ep review ~ owen mcgarry ~ 'stray'

In a market already greatly over-saturated, Owen McGarry is a breath of fresh air. Having played his way through almost every street corner and venue in our capital city, it's only natural the singer-songwriter would pick up many allies along the way. Here we see those friendships come together to create 'Stray', his latest and most highly anticipated EP. Although the host of well known names making appearances on the record have upped the intrigue, ultimately it's McGarry's humility, work ethic and passion for his craft which has seen the public returning for more. Encore NI were delighted to be given an early listen...

Opener 'Soon' lays down a marker from the opening echo's of the distant violin. This isn't a collection of backstage recordings, perhaps written with a bottle of wine and a heavy heart. This is an immediate indication of the sheer professionalism of McGarry's set-up. An electronic bass glides through the unsteady drum backbone (in what could easily be from the pen of Californian sisters HAIM), before the first contributor of the record strides into what is, admittedly, an Ed Sheeran shaped comfort zone. Perhaps this is an unfair and even lazy comparison for former 'Voice UK' star Conor Scott, who's vocal is as calm and assured as ever before. Though without McGarry's electronic ambiance and the expertise in what is a finally produced track, you fear this song may have drifted off course. Instead, a (The 1975 inspired?) saxophone solo comes streaming into life, lifting this opening number to greater heights than it may have done.

Follow up 'Body Of Sea', drifts beautifully into focus in an innocuous daze, More Than Conquerors frontman Kris Platt providing his share of opening vocals. Subtly brilliant, Platt's delivery and ear for a melody can't help but draw in the listener from the opening line, as his trademark story telling techniques are given a new, though thoroughly welcome platform here. McGarry's cries in the songs chorus are worthy of the gradually intensified background, as the song grows along with it's listener. Orchestral interludes act as an inspired lead up to the songs brilliant bridge, finally fading in the after glow of it's last chorus. A hidden gem.

'Paths' see's a return to the electronic edge of the EP's beginnings, a slow start reignited in a chorus of unexpected passion. It's a method increasingly explored by artists in recent years, a gentle piano interlinking with the buzz of the computerized textures. This track doesn't fully hit it's full potential until a post-rock styled instrumental build up takes us to our final chorus, which thankfully rages with the intensity it was undoubtedly written in. A slow burn, but one worth waiting for.

Fellow acoustic artist Ryan McMullan's inclusion is one likely to excite many local music fans. Having both carved their names through similar musical journeys, the Belfast based performers share many of the same admirers. Though just because something should work, doesn't mean it will. In this case, however, the ease with which you'd imagine this collaboration would work is showcased, as it lives up to these expectations fantastically. Everything from "Far Gone's" breezy, folk-pop production, to the sing-along melody suggests this song would have been a joy to write. "When you wrap your arms around me, when we're face to face, I know that this will be okay...". McGarry's use of the classical musicians at his disposal is once again on point, as the image of a filled Ulster Hall swaying as one to this song, really doesn't seem a million miles away.

Final track 'Breathe You In' allows McGarry to return to basics, in a finely written example of a what must surely be a future single. The inclusion of Silhouettes Shauna Tohill transcends the tracks pop-potential once more, her quiet harmonies as haunting as the violins which lay beneath 'Breathe You In's surface. A fitting and emotional end to McGarry's most mature work to date.

Credit must be given for the sheer audacity of 'Stray'. To be a solo artist and build an EP around the voices of others is a task not often explored at local level and you feel this may be a point of reference for Northern Irish music for many years to come.

Though it can't be described as groundbreaking work, 'Stray' is a fine example of what hard work and dedication can produce in the long-run. Another promising step in the career of Own McGarry.

Taylor Johnson

For all official Owen McGarry news follow the links below...


No comments

Powered by Blogger.