After the holiday haze, I’m finally back on the mission with a new review. I hadn’t done anything in a while, so this is technically my first review of 2019, and what better way to start this new year than with a folk album! Folk is an interesting type of music to review, simply because it’s hard to be harsh against a genre that is so vague and diverse. One hundred artists could call themselves folk musicians and they could all sound or play differently, borrowing from other genres like rock or psychedelic. Luckily, the job is made easier when you run into an artist that does something slightly different and interesting with this music. John Cathal O’Brien plays a very dark folk in this new record. I bet you’re wondering if that’s a good or bad thing. Read the rest and found out!
These Borders is interesting because of the atmosphere it sets. The guitar played by O’Brien is simple yet serves its purpose in setting the tone. This is not the music for ridiculous guitar shredding, as folk music is generally on the softer and slow side, which this album is. The rhythm and work done by O’Brien and fellow musicians Bob Weir, Joe Dallar, Jonathon Harris and Zeynep Bozok add depth the music. The addition of various sounds and effects is where this album gets its moody feeling, coupled with the lyrics and overall aesthetics of the record. Though every song is a different story and feels different on the first run, my second run through the album made it feel repetitive. The simplistic musical composition makes it so there isn’t much to recognize in individual songs, but then again, folk has always been more about the lyrics, and These Borders has some very deep lyrics.
It’s hard to ignore that recognizable Irish accent, which in my books, gives any folk artist a head start. Don’t ask me why, it just sounds better. That being said, O’Brien’s vocal performance might be off-putting at first, being very monotone. Again, I go back to the idea of repetition, but choosing to perform vocally like he does, makes it hard for individual songs to have a different voice. It grows on you as you start to understand what this record is all about. I wish it would have had more “surprise” instruments, like the violin on the track “The Wood,” which automatically became my favourite when I heard that bow slide across those strings.
All in all, These Borders is the perfect album for any fan of Simon and Garfunkel or even Bob Dylan. If you just want an album to slap on that record machine and let the day flow away, get this one. It’s perfect for long and rainy days, but I mean, you could still play it when it’s sunny. Whatever flows your boat. Just listen and support the music!
Written by Johnathan Robinson
*edited by Mike Milito