Irish crooner Denis McArdle’s debut album as a singer-songwriter and interpreter of others’ songs runs the gamut from folk-rock to pop to chamber folk. McArdle, a native of Dublin, puts his classical training to good use on a dozen songs, including three of his own compositions.
McArdle has a strong, highly trained baritone that sometimes seems too pretty for his material, especially the folk-pop of songs like “Sick Day,” by the American indie group Fountains of Wayne, and the Massive Attack number, “Protection,” a rock song in a folk setting. His vocal style and the elaborate production also threaten to overwhelm a couple of traditional Scottish songs, the lullaby “Hush, Hush, Time to be Sleeping,” and the Robert Burns poem “Green Grow the Rushes,” set to the tune of “The Misty Covered Mountains,” as well as the atmospheric electronica version of the trad Irish “May Morning Dew.”
McArdle’s classical background makes one of his compositions, the lushly orchestrated “Shadow Song” work quite well, however. Elsewhere, where the arrangements are simpler and the instrumentation more spare, the songs shine through perhaps in spite of the overly educated vocals – particularly on Ralph McTell’s “Girl from the Hiring Fair,” and the trad Irish tracks, “Road to Clady” and the Gaelic “Ta me ‘mo shui.” “Orion,” another song written by McArdle, works quite well as a slow waltz-time ballad, a minor key Gypsy melody with only guitars and concertina for accompaniment.
Throughout, the guitar work of Robin Hurt is superb; his e-bowed guitar on the Gaelic song “Ta me” is a nice touch.
The frequent heavy use of reverb and a tendency to oversing and over-orchestrate sometimes push McArdle perilously close to Roger Whitaker territory. But if you enjoy your folk music professionally sung with a strong pop element, Denis McArdle is worth checking out.
[Update: Denis McArdle’s music is on Soundcloud.]