Damien Dempsey
To Hell Or Barbados


4.5
superb

Review

by Dr Dave De Sylvia STAFF
July 27th, 2007 | 22 replies


Release Date: 2007 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Ireland's premier songwriter combines folk, reggae, hip-hop and electronic styles on his best effort to date

Dubliner Damien Dempsey’s been pushing the boundaries of traditional Irish music for almost a decade now, fusing the more traditional folk styles perfected by Luke Kelly and Christy Moore with contemporary electronic and hip hop sounds, yet his latest development may be the most interesting yet: he bought an electric guitar.

If Dempsey’s debut foray into the world of the plugged-in doesn’t carry quite the same iconic weight that Bob Dylan’s watershed 1966 tour does, it does tie in nicely with the story of another noted innovator. Concerned that Dempsey’s folky, singer-songwriter style had him unjustly lumped in with the “James Blunts of this world,” lead Pogue Shane MacGowan advised him to pick up an electric guitar. It’s hard to imagine that anybody’s who’s actually seen the six-foot-plus former boxer in the flesh would make that mistake, or indeed anybody’s who’s heard the brash North Dublin accent which is beautifully at odds with his more tuneful melodies, yet there’s a degree of sense to it too; Damien Dempsey is no ordinary songwriter, and it would be criminal for anybody to mistakenly view him as such.

The familiar themes of Dempsey’s work crop up again and again on To Hell Or Barbados. Social justice, urban isolation, moral decay and passive nationalism are recurring themes through each of his four full-length efforts, yet within these themes To Hell Or Barbados sees Dempsey at his most ambitious. The rousing opener ‘Maasai’ draws allusions between one of Africa’s more well-known and more interesting surviving tribes and the passionate culture of the Ancient Celts. The title track passes on a rarely-told history of Irish men and women exiled as slaves during the seventeenth-century English campaign of their island. ‘Chase The Light’ and ‘Teachers’ highlight the decline of moral education in modern society: ‘Teachers’ is an ode to Dempsey’s musical heroes- Luke Kelly, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and Nina Simone all get a mention, amongs others- who took it upon themselves to instruct as well as to entertain; ‘Chase The Light’ repeats the gesture toward our elders and past generations.

Yet while Damien looks to the past for much of his inspiration, his musical style has evolved to incorporate still more modern influences. ‘The City’ is his first proper electronic jaunt, a joint venture with producer John Reynolds (Sinéad O’Connor, U2, Brian Eno) and bassist Clare King; the eight minute ode to Dublin’s history, its merits and its vices, sees him switch between rapped verse and an altar-boy chorus. He observes, “Joyce and Behan, Yeats and Kavanagh, roamed these streets like a two-legged camera.” ‘Serious’ is a borderline disturbing representation of the allure of drugs and how easy it can be to slip into addiction. Readable either as a conversation between dealer and potential victim or as the running dialogue in the mind of a disillusioned teenager, the lyric is heavy-handed, but descriptive and brutally effective.

Opening track ‘Maasai’ and the title track are the album’s most evocative pieces. The former opens with a spine-tingling twelve-second atonal wail, which begins in the traditional Irish "sean nós” style and transforms into an Eastern-sounding motif, as Damien sings: “when I die, I want to die not in a house built for the unknown, but by a Maasai.” ‘To Hell Or Barbados’ is more conservative musically, calling immediately to mind Christy Moore’s anthem for the exiles ‘City Of Chicago,’ yet features a vocal just as passionate and nuanced. His voice is more poweful, physically and emotionally, than it is technically impressive; he slips in and out of key, both accidentally and by design, yet his lung capacity alone is something to marvel at, and he can switch seamlessly between a myriad of styles of delivery in an instant. Witness the harsh-soft dynamic of ‘Kilburn Stroll’ and ‘Summer’s In My Heart,’ a pair of upbeat, folky numbers, and lead single ‘Your Pretty Face,’ an infectious mid-tempo reggae track which showcases Dempsey’s one-of-a-kind approximation of a Jamaican accent.

Damien Dempsey is no longer simply Ireland’s best-kept secret. To Hell Or Barbados has established Damien Dempsey as Ireland’s number one songwriter, a songwriter who’s now producing his best material and only shows signs of becoming more prolific and more adventurous in future.

Stream the album: http://www.ufomusic.com/product.php?id=146



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user ratings (18)
Chart.
4
excellent

Comments:Add a Comment 
KingGhidorah
July 27th 2007


64 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

The summary by itself makes me want to check this out. Great review, I've never heard of this guy, but I'm guessing I need to.

samthebassman
July 27th 2007


2164 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Good review, I had noticed you were digging this guy but I had never heard of him, I'll give the stream a go...

Jom
Staff Reviewer
July 27th 2007


2676 Comments


Beautiful review, sexycakes.

Mikesn
Emeritus
July 27th 2007


3709 Comments


Very nice review. I think I may check this out.

IsItLuck?
Emeritus
July 28th 2007


4927 Comments


I didn't think I would be listening to the mp3's this long to be honest, but it's pretty good. At times his higher pitched notes can be a bit harsh, otherwise it's a ncie break from most of the music I listen to. good review etc.

KingGhidorah
July 28th 2007


64 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

This is great, but his voice irks me sometimes. Not sure why.

La Revolucion
July 29th 2007


1060 Comments


My girlfriend likes Damien Dempsey a lot, but I've never bothered to listen to him. I guess I will.

Doppelganger
July 30th 2007


3124 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Do want.

Unreal
July 30th 2007


229 Comments


wow...just by your summary makes want to get this,
this was a very enjoyable read for some reason.This Message Edited On 09.18.07

TheStarclassicTreatment
July 30th 2007


2910 Comments


I don;t think you can really call him Ireland's premier songwriter, as their is plenty more popular Irish songwriters (though not necessarily better)

jrowa001
July 30th 2007


8750 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

thanksfor this review, i checked this out and its really good..even my g/f liked it

Doppelganger
December 14th 2007


3124 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Finally started to get into this. The title track is pretty much the best song ever, amirite?

Doppelganger
December 15th 2007


3124 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Yeah, I didn't really like this when I first heard it back in June, but now I'm loving this. Moment of the album is when the vocal harmony comes in in the title track.

dub sean
January 2nd 2008


980 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Alright I can't find this album anywhere and I would totally cream my pants if someone hooked me up.

dub sean
January 2nd 2008


980 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Sean's email goes here ;) br />

thank you sirThis Message Edited On 01.02.08

plane
Staff Reviewer
January 2nd 2008


6094 Comments


spat email me this yes

you have it right

it being my emailThis Message Edited On 01.02.08

dub sean
January 2nd 2008


980 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

well, you're right about that opening wail on Maasai

dub sean
January 2nd 2008


980 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

caught me quite by surprise

morrissey
Moderator
August 27th 2008


1688 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

For some reason Dempsey has been one of my "I'll get to it eventually" listens. So today I'm finally listening.
And I wish I had made this decision years sooner.
Can't understand a word he says, though.

morrissey
Moderator
September 13th 2008


1688 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I've been listening to this album a lot in the last couple weeks. "Masai", "Serious" and "To Hell or Barbados" are so damn good.



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