Arguably, most guitar and popular music released today wouldn’t and couldn’t have been made without the immutable influence of American jazz, blues, gospel and rock and roll down through the years. It’s at this particular altar that Wicklow native Hozier, or Andrew Hozier-Byrne to those who know him, has come to worship with the release of his debut EP, ‘Take Me To Church’, a heady, fervent slice of soul that will lead you into temptation.
In bands since the age of fifteen and an alumnus of the Trinity Orchestra, Hozier is no stranger to the scene, but, as his inaugural solo venture, this is his first opportunity to forge his own musical identity and it’s one that leaves you in no doubt of his chosen roots. Grounded by rough-edged guitars, keys and spirited choral arrangements, the green fields of his home county feel like they’ve been swapped for the great plains of the Delta. His vocals – at times pleading, at others reverential – bind it all together, showing off a talent for inventive, engaging lyrics which a lot of acts can miss out on.
The opening title track, an impassioned pledge of allegiance to love, heaves under the weight of its influences. Loaded with religious metaphors and backed by a pounding piano, raw guitar and zealous choir, it’s more than evocative of the Southern gospel scene that has so clearly had an impact on his sound. At times the vocals do err towards the overwrought, overpowering side of the spectrum, but it’s a forgivable sin on an otherwise strong track.
Like Real People Do keeps a soulful edge but boasts a more folky feel, kicking off with a sweet acoustic melody backing sweetly restrained vocals before a gorgeous chorus and piano ease in and weave their way throughout the rest of the song. The closing track, Cherry Wine, recorded live on a hotel rooftop at 6am, follows a similar vein: there’s little more to it than a gentle guitar and vocals – with a few interjections from some early-rising birds – but it feels so warm and genuine that it’s pushed that bit beyond those all-too-often generic singer-songwriter boundaries.
Angel of Small Death & The Codeine Scene feels like the most natural and spontaneous track on the EP and it may be the highlight. A raw, rugged, and rowdy affair, a catchy sing-along chorus and some clever drums which shake up the rhythm make it hard to resist, while its foreboding organ and jagged guitar solo bring the blues back with aplomb.
The devotion to his old-style American influences shines through Hozier’s music, but he injects enough of a modern twist to give the record a character of its own. ‘Take Me To Church’ is a strong and confident debut, and one that’s bound to gather him a flock of followers for the future. If back-to-basics bluesy soul is your thing, you’d do worse than to join them.