Exclusive Review of Finny McConnell’s (The Mahones) Debut Solo Album, The Dark Streets of Love

Exclusive Album Review of The Dark Streets of Love by Finny McConnell

     
Title: The Dark Streets of Love
Artist:  Finny McConnell
Label: True North Records
Releasing: September 2021
Reviewer: Christine Bode
Stars:  4.5


After 30 glorious years of leading worldwide, renowned Celtic punk rockers, The Mahoneswho have shared stages and toured with the likes of Dropkick Murphys, Shane MacGowan (The Pogues), Stiff Little Fingers, Billy Bragg, The Buzzcocks, Sinead O’Connor, and The Damned to name a few—Finny McConnell decided that it was time to make an album for himself as he winds down and adjusts to his “Van Morrison years”, although I’m sure he has enough piss and vinegar left in him that he will not go quietly or gently into the night.

Produced by McConnell and engineered by Gene Hughes (who also mixed it) of Telejet Music Studio and assistant engineer Del Cowsill, The Dark Streets of Love was recorded “live off the floor” from March 15 to 17, 2021, in Toronto, Canada. It features McConnell’s favourite songs from his repertoire as well four of his most loved covers, along with exquisite cover art by Hannah Blu.

The Dark Streets of Love opens with a superb cover of “Atlantic City” by Bruce Springsteen (that was released as the first single, yesterday). There’s a beautiful, reflective vulnerability in Finny’s voice on this track and lyrically, it’s a terrific choice for a cover song. Kevin Hearn’s accordion is a notable addition to the mix, lending it Celtic flair, but it’s the loss, longing, and weariness in Finny’s interpretation that makes it a winner. I cannot imagine anyone bestowing a better tribute to this song, and that is coming from a lifelong Boss fan.
 
Gina Romantini’s lovely violin adds gravitas to “Someone Save Me”, a poignant love song full of hope and gratitude, co-written by McConnell and Katie Lonergan. The singer bares his soul while finding redemption through his loving saviour, and this song makes the listener want to grab their lover on the dance floor and envelop them in their arms, as they sway to and fro to the music—an anthem for so many of us who haven’t given up hope although we’ve found ourselves heartbroken and alone in middle age.

“Stars (Oscar Wilde)”, also co-written by McConnell and K. Lonergan, is an elegant ballad and stand out track, telling the tale of the Catholic boy from Dublin who suffered under a priest’s harsh gaze—a damaged loner who developed his wit while maintaining his earnestness. “The stars look better from the gutter…”, an ode to one of my favourite authors, Oscar Wilde, is melancholic while never giving in to self-pity.

Glenn Milchem’s drum tattoo opens “A Pair of Brown Eyes”, written by Finny’s friend, Shane MacGowan, whom he channels perfectly with his vocal. The sweet tin whistle from Michael O’Grady adds Irish wistfulness to this mid-tempo track that follows the narrator as he goes a roving for a pair of brown eyes. This could be a sea shanty!

Closing Side One on the album is my favourite track, “New York City”. Co-written by McConnell, D. Whelan, and K. Lonergan, it is a rocking, stylistic salutation to David Bowie, Lou Reed, and the city that made Lou one of the most relevant artists of 70s alternative rock. Toronto Trans Queen Patricia Wilson’s wah-wah guitar adds fire to this life-affirming celebration of rock, glam, punk, and loving the vibe on the Lower East Side. “New York City” should be a hit single if there is any justice in the music industry of 2021.

Side Two begins with plaintive, lonely, pining lyrics by McConnell in “So Far Away”, a song splendidly accompanied by piano and languorous guitar strumming in this restrained banshee wail. Following it is a cover of Lou Reed’s “Pale Blue Eyes”, a ballad accentuated with soft drum brushes and delicate keys by Kevin Hearn, highlighting another powerful vocal performance by McConnell. Sad, full of emotional atmosphere and empathy, “Linger on, pale blue eyes”, tugs at the heartstrings, something that many of the songs on this album do, unashamedly.

Unapologetic for who he is and always was, the character in “We’re Miles Apart” tells his former love that they can still be friends and have a new start even though they’re miles apart. This short, succinct ballad is also heart-wrenching, due to its autobiographical nature.

Another favourite track is “Cocktail Blues”, a Stray Cat-like bluesy shuffle with jazzy piano evoking a smoky nightclub and cocktails for two. Oh God, how I miss them! With Finny’s flirtatious intimate vocal, knowing wink, and shoutout to my favourite alcoholic beverage—tequila—this song arouses sheer delight.

The album concludes aptly with “Fiddlers Green”, written by long-time friends, The Tragically Hip. This stripped-back version with Finny’s tremulous vocal and acoustic guitar offers an emotional homage to Kingston’s own Gord Downie that is the perfect ending to this stellar collection of songs from the dark streets of love.

As always, McConnell offers a bonus track and on this album it’s the beautiful, acoustic version of his song of yearning, “Back Home”, featuring Nicole Akkordion on the accordion, perfectly evoking the naked desire of wanting to be with someone you love when you can’t. This is Shane MacGowan’s favourite song of Finny’s and it’s one of mine too.

Finny thanks his musical mentors in the liner notes and the influence of artists such as Lou Reed, Joe Strummer, Shane MacGowan, Paul Westerberg, Pete Townshend, Tom Waits, and Bruce Springsteen is evident. This is his love letter to everyone important in his world and it should not be missed. For me, The Dark Streets of Love is Finny’s “Fisherman’s Blues”, a collection of his most stripped bare and personal lyrics that represent not only his truth but a truth that we can all recognize, offering us a reflection on loving, losing, grieving, and loving again—essentially what it means to be human.

You cannot take the Irish out of McConnell, nor would we ever want to. He is defined by his Celtic soul and his punk rock heart, which he wears on his sleeve here, and we love him more for it. The Dark Streets of Love is among the best, most honest, thoughtful music of his legendary, illustrious career, so look for its release in early September 2021 and buy it.

Get The Dark Streets of Love on Truth North Records
New Single – Atlantic City out now on Spotify
Finny McConnell – Facebook
Finny McConnell – Instagram
Finny McConnell – Twitter

Acoustic Duo Cherry Suede – Up Close And Personal!

Randy Scott & Randy Young of Cherry Suede
Last week, I was pretty active on Twitter and I came across an Ottawa music duo called Cherry Suede. I love the name and I really like their sound too! Twitter, being what it is, immediately connected me to Randy Young (one half of the Suede) who told me about their new live acoustic web series, Up Close and Personal. We both agreed that it should be of significant interest to local musicians who may be looking for a potential tour stop in the Nation’s Capital!

Our channel is about 3 weeks old – we are #8 most subscribed in Canada this month and continuing to grow steadily. We feature the feed on cherrysuede.com – and we will include interview footage – stories behind the songs. ~ Randy Young

What I really appreciate about Cherry Suede is the fact that they are two guys who are not only accomplished musicians and singer-songwriters (“If Keith Urban and Bon Jovi had a baby – it’d be Cherry Suede”), but who are also true blue music fans, and that I can relate to! When I asked Randy Young if they were going to invite acoustic artists to perform on their web series, he replied, “We are indeed inviting artists – the format will include casual interviews – stories behind the songs and we (Cherry Suede) will play on our guests’ songs and vice versa.” This is something that I won’t miss checking out!

So, what I want to know is how many people that I know in Kingston would be interested in attending a Cherry Suede show if I host one here? Email me at scullylove@cogeco.ca!

Here’s more from Cherry Suede in their own words on their new, exciting and innovative online music series!

BRIDGING THE GAP: CHERRY SUEDE IS BRINGING THEIR ONLINE MUSIC AUDIENCE OFFLINE

The concept of audience – artist interaction is certainly not new. For years, Bruce Springsteen has been pulling hand written signs out of his audience to play song requests. Pete Townshend went so far as to film shows as an experiment in artist-audience feedback during The Who’s songwriting and recording process in his abandoned “Lifehouse” project. But at no other time in history, has it been possible for any independent band or artist to broadcast live and interact with their audience on both a local and global scale.

Cherry Suede: Up Close and Personal is a new live acoustic event and web series that aims to bridge the audience – artist gap, on both a local and global level. You can see the band and special guests rework their songs, and select cover songs into intimate acoustic performances – both in person and online at http://upcloseandpersonal.cherrysuede.com. So far, in it’s first month, the YouTube channel for the series is one of the top ten most subscribed in Canada for musicians.

http://www.youtube.com/user/CherrySuedeUpClose?feature=mhum

Typically, artists perform in front of a live audience, or more recently, post a song online and after an initial response (applause or a series of online comments) the interaction fades – and both the artist and audience move on. Cherry Suede: Up Close and Personal goes far beyond that point. The band and the guests tell stories about their music and music they love, songwriting experiences and memories. Requests are taken at the show and from various online social networks. Select performances are recorded, filmed and made available quickly after the event for free higher quality online viewing and sharing – and soon the shows will be streamed live. The goal is to perform multiple songs and multiple versions of songs that are adapted to reflect the personalities of the audience, guests and the mood of the night.

Randy Young says, “no matter what technology or fancy new tool comes our way, it’s always been and always will be about making great music and connecting with people. There’s a precious and undeniable relationship between an artist, a song and an audience – and nowadays this audience can be right in front of you – or halfway across the world.” Randy Scott continues, “Make no mistake. There’s no substitute for being there. But technology now allows us to involve our global audience in our local shows – that’s an amazing thing. Add this to the fact that we’ve made this an acoustic project, simply allows us the freedom to focus on the intimacy of any given moment or inspiration.”

Although the first Cherry Suede: Up Close and Personal live series has started in their hometown of Ottawa, – every Wednesday night at 9 pm EST – the band will be taking this show on the road in 2011.

http://upcloseandpersonal.cherrysuede.com
http://twitter.com/CSUpClose

Roadhouse Sun by Ryan Bingham & The Dead Horses

CD Review
Title: Roadhouse Sun
Artist: Ryan Bingham & The Dead Horses
Label: Lost Highway
Released: 2009
Stars: 4.0

I saw the brilliant movie Crazy Heart starring Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal yesterday and it changed my life a little bit. Discovering a new artist that rocks you to your very foundation and connects with your spirit is a rare thing, but Ryan Bingham, who sings the Golden Globe winning, Oscar nominated song, The Weary Kind (Theme from Crazy Heart), co-written by Bingham and T-Bone Burnett, has done just that. With his beautiful doe eyes, old soul, and whiskey & cigarettes voice, he’s grabbed my attention and won’t let go.

Last year, Ryan Bingham & The Dead Horses released their second album for Lost Highway RecordsRoadhouse Sun – to positive critical reviews. Bingham, although born in New Mexico, calls Austin, Texas home and as that’s a place I’ve spent a bit of time in on and off since 1985, it fostered my love for roots rock that’s peppered with country, Cajun, and blues.

Ryan, a former rodeo and roadhouse performer, and his accomplished band: Corby Schaub (guitar & mandolin), Matt Smith (drums) and newest member, Elijah Ford (bass) have released a 12 track collection of personal, political, hard-living, superior country cross-over songs on Roadhouse Sun. Imagine a cocktail mixed with Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits and Kris Kristofferson and you will have an idea of the flavor of this offering. Influenced by Waylon Jennings, Townes Van Zandt, Lyle Lovett and Jerry Jeff Walker, among others, Bingham sounds like someone much older than his 28 years and doesn’t hesitate to offer up his personal, painful experiences for the sake of his songwriting. Thoughtful, honest lyrics punctuate authentic, enthusiastic southwestern melodies and while some of his lyrics may be somewhat clichéd, Bingham’s voice will hold you enslaved.

Roadhouse Sun is an album with style and substance and it opens with Day Is Done, a slide steel rocker infused with wailin’ blues, followed by Dylan’s Hard Rain, an alt-country-folk-rock political anthem for these times that pays tribute to the 60s. Tell My Mother I Miss Her So is a foot-stomping, barn-burner of a folk ditty and Country Roads, a harmonica-laced highway rocker. The slightly Spanish, sparse acoustic ballad Snake Eyes features a bittersweet vocal performance akin to Bingham’s on The Weary Kind and is one of my favourites. Change Is has been described as “seven minutes of meditative, hypnotic riffing that builds to a near-psychedelic crescendo as Bingham spins his tale of empowerment and responsibility”, but it’s not my favourite track on the album. I prefer the slower tempo, piano and steel guitar stylings of the Rollin’ Highway Blues and the humourous political rant, Hey Hey Hurray.

For me, this quote says it all:

Smokey and yearning, Bingham’s songs of border-town heartbreak tremble like living, breathing things- Epic yet intimate, rugged but crafted, Bingham forces you to hang on his every whiskey-drenched word. – Matt Diehl, BlackBook

I’d really love to see Ryan team up with Jack White to write some songs because I think that pairing could inspire some explosive thunderbolts of musical genius. If he doesn’t succumb to the bottle that almost swallowed Bad Blake whole in Crazy Heart, Ryan Bingham has one helluva future ahead of him and I want to bear witness to it.