposure towards the younger artists of the music world. One cannot call music a young person’s game: they cannot see someone like Cormac O Caoimh as being irrelevance or deserving of less acclaim. To me, the finest music is made by the finest artists – regardless of age, situation or location. The media seems to place too much emphasis on the youth of music; they ignore the established artists that have made an impact and are producing sensational music. I will bring in publications like Mojo, who have backed O Caoimh and his latest album, but it seems strange we still promulgate the young and ingénue above everything else. It is vital we offer encouragement and help to those brand-new but the spotlight is put on age rather than quality. I know Cormac O Caoimh has a big fanbase but there are many here yet to discover the wonders of his craft. Even if you are not a fan of the Singer-Songwriter/Folk genres; one cannot ignore the beauty, appeal and effect of his music. The only reason music progresses and inspires new artists is those stalwarts that lay down their marker and survive the tests of time. One of the saddest things about music is how disposable and unpredictable it is. I have seen many terrific bands and artists produce wonderful music; only to be overlooked and see their career end. There are others who have a cliché and commercial sound that manage to succeed for years to come. It is baffling so, for that reason, we must look to those musicians that have been providing the world music for many years. O Caoimh has been around a while but does not rest on his laurels. Rather than repeat earlier sounds; he continues to evolve and search for fresh inspiration. That quality remains the same but the subject matter leads to discovery, compelling avenues and some of the most beautiful music around.
How sad a music world where there seems to be so much imbalance. I have talked about sexism and racism in music – and how we NEED to make improvements and changes – but there is an interlinking trouble that worries me. I shall not call it ageism (I am sure O Caoimh does not want me to think of him as old) but it is, let’s say, experienceism. That word would be perfect to describe the comparative ignorance established musicians are afforded in music. I know a host of artists who might not have lit the charts up but has been producing consistently beautiful and strong music for years. We are still proffering those artists young, sexy and vibrant. Naturally, there are a lot of young artists who do not get attention simply because of their looks – they still have to work a lot harder than they should. I am not sure whether Cormac O Caoimh is disgruntled by the fact he has to work harder to get the same affection of a lot of brand-new artists but I guess he is happy knowing so many people respond to his music. Regardless of the fact, it would be nice to see the Cork musician ascend to a new peak. I have only recently come across his music so I wonder whether, with better representation, I would know about it a lot earlier. It is down to the media to show equity and parity with regards promoting music. I know one must concentrate on new albums and foster those making their way into music. That cannot come at the expense of artists who have worked for years to earn respect and acclaim. They cannot be reduced to the back pages and afforded a few column inches. I will rest this point but, if anything comes out of this diatribe, it is to force the media to re-evaluate and reassess the way they promote artists. There needs to be that fairness so the likes of O Caoimh are brought to a wider audience. He is doing a sterling job getting his native Ireland involved but one can only wonder the international possibilities were his songs to be provided adequate promotion by the mainstream media.
It may seem inconsequential mentioning an album like Blue but, when thinking of Joni Mitchell’s writing style; I think of O Caoimh and the way he pens. That album is forty-six and is enduring because it is so universal and affecting. Its longevity and fame exist because of Mitchell’s ability to make her personal songs speak to every listener. It is a record that is flawless and shows so emotion, revelation and honesty. Focused around, mainly, relationships and experiences: a wondrous creation that has inspired countless musicians to put their voice on record. Before the album was recorded, she broke up with songwriter Graham Nash. When it was being made; a relationship with James Taylor turned sour – heroin addiction and other troubles (Taylor) did not help – and many of the songs address the reasons behind the split. The reason I mention it alongside O Caoimh is the fact he, like Mitchell, can write in the most sumptuous and tender way. His voice is more accessible and refined than Mitchell – some feel her voice a little raw and atonal – but that is the beauty of her appeal. It is gorgeous but does have those moments when it flies and wanders. That expressiveness and stripped-back openness is something I hear in O Caoimh and his album, Shiny Silvery Things. I have not really alluded to the album – I will do more – but, listening to his upcoming single, Silence and Sound, it seems to be a song that could have come from Joni Mitchell’s heart. What strikes me about Cormac O Caoimh is the way he summons sensational poetry and imagery but does not let the words do all the talking. The performances and compositions speak volumes and project incredible images and emotions. The same can be said of O Caoimh’s expressive and assured vocals that have the same gravitas and richness as Mitchell. Perhaps Shiny Silvery Things is not the equal of Blue but, in many ways, it has similarities. Perhaps, too, the background is not as turbulent and fractured but, when listening to the songs, I get a real sense of a songwriter wrestling with some harder times but, in essence, providing the listener with the most personal and perfect music possible.
Previous albums from O Caoimh have been concept-based and looked at specific narratives/arcs. Here, there is a more traditional mindset that means there is greater lyrical/musical freedom. Another reason I wanted to compared the moody hue of Blue with the sheen of Shiny Silvery Things is because of the range and confidence displayed within. When Joni Mitchell released that seminal album in 1971; it resonated with critics and the public because of the vast array of pleasures. Songs did not simply repeat one another or stick to a simple theme. The finger-picking sublime throughout; the stories compelling and diverse; the singing always captivating and nuanced – a rich bouquet of sounds that, no surprise, have been inspiring musicians since its release. O Caoimh’s latest record mixes genres and does not stand still. It is a curious and agile album that, given its title, suggests something inattentive and dazed – it, actually, focused and alive. I am amazed by the songwriting quality throughout and how it seems vintage and modern at the same time. It has that quality and prowess of Blue and manages to sound completely new and traditional. Both are complex and stunning works but, like Joni Mitchell, one hears a stunning songwriter whose words are among the finest in the world. I do hope the promotion and media situation changes so albums like O Caoimh’s latest endure and survive decades down the line. I am sure he wants to inspire the new generation and make sure his music is protected and shared many years forth. I look at Blue and, when Mitchell was assessing her position at the time, she felt like she had no defences at the time; no secrets left and she was like a cellophane wrapper on a pack of cigarettes. There is a rawness and personal vulnerability from O Caoimh but, unlike Mitchell, he mixes in optimism, uplift and hopefulness.
I am pleased O Caoimh has seen Shiny Silvery Things get into the ears of the guys at Mojo. They felt each song superglued to the memory and made an indelible impression. Others, with slightly less articulate views, saw the album as a mix of genres and a Pop-y, Jazz-y kind of thing. The record has gained kudos in Ireland but, unlike other efforts, made an impact around the world. It is the praise from Mojo that really speaks to me. They, unlike publications such as NME, have a broader remit and tend to look at a greater range of artists. So many magazines and sites focus on a certain set of albums but Mojo go further and look at albums one might not normally see reviewed. It is a shame to think O Caoimh is a niche artist but that is the fault of the media. Mojo’s passion for representing the best music in the world means they sat down and spent time with the album. Looking at the songs – seeing them as “Acoustic gems” – they understand how the music enveloped the imagination and demanded repeated listens. I do not have the same sort of time to review the entire record – lest my fingers fall off! – but I will be looking at O Caoimh’s forthcoming single. I only wanted to mention getting great reviews from big publications because it shows how good an artist is and the fact they deserve wider appeal. It would have been good to see the likes of NME and The Guardian to spare more words; get all the broadsheets sparing more time promoting the record. It is heartening seeing Shiny Silvery Things collect kind words from some respectable sources. I will try and lend my positivity to the mix but, lacking the same reputation as Mojo, know this is the start of bigger things for O Caoimh.
Let us move onto lyrics and making sure your words are as fine and concise as possible. There is a division in modern music between artists who can pen exceptional and memorable lyrics – those who prefer something shallower and less assured. That might seem cruel but one cannot underestimate the importance of words. It is the heart and soul of every song; the storybook and narrative that defines the moment. There is a lot of importance to be found in the music and vocals but it is the lyrics that, to me, represent a track best. Making sure you craft lyrics that have intelligence and meaning is as vital as anything. I see so many artists create lazy and uninspiring lyrics and that, in turn, will reflect negatively on future generations. Maybe it is a problem that exists in the mainstream. There is such a proliferation and focus on those chart songs that are, usually, not defined by depth and intelligence. The average listener – teenagers and the very young – want something easy to remember and chantable. The music is often pumped and energised; the vocals primal and spirited; the overall package designed to be heralded and loved by those who do not necessarily have a great understanding of music’s past. I guess the mainstream has always been like that but, lately, I am seeing too many annoying Dance and Pop songs being highlighted for the wrong reasons. There is such emphasis on streaming figures and views – often, these come because of songs/videos that promote sexualisation and subjects not tied to the music itself. One cannot get a true impression of quality based on streaming figures: one needs to truly listen to a song and judge it without any outside influence. I have been listening to a lot of modern music and find it is those artists away from the charts, as you’d expect, producing the finest lyrics. O Caoimh is a songwriter that has been creating music for years but always been an exceptional writer. I look at his words and am instantly transported to a wonderful place.
There are few that can deny the strength and personality one finds in O Caoimh’s songs. Some of the lyrics are oblique and demand unique interpretations: others are more clear-cut and cannot be misunderstood. Poetry and intelligence run through all of his lyrics and, because of that, songs like Silence and Sound should be getting more focus from the mainstream as a guide to young songwriters. I have mentioned publications like Mojo but, if one looks at O Caoimh’s official website – link at the bottom of this review – there are plenty of sites that have heaped praise on his current album. Similarly; the songwriting is not purely Folk and Mitchell-esque. I mentioned Joni because of her lyrical strengths but, in terms of compositional and thematic exploration; there have been comparisons to Paul Simon and Paddy McAloon. Those are lofty comparisons but deserved when you listen to O Caoimh’s music. I am a big fan of McAloon and love his witty and wonderful words. He is someone who can write about the heartache and complexity of love (When Love Breaks Down) and, via Prefab Sprout, pen sillier songs like The King of Rock and Roll. Paul Simon, too, has a diverse pen and someone I can see a lot of in Cormac O Caoimh. It is intriguing watching the scenes and stories unravel on an album like Shiny Silvery Things. I have a lot of respect for O Caoimh for he is a writer that seems to speak to the masses. It is no coincidence he has managed to accrue such a wealth of positive reviews – seeing as his music addresses common concerns but does so with a lot of unique perspective. Throw in a sumptuous and alluring voice and a masterful musician of epic repute – you have a true star that should act as how young songwriters should be doing things. It is those words that, to me, define O Caoimh and what makes him so special.
I will come and look at O Caoimh’s forthcoming single soon but, to end this section, a slight return to Ireland. It is hard linking geography and the people to a certain type of music but, as I mooted earlier; one could not expect to see a songwriter like O Caoimh in London. Maybe it is the stress of life (in London) or the easier pace of Cork. I feel O Caoimh has more room to think and dream in Ireland. Maybe it is the people and community that compels his mind and leads to some of the wonderful songs we hear. I am not sure but know the country has such a wide range of art and culture. It is a part of the world that many overlook but, take a trip there, and you will discover incredible music, wonderful poetry and some of the finest writers anywhere. That is true of O Caoimh who is a treasure of the nation. His music has always garnered respect but it seems, right now, he is hitting new heights and finding fresh inspiration. There are so many great Irish musicians around so I wonder how instrumental having that close-knit network is. E.I.R.E. is somewhere we should all be looking towards because, as we can see with O Caoimh, he is getting a lot of fond praise. There are few as able to take from the surroundings and dip into his heart. He has that innate ability to speak about the intimate with grandeur and compress the epic landscapes into something portable and close. That is a talent that cannot be overlooked - and skills that have taken the time to craft. The Irish musical magician has left critics spellbound and, aside from his wonderful talent, I have the feeling the people around him are responsible for some of that success. It is interesting to wax and wonder but, when Silence and Sound is unveiled, I think O Caoimh will get a lot of gig requests around the world. I have talked a lot about Cormac O Caoimh and issues related to him but not come to the main event: the issue of reviewing Silence and Sound. I must get on, then…
It is the way O Caoimh articulates and announces his lyrics that really gets to me. The opening verse – “Time is like a church/Its signs remind me/A choir of ghosts sing rhymes/A bell tower chimes/Statues stand still in lines/Silence and sound remind me” – changes course and speed as the words are presented. There is a fast sense at the beginning but elongated; syncopation and a breeziness that all occurs over a few lines. The composition is largely composed of strings but it is such a fulsome and flourishing thing. Rather than delicate acoustic: one gets a rush of various tones that create a near-symphonic rush of the ocean. The lyrics, let’s look at them, maybe there are regrets and haunted memories. That ‘choir of ghosts’, as it is sung, might refer to past memories and bad times. There is something distant and oblique that means one can interpret the lyrics how they see fit. The way O Caoimh delivers the words mean they come to life a lot more readily than you’d normally hear – so many other artists would make the presentation simplistic and obvious. Instead, I was looking at past romances and some regrets. That ecumenical foundation gives the song a sacred and dignified skin. “A lover’s spurring tongue” and “Young love undone” are brought in and it makes me think it is less about O Caoimh and his testimony – more about observations and the nature of love. One can understand the comparisons to Paul Simon: it is easy seeing similarities in the lyrics and the way the music is delivered. So much emotion and physicality is evoked from the words; the singer skips and hovers; he delights and distances in equal measures. It is that oblique nature that keeps coming through. I look at the song as a paen to the diversity and balance of love: never being able to predict it; everyone has their own ghosts and takes something different from it. Every O Caoimh song, to an extent, is based in personal experiences so I wonder whether there are demons he is trying to bury.
There is light and darkness; shadows and shade – plenty of light and contrasting embers. One hears a real and honest voice present something meaningful and meaningful. What O Caoimh is talking about is up to you but one is seduced and entranced by the words. If you are not affected by the complexities of the lyrics, then that rich and rewarding composition surely has to be highlighted? It brings in some burning desire and refinement. There is all manner of shades and contours working away in the compositions. O Caoimh’s voice holds everything together like a priest administrating to his flock. I delved and dived into the song, following O Caoimh as he sings, and was traversing the graveyards and woodlands one hears about. The vocal continues to extract pleasure and delight with every line. It has that unpredictable nature where some words are rushed and others are given more attention. It makes the song nuanced and, when you revisit it, you’ll find something you do expect. There are backing vocals and ethereal backdrop that heightens that sense of tease, intrigue and beauty. In the same way Nick Drake talked about time as being cruel and provoking; O Caoimh, in his most interesting offering, reveals more pieces of the puzzle – “Souls walk where once
Walls stood years and months”. Time takes on different aspects and can be kind of foreboding. It is this thing that bonds and defines us all and, depending on your situation in life, can be a blessing or curse. There is a sense of loss and people passing through. Where once something physical stood: now, there are memories, spirits and the spiritual. Time, as later revealed, is a clique that watches how you bow and who you do it to. It can shut the door hard and ignore you. It is interesting listening to O Caoimh sing and what his words can do. They have such power because every listener will have their own views.
Rather than being painfully straightforward and obvious; we get lines that are poetic and deep. It takes a long time before all the images coalesce and you can form a story. Silence and Sound is a contradiction of a title and that is a pretty appropriate representation of the track. It looks at time and passings; the nature of being and belonging; how love can go fast and endure for years. Whatever the inspiration for the song; it is obvious it has a special place in O Caoimh’s heart. Maybe it reflects a lost love or a general view of the world. The crosscurrent emotions of love and romance might be behind the story’s truths. I am not sure but have loved investigating the song and how it resonates. It is a very powerful and fascinating song that shows how strong Shiny Silvery Things (album) is. Few will come away from the song not being enriched and improved. It is a fantastic song that recalls songwriting greats but, the way O Caoimh sings his lines, it is almost like nothing else out there. I am not shocked his music has gained huge reviews because the best songwriters are those that go beyond the obvious but ensure their music remains appealing to the masses. That is what one gets from Silence and Sound. It is a treasure of a song and fabulous moment from Cork’s very own Cormac O Caoimh.
I have talked about a number of things and shall, briefly, return to one or two before I close things. Before then; it seems like Cormac O Caoimh’s next few months are going to be busy. He has dates around Ireland and one hopes he gets to the U.K. very soon. He plays Clare and Dublin before the year is done but I know he would go down a storm in London. In fact, there are so many cities that would love to see O Caoimh play. I know he would be welcomed in Manchester, Leeds and Glasgow; some of the smaller areas - maybe some international dates could follow? Who knows how far he can go but one thing is for sure: the music one hears throughout Shiny Silvery Things is of the highest order. I am not sure whether there is new music planned and how far ahead the Cork musician is looking. He is a prolific artist so I know there will be ruminations and ideas in the back of his mind. I look at O Caoimh’s social media feeds and come to the conclusion he deserves a lot more fans. He is doing his utmost to get the music out there but it is incumbent on the listeners and fans to get the music to new realms. I can see recent pictures that show him on the road at some of Ireland’s finest and most evocative sights. It is small wonder he feels so comfortable and ‘at home’ in the country. Perhaps he does not want to travel and stray too far but there is plenty of energy in the legendary songwriter. He has a lot more to say and many more songs inside him. That worldwide tour will come but, right now, he seems happy playing and seducing the audiences of his native country. Let’s wrap things up but, before that moment, I want to return to Irish music and longevity in music; a little about musical diversity and acclaim O Caoimh has been receiving.
Let’s return to that last point because one cannot underestimate the importance of those big reviews. O Caoimh is held in high esteem and is an artist that has struck the heart of publications and sites all around the world. A lot of the praise has been local but it is heartening to see the big music magazines throw their weight into the agenda. Mojo are an example of a huge name who has taken the time to listen to Shiny Silvery Things. It is an album brimming with imagination, life and quality. Reviewers have been aghast because Cormac O Caoimh is an artist impossible to pin down. He mixes styles and, at once can be quite simple and direct; the next, he is inscrutable, complex and deep. The same can be said of his music that does not stick in the Folk/Singer-Songwriter realm. He does not unleash an unexpected Dance banger but there is array and diversity to be discovered in the Irishman’s work. Consider a song like Silence and Sound and it represents one of the deeper and more contemplative aspects of the album. Second Hand Clothes is different to Born and Big Mirror. The songs all have their own dynamic but there is that distinct sound and personality that unifies the entire album. It is no surprise O Caoimh has gathered effusive reviews and been celebrated by a vast array of reviewers. Longevity and diversity can be interlinked but, in O Caoimh’s case, he has managed to survive and prosper because of his variations and inherent talent. From those concept albums to his latest record: an amazing songwriter that continues to write the finest music around. There is something about his songs that stay in the mind and rattles around the brain for many weeks. I have been listening to various songs on Shiny Silvery Things and, each time I hear them, take something new away. That is the mark of a quality songwriter who knows how to captivate an audience.
I will wrap things up but state how important Cormac O Caoimh is to our music landscape. I opened by suggesting there is too much attention paid to younger artists. O Caoimh is not an old man but he is not a twenty-something (young) buck leaping onto the scene. There is a hard ethical dilemma to address. Many sites and reviewers have to support the new breed and ensure they get all the support they require. That being said; one cannot compromise the music of the more established songwriter. O Caoimh has been performing for years and built up a reputation based on exceptional songwriting and consistency. There shouldn’t be a point of a career where artists are being ignored and confined to narrow sources. If it is not ageism that there is a certain ignorance of focusing entirely on new/mainstream music. It is just as well magazines like Mojo go further and represent the full spectrum of music. Second Hand Clothes, the first song released from Shiny Silvery Things, has reached more than two-million listeners around the world and thirty different stations. That is no small feat and shows there is a lot of love for O Caoimh. Let me wrap things up because, as you can tell (I hope) from my words; there is so much to recommend when it comes to the Cork treasure. I love Silence and Sound and it is one of those songs that makes one forget their troubles; enriches their mind and remains in the memory. That is the mark of an artist who is unlike any other and deserves a lot more success and acclaim. Cormac O Caoimh is a songwriter that should not be ignored…
DARE one ignore that fact.
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