Cormac O Caoimh – Where The World Begins: Album Review

Astute observations of the human psyche – dressed in a poppy MOR gown, courtesy of Cork singer-songwriter Cormac O Caoimh.

Release Date:  27th October 2023

Label: Self Release (Bandcamp)

Formats: CD / Digital

In his time, the work of Cork singer-songwriter, Cormac O Caoimh, has attracted comparisons with the likes of Lloyd Cole, Mark E Everett, Paddy McAloon and even Paul Simon.  I’ll be honest – none of those august personalities came to mind when I listened to Cormac’s new album, Where The World Begins, but what I did hear was a collection of warm, mature songs with lyrics that demonstrated a deep understanding of the human psyche, and a comfortable and enticing MOR sensibility.

Cormac has been around for quite a while – he first appeared on the scene back in 2007, with his debut album, Start A Spark and, since then, he’s made lots of waves, earning lavish praise in both the music press and mainstream media.  Where The World Begins is Cormac’s sixth solo album and it’s generally recognized to be his strongest yet – and that’s saying something – his previous offering, Swim Crawl Walk Run (2020) was designated Album of the Week on a range of Irish radio stations.

Cormac is clearly a student of human emotion and he’s able to articulate his understanding of subjects like parental love and insecurity, self-control, jealousy and togetherness in a way that encourages the listener to indulge in a spot of penetrating self-examination.  Not only that; he also comes up with warm, catchy, inoffensive tunes that give a poppy appeal to the messages he’s delivering.  It all goes together very well – Where The World Begins is a fascinating album.

On the instrumental front, he’s helped along by a tight little band of musicians that always support, never dominate the messages that he’s putting across.  Aoife Regan contributes some of the most delightful backing vocals you’ll hear this year, whilst Fergal O’Leary and Martin Leahy club together on bass and drums to provide the foundation for Cormac’s guitars and keyboards.  But Where The World Begins is, above all else, about Cormac’s lyrics and the album’s production provides ample space to ensure that these come over loudly and very clearly.

Already, six of the album’s ten tracks have appeared as singles, and it’s one of those singles – My Little Buddha – that gets Where the World Begins underway.  The formula is already in place; the tight, subtle backing gives prominence to Cormac’s intimate, honest vocals, and Aoife’s backing vocals set a standard that is retained throughout the album.  Current single, A Good Place For You is next, and Cormac gets down to the serious business of messaging.  The lyrics concern the worries, common to all parents, for the welfare of their children after the parents have passed on.  Cormac coaxes brass and sting sounds from his keyboard and Aoife keeps up the good work to complete the accompanying soundscape.

I, for one (and, I expect, most of us) could certainly benefit from heeding what Cormac has to say on Stay Calm.  It’s probably my favourite track and lyrics like: “I’m telling myself, ‘stay calm,’ and I’m not calm.  And my moods impact your moods and it’s not fair” surely resonate with most of us.  With its gentle, chugging, backing, the song is as calm as the title suggests, and the song signs out with another shrewd instruction: “Count to ten; count to ten again.”

Our reactions to the words and actions of others provide the subject matter for When Someone Says it Must be Hard, another songs that cloaks insightful lyricism in a listenable MOR costume, before Cormac moves on to tackle the subject of jealousy.  I suppose that it’s an unavoidable subject on an album that places so much emphasis on human emotions and, with Jealousy (the title of the song – he doesn’t beat about the bush…) Cormac confronts his topic cleanly.  The accompaniment is almost symphonic as Cormac delivers lyrics like “Jealousy – I ashamed to admit it, I’m jealous of your family and the things you take for granted.”  See what I mean?

Things take a far brighter and more optimistic turn with Upside Up, a joyful expression of the warmth and security that a trusted partner can provide, and the upbeat mood is retained – partially – for There is a World, another of the tracks that has already seen life as a single release.  Lyrics like: “There is a world that you let me in, that I love being in, that you only let me in sometimes” tell a more cautious story of human relationships, to a tune that builds slowly until it blossoms with the “All that you taught me, all that you teach me” chorus.

Cormac’s keyboard provides an orchestral feel to the slow, echo-y Aliens.  The lyrics are a comment on the transient nature of our presence on Earth, with an overlying message that we should make the most of our time here.  And the growing popularity of Cormac’s work is, perhaps, best demonstrated by the media reaction to There Must Be a Catch, yet another of the album’s singles.  Radio airplay of the song managed to reach over 3 million listeners and the song breached the top ten of tacks played during the period following its release.  It’s probably the album’s folkiest track, with piano and acoustic guitar providing the song’s relaxed, soothing backing.  The lyrics are equally soothing – the message is that life isn’t too bad, really, and things usually turn out for the best – expressed in lyrics like: “I’ve been thinking, life’s not too bad at last – there must be a catch.”

Where the World Begins is brought to its close with the slow-building title track.  The tune, which starts life as a ponderous piano motif, grows steadily to become a grand anthem, awash with string effects and the best choral backing vocals on the album.  Cormac works his way up the scale with progressive key changes before the song – and the album – concludes in a dramatic finale.

Astute observations of the human psyche, cloaked in a sweet MOR gown.  I like it!

Watch the official video to There Is A World – one of the album’s six singles – here:

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