Album Review

Matt McGinn – Lessons Of War: Album Review

Released: 3rd February 2020

Label: Bin Lid Records

Format: CD / DD / DSP

I find that the measure of a good song is if you find yourself humming it when you don’t expect to be humming it! If a song makes that print in your mind then it’s worth returning too. Matt McGinn achieves this feat with his new album.

Lessons Of War is a collection of songs that speak of the impact of war and conflict. As a County Down native, McGinn clearly has the subject matter to call on as a man from Northern Ireland.

To enhance that subject matter, McGinn sought to get as many different perspectives of war and conflict as possible. He brought in some of Ireland’s finest songwriters; Mick Flannery, Ciaran Lavery, Ben Glover, Stephen Scullion (Malojian), Brigid O’Neill and Grainne Holland. He also used some of Ireland’s finest musicians; John McCullough (Sinead O’Connor/Waterboys), Colm McClean (Foy Vance/Gretchen Peters), Mickey Raphael (Willie Nelson), Vivyenne Long (Damien Rice), Barry Walsh (Gretchen Peters) and Jon Thorne (Lamb).

With such a strong team around the whole process, it is no surprise that Lessons Of War is an amazing piece of work.

Writing On The Wall is an incredibly strong opening track; a single picked guitar line builds subtly with McGinn’s warm voice accompanying the double bass and organ. There is an air of Bruce Springsteen around the song in the way that the passion of the song builds on all fronts. Each member of the ensemble add their own little flourishes throughout. This track is one such example where I found myself going back to the melody in my mind.

Another example is the undulating cello line in Child Of War. As well as the music being superbly structured, Lessons Of War leaves nothing to conjecture in its lyrical content. ‘I can’t unsee the things I’ve seen, you can’t undo what you have done to me.’ To say that the album grabs you by the scruff of the neck is an understatement.

I Was There opens with an incredibly stark lyric; ‘I was there in Belfast, religion was the gun…we were all the same but different.’ The whole song has a real feel of longing, hope and desire after troubles that have gone beofre. The flute takes centre stage throughout adding a real Celtic aura to proceedings.

An Shuaimhneas sees McGinn singing in Gaelic; continuing the Celtic vibe. As the song progresses, McGinn’s vocal range really comes to the fore. There is a real comfort in this mans voice. According to McGinn, An Shuaimhneas is a song depicting a yearning for the most basic of human rights, peace.

Lyra (written on the morning of the death of Lyra McKee) and Bubblegum both employ female collaborators in the form of Ria Maguire and Ciara O’Neill respectively. The trade off between the two voices works brilliantly.

By his own admission, one of Matt McGinn’s most prominent influences is John Martyn. The Hunt is an enrapturing three minutes of music that sees his delivery using some of those vocal nuances from Martyn as well as some broken, discordant percussion. It is truly hyptnotic.

The title track and album closer, When Will We Learn, have messages that are abundantly clear and prophetic. When Will We Learn is particular poignant and relevant; we must learn from the past to ensure our future is better. The guitar/cello combination has an air of Damian Rice about it, but Matt McGinn’s vocal is enchanting, adding to the whole success of the album. Different languages and choirs are used so well in the title track; it is another joyous part of such an amazing album.

Lessons Of War is an album to cherish. The songs are brilliant, the singing is sublime, the content is thoughtful; this is an album that reveals more and more with every listen and has plenty of melodies, hooks and lyrics that you will find yourself get woven into your own musical tapestry.

The album cover for Lessons Of War was designed by renowned Northern Irish artists and illustrator, Oliver Jeffers; a successful children’s author in his own right and a film maker who has worked with U2.

Matt McGinn’s upcoming tour dates are here:

  • 7th April – Whelan’s Upstairs, Dublin
  • 3rd May – Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, Belfast
  • 19th May – The Harrison, London
  • 21st  May – The Old Stables, Cricklade, Bristol
  • 23rd May in The Palace, Longridge
  • 24th May in The Place Theatre, Bedford

Matt McGinn: Official Website / Facebook / Twitter

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