Up until the release of his debut album Junior Brother, AKA Ronan Kealy, has enjoyed a steady ascension, with many plaudits for his previous releases, including shout-outs from Cillian Murphy and Blindboy Boatclub.
In this new album, his first full length release, the artist urges you to pull the right rope as you steer your boat to shore amidst varying emotions.
As a child living in the rural side of county Kerry, Kealy taught himself guitar on a banged-up nylon acoustic. Even now, in his young adult years, you can see the impact this has had on the sound of Junior Brother. ‘Pull The Right Rope’ is a soundscape of untamed beauty, with many slaps and bangs from acoustic instruments.
The album is captivating in its bullish authenticity. Sung in Kealy’s native-Kerry tone while jumping from charming drawls to high pitched yelps, the album is littered with unflinching vocal displays that are full of personality.
Many tracks play like concept pieces, with uncommon time signatures and fluctuating tempos. Songs swap from gentle story-telling to the artist’s own form of boisterous near-tribal folk, all within a short space of time.
The song You Will Know My Name, aside from it being acoustic, could be a System Of A Down track, on account of its bold expressiveness and interesting section changes – it’s almost theatrical. The Back Of Her is as gorgeous as it is haunting. The string section brings that dark poignant ingredient to a song about rejection, while Kealy screams: “sure nobody can take a fella’s company from himself, surely.”
While there are many highlights on the album, Full Of Wine stands out between them. Starting with the humble sound of guitar and tambourine, the song progresses to a vibrant outro of Irish folk melodies. The joyous clatter of percussion drives the song to a close with Kealy barking in unison with a spritely mandolin line. Those more sensitive to Kealy’s commonplace coarse delivery, which is firmly present here, will find that it all makes perfect sense on this track. It is a fine example of the artist’s talent of being able to make the gnarly and the serene coexist.
Many artists trekking the folk landscape walk a familiar path. Often, they find trails and footprints etched in by past musicians and subconsciously fall into these inherited grooves to get to their destination.
Junior Brother, however, while seeing the trails and noticing the footprints, proceeds to hack at the weeds of tall grass to reach a nearby tree and yell from it. But make no mistake, the album is all the more beautiful for it. With a few scrapes along the way, Kealy manages to reach a fresh new vantage point through pure creative valiance and delivers mighty unabashed emotion.