In songs that are so unmistakably his and no one else’s, Sonny Condell gives breath to aspects of human perception that rarely seep into contemporary song-writing. You feel somehow that he has reached unintentionally into a collective subconscious, turning up stray clusters of images and ideas we all remotely understand.
The rhythms are quite a thing to behold, the hypnotic, softly juddering beat to Comes Calling, the pulsing jig on the beautiful Avondale, with its imperious bass drum, riverine flute and over-arching harmonies drenching it all in wonderful sonorities.
Hot on the heels of Avondale, Sonny delivers the brilliant The Silver Tassie, a song about being a “sunny 57“ years of age. It’s the last day of a heatwave and he is wondering who to thank - good fortune, God or his parents, his “kind father, warm hearted mother.” The song soars and rises and climbs and diverts off into rivulets of guitar work.
Sonny has an incredible gift for winding a spray of words to its predestined rhythm and tune. Occasionally there is a flash of raw, Dylan-like confession: “All the shallow romance I’ve been through/All the self delusion I’ve been through." Those lines come from the magisterial Too Late, yet another quite astonishing creation. On Bon Voyage, he manages to sound like the tormented, menaced Dylan himself, singing Lovesick (which song Sonny has covered.)
You sort of sit back and wonder how on earth does he do it.
Swallows and Farms is the greatest solo album from Sonny Condell, and is more musically adventurous than its predecessors. He himself plays all the instruments, building evocative soundscapes from guitars (including slide), from harmonica, banjo and other string sounds, such as plucked fiddle.
Incredible musical richness results, and it's a bit like the kind of adventures in forging new sound that the early Band albums were about. Take the layers of musical stuff stacking up and ticking away on Sleep - a prescient lullaby to a baby boy. Observe those smart woodpecker taps that click in after he sings the words: Time goes leaves a ring on a tree on the aforementioned Avondale. It's very much down to an almost tidal sense of how to use rhythm and sound, how to pull in and draw out, make loud, quieten.
Sonny’s greatest songs work by lyrical impressions that hold the listener, and leave him or her straining for a kind of unattainable completion.
On this new album, he is seized more than ever by memories from his fair seed time - 50 years ago and more - growing up on a farm in Newtownmountkennedy, Co Wicklow. On the title track, he sings of a simple need for “ a room with a view of green hills and swallows and farms.” Sonny is a man apart, a true artist, a magician of sound.