A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to interview Declan O’Donovan about his new album, “Broken Sky.” Even on a first (and second, and third) listen, I knew I loved the album, but as I’ve listened to it again over the last few weeks, my enjoyment has only deepened.
The project as a whole paints a scenic atmosphere of what a broken sky might look like – for O’Donovan and indeed for all of us. The need for love (even if broken), the need for relationship and emotional sustenance – all are themes that meander through the songs here.
The album opens with “Let It Rain,” a bluesy, soulful tune that sets this album apart from its predecessor (the jazzy, eponymous “Declan O’Donovan”) simply by the absence of O’Donovan’s fabulous piano styling. Never fear, however: the piano appears on the second track, “Down to the Bottom,” a slow ode to a friend going the wrong way in life. (And don’t we all have those?)
The title track, with its foray into what sounds to me like 1970s prog rock (one of my preferred musical genres), probably remains one of my favorite tracks on the album after multiple listens, especially as it’s a great example of the ways in which Declan is stretching himself in this project. Whereas his first album could be classified fairly consistently as jazz or blues, this project digs more deeply and takes more risks – which, with Declan’s talent, is no bad thing.
“Reckless” speaks to the carelessness with which we all occasionally treat our loved ones, while “The Boatman” is a delicate and delightful surprise instrumental in the middle of the album – a fitting divider between the two halves of the project. “Something to Run Away From” is a bluesy, slow-burning exploration of the mixed feelings – the push and pull – for someone who simultaneously draws and repels. (I dare you not to dance a bit in your car with this one cranked up.) “Keep Me In Mind” starts as a ballad, but quickly evolves into an evocative, assertive tune – Declan’s piano playing is superb throughout the album but I particularly enjoy it here… part stride piano, part delicate butterfly notes around the main chord structure. (Would that all my students could hear this as an example of just how great piano can be, even when it’s part of the whole!)
“When I Wasn’t Looking” provides a gorgeous meditation on how we can so easily – and without even noticing – turn into someone we didn’t expect to be. (Another piece I want my students to hear as a sample of gorgeous playing.) In true prog rock fashion, the seven-minute-plus “Out of Mind” closes the album with a gradual build-up to a powerful finish that reminds me more than a little of some of my favorite Pink Floyd tracks.
I haven’t often revisited albums from our interviews for reviews, but this particular project really compels deep and repeated listening. I’m really excited to see how Declan’s musical career will evolve over time; I think this album is a terrific indicator that he’s not only willing to stretch his wings, but also to excel as he flies.