Johnny Duhan is one of the few songwriters who can move me to tears with just one well-placed, exquisitely written line. This 2007 release contains countless such lines. The title track of this album alone stands tall as an absolute masterpiece of song writing; Duhan takes a blank canvas and fills it line by line with the rich and vivid imagery of the buildings and characters that make up “Just Another Town.” This town could be your town, it could be anywhere you want it to be; Duhan skillfully illuminates the very lifeblood of every town, allowing the listeners to inhabit each and every line of this sentiment-packed song as if it were their very own.
“Always Remember” considers the optimism of a people surrounded by the ills of society: “somewhere between all the clouds and the rain / we always remember the sun.” It is likely that Duhan is specifically referring to Ireland (“my home’s full of divisions / and graveyards full of tunes”), though in this day and age it could be any number of people referring to the troubles of their own nation.
“Mary” finds Duhan pondering his faith through reference to Mary (Mother of God). One is ultimately left wondering if Duhan is pondering over lapsed faith, recalling forgotten childhood memories of daffodils placed alongside the statue of Mary — strong imagery that will ring true in the psyche of anyone whose childhood was rooted in Catholicism. It’s a thought-evoking song and one that strikes a very personal chord.
Throughout Just Another Town, Duhan evokes long-forgotten intimacies of one’s own upbringing or hometown; packed with sentimentality and cleverly getting under the skin of everyday life. At times it’s almost too personal to listen to, pricking at your conscience. Of particular discomfort is “Everything Will Be Alright,” the story of a mother’s breakdown seen through the eyes of her young children — devastatingly heartbreaking stuff.
It is largely Duhan’s own acoustic guitar that dominates, though tasteful arrangements of string and brass pepper the album, alongside a sympathetic rhythm section and keyboards, pipes and whistles. The arrangements always complement and never dominate, perfectly punctuating Duhan’s lyrical observations, and allowing them to take centre stage.
Just Another Town is a very different experience to many albums you will listen to. Across its 17 tracks, it remains engaging to an extent that I’ve never witnessed before; it really involves you and envelopes you with its hymnal aura. This really is an epic that deserves close attention.