Listening to Shane Joyce’s debut EP ‘An Introduction’ soon turns into a game of ‘spot the influences’. Full fledged Dylan, with the protesting and harmonica. A touch of Cohen too, in the lover’s lament to the girl who left. Neil Young, Cat Stevens – the list goes on. The five tracks would sit happily amongst the back catalogues of any of these artists, with Joyce a one-man vanguard of protest songs for 21st century Ireland. But it’s a shame that the EP sticks so firmly to its genre and influences – because once these are realised, the game is up – after all, listeners are fickle, and Harvest and The Freewheelin’ are only a Spotify click away.
Though the songwriting is predictable, Joyce’s weather beaten voice helps soften the blow. The vocal delivery on Blame gives a nod and a wink towards early Dylan, bending notes and interspersing the track with languid vocalisations and blues harmonica. This is showcased further on Your (and My) Contradictions, a neat ditty full of (yes) lyrical contradictions – “I’m joyful/Nobody’s sad/ You’re a good girl/ Treat me bad”.
Sophie is the highlight of the EP, vocals soaring and pulling and dying away over bare guitar chords and shimmering cymbals. This combined with maudlin lyricism (“Storm clouds and angels are all that I can see/ The sky she is crying, the tears are for me”) conjures visions of a spurned lover wallowing in indulgent self-pity – it’s basically a rewrite of Leonard Cohen’s Chelsea Hotel #2, with wry cynicism replaced by teary eyed melancholy.
Same Old Song though, is too much a cookie-cutter template of ‘protest song’. All the elements are there, from the opening four note harmonica riff, to the strumming guitar every busker knows and loves – it follows the brief to the letter, but falls flat on the lyrics. Maybe songwriters of the ’60s were ‘spoilt’ for sources of lyrical inspiration such as the Civil Rights movement, the growing tensions of the Cold War or the shadow of Vietnam – but it’s hard to protest the Irish tax system or introduction of water charges with similar levity. Perhaps it is a true and terrible thing that “Boss man says this water don’t belong to me/Though it comes from the sky and the land and the sea”, but set to music and framed as the pinnacle of social injustice, it all feels a bit hollow.
Daring to step outside the confines of genre and influence would allow for much needed originality and depth. To be fair, ‘An Introduction’ is just that – a taste of what’s to come from Shane Joyce – but if this is a taste, it needs more chilli, more garlic, and a departure from the well worn recipe.