Delving into an ocean of vibrant imagery and Fitzgerald-esque storytelling, John O’Reilly’s ‘The Willow Men E.P.’ breaks the mould of the tawdry singer-songwriters who populate the musical landscape in 2012. Deeply personal lyrics are brought to life with a gentle verve of humility and an effortless knack for metaphor.
Track one, ‘Jonah and the Whale’, rolls into the ear, washing an odd biblical tale into the conscious, amidst a background of soothing backing vocals, lazy violins and John’s signature acoustic strum. John repatriates marine elements of the Old Testament in this looping yarn and harnesses their vivid narrative and morality in a style which lays bare a modern day relationship of masochism and self-denial.
By the gorgeous melody of ‘Blue Roses’, the listener has already climbed aboard the O’Reilly ark and is demanding carriage across the seven seas of his musical faculty. And when John purrs the song’s opening lines – “Count me some flowers; lay them softly on the ground” – the listener is demanding access to his seven sins also.
The saintly melodies continue in the ‘City of Atlantis’; the standout track on the troubadour’s first EP with Smugglers Records. The interweaving of mythical tales of old and contemporary reality synchronises most beautifully here, whilst John whistles away in his light Irish tones that “I won’t believe in the Gods till I hear them roar”.
Metaphorical meanderings abound in the following ballad ‘Just as the Rain’, as John recalls a lost love from his haunting past. The song drifts away into a harmonica playing its skeleton keys in the rain (Ed. – via Dylan) and you believe John when he asserts that “Fairy-tale endings just were never for me”.
That closing lyric is re-stated in the acidic aesthetic of the final track, ‘Bed Of Stone’, a song set apart from the rest of the E.P., dropping the troubadours’ rolling strum patterns and easy melodies for a dark tinkle of minor sevenths and sharp chord changes.
This late U-turn in style will drop you off from the ark back at the shore, wishing for more music to explain the late twist with which John ends this glorious sea shanty.
Grab your very own copy of The Willowmen E.P. from the Smugglers Records website.
This article was originally published on Turn On Tune In