David Keenan - A Beginners Guide to Bravery (Vinyl)

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Local singer/songwriter’s debut LP.

The best books, the best albums, the best works of art all welcome you into a world of their own. “A Beginner’s Guide begins…” Keenan whispers, to start ‘James Dean’, an acoustic recounting of a dream where the actor - the embodiment of youth and glamour - steps out of the spotlight into the world of the ordinary and the everyday. It is this world, an alternate Hibernia peopled with bowsies, poets, and lovers where the commonplace is elevated, that Keenan eulogises and mythologises throughout this brilliant record, this work of art.
The fiddle-driven swoop and swirl of ‘Unholy Ghosts’ celebrates those “who seems destined to get left behind” and we’ve all met – or been – the drunkard dripping with poetry manning the wooden piano on its last legs. ‘Love In A Snug’ is a bar-room odyssey; a short story worthy of Keenan’s literary heroes. It would wring a wry smile from anyone who’s ever known the joy of day drinking, hiding from the mundane while listening for the secrets of the world which seem only a whisper away. The song boasts a chorus that dances through heart and memory.
‘Altar Wine’ speaks to dark obsession, ‘Eastern Nights’ recalls a a run-in with a burlesque dancer, and the doomed, drunken professions of love made in the rush and the flush when everything seems possible, but ‘Origin Of The World’ uses Ovid’s Diana and Actaeon to remind us that love is the risk worth taking.
‘Tin Pan Alley’ is a piano ballad celebrating the timelessness of art as all else fades, while ‘Good Old Days’ is a rag-bag of memories that distances the narrator from times past with a “God bless”. ‘The Healing’ sees music and art in the same way that Van Morrison often has: as a pathway back to the true self, a salve for broken souls, the music being rent asunder as the wails rise, saying what can’t be said with words, going beyond language into feeling, and ‘Evidence Of Living’ is a call to arms, a cri de cœur imploring us all to live lives blessed and guided by love and art, prompting us to “move now to set an example.”
‘Subliminal Dublinia’ closes the record out with a worthy manifesto: “occupy the city with original ideas.” Keenan takes swipes at Dublinia, his own potential Arcadia is breaking his heart, but it’s not just the city around him, he is calling for a “revolution of the self, of the heart”. Let love in, let the music wash over you, “isn’t that a start?”
That’s his last word, but the end of his beginning is just his start. Keenan promised much, and has delivered more. His words hold poetry beyond his years, and the music, which ranges from soft folk to dark atmospherics to gloriously untethered, gospel-tinged testifying, is fired with passion, played by a crack band who know they’re involved in something very special. Reach and grasp are equal. The first great record of the year.


David Keenan had a bit of buzz about him for about a year before the release of this record, "A Beginners Guide to Bravery". A handful of EPs and an excellent live reputation meant there was a level of anticipation for this album. Keenan is seemingly quite the prolific songwriter but bided his time with his first long player release before eventually recording it over a single week. The results of his endeavours are startling. Opening track "James Dean" is sparse and understated yet bursting at the seems with Keenan's trademark lyrical delivery. It says alot without shouting too loudly. This is followed by the mesmerising "Unholy Ghosts", an uptempo ballad backed up with a full band sound and gorgeous strings. "Altar Wine" is a more developed version of a previously released song. "Love in a Snug" starts off unassumingly but grows into a beauty with a memorable coda. Up to this point all the songs are quite striking and memorable. "Tin Pan Alley" showcases Keenan's general at ease with melody but is the first unremarkable track. "Good Old Days" follows suit in giving examples of Keenan's talent without any fireworks. "The Healing" is a step up with some fantastic strings added to the mix. This song sets up the final section of the album nice, leading into one of the highlights of the album "Origin of the World", a truly great song. "Eastern Nights" is relatively unremarkable on the surface but is addictive on repeated listening. Keenan saves the best for last with two gems closing out the album. "Evidence of Living", previously available on an EP of the same name but arranged slightly differently here and then the album closer "Subliminal Dublinia" a sublime song. Keenan demonstrates his serious talent on his debut and you get the feeling (or at least are hopeful) listening to this that there will be a vast and varied catalog of releases to follow. Heres hoping.

By: The RealRicko

A1 James Dean
A2 Unholy Ghosts
A3 Altar Wine
A4 Love In A Snug
A5 Tin Pan Alley
A6 Good Old Days
B1 The Healing
B2 Origins of the World
B3 Eastern Nights
B4 Evidence of Living
B5 Subliminal Dublina

Dundalk's talented troubador's debut LP, available on 180g heavyweight vinyl via Rubyworks Records.