Album Review: Declan O’Rourke, “Since Kyabram” (2004)

I am pretty envious of my friend, Missy.  During our sophomore year of college, she got to spend half of the year studying abroad in Ireland.  While she was there, she had the time of her life- met tons of lifelong friends (two of them actually came from Ireland to visit all of us last summer), gained a lot of life experience, and fell in love with a singer/songwriter named Declan O’Rourke.

Well, not literally, but she saw him perform live in a crowded little pub in Cork, and instantly fell in love with his music.  When she came back from Ireland, she insisted that I listen to his debut CD, Since Kyabram, and I fell in love too.

Dublin-born O’Rourke released his CD independently in 2004, and has since released a follow-up disc (Big, Bad Beautiful World).  His sound is made up of quiet instrumentation, gentle piano, guitar and strings, and the emphasis is put more on his beautiful voice and equally stunning lyrics (which he writes himself).

Since Kyabram opens with No Place To Hide, a lovely mid-tempo ballad.  O’Rourke’s voice is absolutely gorgeous- he’s a pure tenor, but has a nice range and a great tone as well.  His Irish accent is fairly apparent in all of his songs, but it’s not the least bit distracting, and instead, quite charming.   This first song is full of charm as O’Rourke tells us about the story of a girl going off on her own to live her life.  The quiet sound is both soothing and breathtaking and serves as a perfect introduction to the album’s overall sound.

One of my favorite songs follows with Birds Of A Feather.  The song is a bit more upbeat, and I love the lyrics about trying to make a relationship work no matter what obstacles get in the way (“Ever since we tethered it’s been you and me together/And that’s just how we got by/’Cause birds of a feather, they always stick together/So let’s brave the weather and fly”) O’Rourke sings the song incredibly earnestly, only accompanied by the guitar, and the song is an absolute delight.   

Galileo (Someone Like You) is probably one of the prettiest songs I’ve ever heard, period.  Not only are the vocals pure and smooth, but the lyrics are simply amazing (“Galileo fell in love, as a Galilean boy/And he wondered, ‘What in heaven/Who invented such a joy?’/…’Who puts the rainbow in the sky?/Who lights the stars at night?/Who dreamt up someone so divine?/Someone like you and made them mine?'”).  The ballad is one of the best on the album, and a personal favorite of mine and probably one of the songs I’d like to have played at my wedding one day.

The tempo picks back up with Your World and the album’s lead single No Brakes.  The former is another of my favorites- the upbeat strumming and O’Rourke’s carefree delivery are great, and the chorus is incredibly catchy and fun to sing along with (“But your world is where I want to stay/Your world is where I want to play/‘You’re my girl’ is what I want to say.”)  As with many of my favorite songs, it’s also the personal memories attached with it that will make me love a song, and this one is no exception.  I listened to this album and this song, in particular, during a very happy time in my life, so every time I hear this song, I start smiling and feeling like everything is once again right with the world.

It’s no wonder why No Brakes was chosen as the lead single for the album- the guitar-driven sound, and relatable chorus (“Because it’s always the same thing all over my face/Whenever you’re near, I know I’m in the right place/We’re out for a walk, it’s like I’m runnin’ in a face/You’re drivin’ my heart, girl, you’ve got no brakes”) would make it an Adult Contemporary staple, if O’Rourke ever got played in the United States.

The album slows down with We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea, a guitar-heavy ballad.  Though O’Rourke sings the song wonderfully, and the guitar sounds lovely, the song tends to drag on at some points.  1-Way Minds is a bit more upbeat, but also drags on.   Luckily, the song does have a light sound and clever lyrics (“Whoa, what we could find/’Cause you can go anywhere with/Two one-way minds”), making it a bit more interesting.  Love Is The Way is a similar-sounding song, with another highly catchy tune and chorus.  All of the songs at this point of the album are lovely, but aren’t exactly as exciting as the other songs on the disc.

Luckily, things get more thrilling with Sarah (Last Night In A Dream).

 
First, let me lament on the fact that my name is NOT Sarah.  I mean, I like my name- but look at how many beautiful songs are written for someone named Sarah!  Fleetwood Mac has a song, Ray LaMontagne, even Ben Folds!  And this song is no exception- right from the beautiful Spanish guitar that opens the song, you know you’re in for a treat.  O’Rourke sings the song so passionately with such romantic lyrics (“Singing, ‘Hold on with your/heart now Sarah/For mine will remember you forever/Oh hold on with your heart faithful Sarah/For you and I could run through any kind of weather'”), and listening to this song REALLY makes me wish I could change my song to Sarah.  Or, I wish that someone would at least write a beautiful song about a girl named Brittany.  Geeze.

The album winds down with two very different songs- Everything Is Different and Marrying The Sea- Til Death Do Us Part.  The first of the two is a forlorn ballad, which took me a while to get into.  At the first few listens, the song seems to go on for a very long time without going much of anywhere musically- the whole track is the same guitar and piano and O’Rourke’s melancholy vocals.  However, a glance at the lyrics and you’ll see that he’s painting a beautiful story of the end of a relationship (“And sure that I did all the things I should/To keep our love alive, and I really thought I could/So sure that I did all the things I should/Oh I wish my heart/I wish my weary heart was only made of wood.”).  The lyrics are so relatable to anyone, I believe- just that feeling of utter loss, of realizing that things are truly over, that everything you imagined to have had with a person and everything you actually did have is now finally and completely gone.  The whole song is extremely heartbreaking.

Now, Marrying The Sea, was the first song I ever heard by O’Rourke.  Actually, about three years ago, before I lived in the house that I do now, I was over visiting my friends (who are now my roommates), and we were all hanging around in their garage (which has been converted to a game room with a rock wall on it- did I mention I live with three guys?), and I noticed a paragraph written on the wall.  My friend Becca, who is Missy’s sister, had once lived in the house too, and had written out the entire lyrics to this song on the wall because she thought they were so beautiful.  I had to agree, and then was intrigued to hear the actual song.  Becca played it for me on her laptop that night, and I went home and downloaded the song onto mine.  And before daybreak, I had listened to it over a hundred times.

The song is written like a traditional Irish ballad, and begins with the sound of the waves lapping on the ocean.   The tune is sung entirely a capella, and if you haven’t been a believer of O’Rourke’s voice yet, you will at this point.  The lyrics are absolutely gorgeous, as he tells the story of a young man trying to wed a widowed woman whom has lost all of her husband’s to the sea (“Then as she walked me up and down along the shore/She said, ‘You’re far too young to marry me/For I am old as old can be/And I’ve been wed with many men/But for all my love I’ve far outlived them all.'”).  The song is nearly seven minutes long, but you get so lost in the story, O’Rourke’s clear vocals and the calming sound of the waves, that you hardly notice.  After about four minutes, the song ends and then transitions into a lovely mandolin solo with the waves still lapping in the background, making for a stunning finish to the album.

I’m sure you’ve never heard the name Declan O’Rourke, and few people have.  But nonetheless, I still urge everyone to check out his debut album, Since Kyabram.  If you’re a fan of beautiful singing, lyrics, and music, then you’ll be a fan of this album.

Rating: 5 stars

Track Listing
1. No Place To Hide
2. Birds Of A Feather
3. Galileo (Someone Like You)
4. Your World
5. No Brakes
6. We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea
7. 1-Way Mind
8. Love Is The Way
9. Sarah (Last Night In A Dream)
10. Everything Is Different
11. Marrying The Sea – Til Death Do Us Part

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