Waterford singer/songwriter and pianist Ciara Donnelly has been busy of late penning songs for others. This eponymous release sees her join forces with Ronan Reilly in a collaboration that showcases her own voice and a more personal approach to songwriting.
A bright and clever guitar intro repeats its eccentric, cyclical riff as the Yellowbridge EP opens with Break Me Down. Donnelly comes in on top with some bluesy vocal gymnastics, and it’s a novel, interesting interplay with that initial riff as they play off one another. The song suddenly becomes a folky stomp and takes on a new life, with Donnelly repeating “you took my heart and you took my mind/and this song has been sung a thousand times.” This doesn’t stop her singing it, nor should it.
The guitar is bit more restrained and pastoral on Cruising, with Donnelly calling to mind Duffy and picking up where Bonnie Tyler left off. The picked folk intro gives way to a standard enough power ballad of sorts, featuring a hero with a big truck and big arms to drive it with. Quit sniggering down the back there, this is serious. The instruments hang back to allow her voice to come to the forefront of the song, a trend that’s typical of the EP. Your lighter may well be in the air by the second chorus run-through, though – there’s no denying the stir in Donnelly’s sentiment. All together now…“I take my lover under the covers/and make him my hero in the dark.”
Winter City takes things down to a lower register vocally – another mid-tempo number, a bit downbeat, and a bit darker than the previous songs. Circus is a road song of sorts, apparently nominated for the IMRO Christie Hennessy Songwriter of The Year Award. It’s a catchy enough affair, with a poppy chorus that breaks away from the nondescript verses it’s embedded in.
Donnelly has a knack for the memorable, epic chorus no doubt, but these moments are largely encased in MOR blandness. Flashes of inspired instrumental adornment from Reilly lift proceedings throughout the EP, but the promise shown at the beginning of ‘Yellowbridge’ is not capitalised on. There’s no question that there’s talent at work here, and you can be sure this is an AOR person’s dream; it’s just a pity that it falls into a safe zone that makes it indistinguishable from most other material on FM radio.