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Mag Pai Zai
A sparkling return from the Dublin troubadour
Colm O Hare, 04 Apr 2011
With glowing endorsements from the likes of Paul Weller and Eddi Reader, among others, not to mention a huge following at home and abroad, you have to wonder why O’Rourke hasn’t broken through internationally Whatever, his third album and long awaited follow-up to 2007’s Big Bad Beautiful World comes out on his own newly created imprint, Rimecoat Records. The songs, according to the liner notes, were written “in a flourish” in 2009, following a prolonged bout of writer’s block. To which you can only add – bring on the writer’s block, if this is the result!
As everyone knows O’Rourke writes achingly beautiful melodies with heart-wrenching lyrics, all sung in his trademark tortured vocal style. With a gorgeous string/horn arrangement by Fiachra Trench, ‘A Little Something’ is as sublime and poignant as anything he has written and easily on a par with ‘Galileo’, his best-known number. His vocals reach a sort of transcendence on ‘Be Brave And Believe’, another highlight, while ‘Dancing Song’ evokes the crooning sound of Tony Bennett and Peggy Lee both lyrically and melodically. Elsewhere, Steve Wickham’s fiddle dances around the melody of ‘Time Machine’ while, with its heavy backbeat and Neil Young & Crazy Horse guitars, ‘Caterpillar‘ is the most rocking song here. In complete contrast, a stripped-down, bare-boned acoustic ballad, ‘Orphan Wind Song’ is almost demo-like recording wise, and all the better for it.
It’s hard to know how seriously to take the closing number, ‘Old Black Crow’, in which O’Rourke adopts a Tom Waits-like persona, complete with squawking bird noises. It’s undoubtedly a bit of fun in a live setting but is certainly in stark contrast to the melancholic atmosphere pervading most of the rest of this album. All in all, Mag Pai Zai is a stellar collection of songs, beautifully sung.