When your producer calls you “one of the greatest writers and musicians I’ve worked with”, you certainly are being set up for a fall. Luckily, for Michael MacLennan that producer is Gavin Glass, someone who doesn’t give compliments lightly. Also, seeing as he is someone who has worked with some of the best Irish talent of recent times (Mundy, Cathy Davey & Lisa Hanngian, etc) he really knows what he is talking about.
The question then for Michael MacLennan is if he too can be considered in that same group of Irish artists. Judging by his new album ‘Roaming Soul’ he certainly stakes his claim, as he delivers a heartwarmingly honest record. Throughout the album MacLennan is a man in search of an identity, and because of this the album as a whole feels like his journey to find it.
His soul searching manifests itself in different ways on the album and there are times when it’s clearer than others, but nonetheless it’s a constant thread throughout the album. One of the clearest examples is the title track Roaming Soul which exemplifies his longing.
The opening line is his word of warning to the world, as he sounds like a desperate man “I’m a roaming soul/lonely drift the rolling stone/and I’m tired to my bones”. You get the sense that he’s at the end of his tether and as the song reaches its crescendo, he belts out “Don’t let me run/ too far from home.”
MacLennan delves even deeper into his inner being on the serene ballad Once I Was. The music creates the perfect backdrop as a reverbed piano echoes in the background and a subtle drum pattern becomes the songs backbone.
Here MacLennan explores his past lives as he describes how once he was a sailor, a writer and a painter. Each path he takes leads him down a dead end, each ending with the line “Now I’m knocking every door down/I’m walking every street/ and if you find what it is I’m looking for/ won’t you give it back to me.”
The album isn’t entirely focused on this search for belonging, as there are a number of more uplifting moments that give the album some balance. Carnival is a gorgeous number and is a time for reflection on an album that is so concerned with what lies ahead. A string accompaniment beautifully embellishes MacLennan’s meandering piano lead and makes the song feel as do it’s a chamber piece. It’s a moving track that showcases his gift for storytelling and is a real highlight of the album.
MacLennan is at his best when he lets his words do the talking, but there are times where the music can take away from his message. Some of the later tracks fail to capture the same magic of the earlier ones, and stylistically these more straightforward rock and roll songs don’t have the same lasting impression. It doesn’t take away from the overall experience however, and for an album that deals with finding an identity, it’s a heartening, yet sentimental record that reminds us that you find yourself through the journey and not at your destination.