Jack Hardy,
(Prime, 2000)

If I had to pick one adjective to describe Jack Hardy's new CD Omens, it would be "evocative." Hardy paints vivid, vibrant and specific images in tightly arranged songs that go straight to the heart.

The CD kicks off with "I Ought to Know," a rocking song that inventories the things that the narrator "ought to know" -- but doesn't. "I don't know nothing about nothing" goes the chorus, but the song is a tongue-in-cheek poke at the current satisfaction with the factoid-based status quo: "But my future looks so bright / illumined by the light / laugh-tracks, soundbites / and a replay to get it right" The strong rhythm and the electric guitar riffs support Hardy's slightly growling, slightly scoured-sounding yet biting vocals.

The mood gets mellower with the next track, "I Can't Love You," a bittersweet song about unrequited love. "I can't love you like heaven sent me / to fix the seasons and make stay" sings Hardy, using the way summer blazes into autumn which in turn fades into bleak winter as a metaphor for being unable to make love stay. The deceptively simple lilting melody and the spare poetry of the lyrics work together to evoke the sharp pain of resignation.

In "Eclipse," Hardy is on familiar ground with a song with a strong Celtic-based flavor, telling the tale of a peddler who uses material objects and mundane reality to "eclipse" the underlying magic of the moon in order to retrieve his daughter -- his property -- from a traveling pauper. Hardy nails the story with the final image of the daughter placed in the peddler's cart and paraded as "... princess / to eclipse her gypsy heart." The melody is eerie, woven through with the singing thread of Kate MacLeod's fiddle. "Sile na gCioch (Sheila)" takes the flip side with a song about a traveler who gives a woman a dress he found on the road, but washed out for her. If she puts it on, she'll be accepting him and be a traveler too. The chorus tells the answer: "chuir si uirthi e (she put it on)." Hardy plucks the sprightly tune on his mandolin; MacLeod's fiddle dances along with Dave Anthony's boudhran [sic] pounding beneath the melody line.

The next track, "Siar on nDaingean (West of Dingle)," takes a melancholy turn with its tale of a woman choosing between staying in her old life and leaving to face the unknown, between her lover and the fiddle which very clearly harbors much of her soul. She makes her choice; it is up to the listener to decide how that choice is carried out. The poignant ballad like melody is delicately played, featuring MacLeod again, with an arrangement that marries all the elements perfectly.

Hardy takes very different looks at lost love in the next three tracks. "Memory" is a hard-edged song in which nature is impersonal and has no memory of the events taking place in it -- but the human remembers all too well. "Yellow-Billed Cuckoo" is a gentle and sad song about love betrayed and hope destroyed. "Willow" is another bittersweet song which describes the vain efforts of the narrator to create a place which would hold his love. The imagery in all three songs is powerful, particularly the images rooted in folklore.

The driving pace of "Arrow" meshes well with the urgency of the lyrics. "Only One Sky" is a lovely, lyrical love song; again, Hardy's poetry is precise and powerful. "Oh Woman" continues the theme of relationships. "The Boney Bailiff" is a "cheery little murder ballad" about the necessity of dispatching the bailiff responsible for evicting tenants. Don't be surprised if you find yourself humming this at odd moments. Hardy ties everything up in the gentle "Change of Heart," a song that brings the CD to its closure.

The arrangements are remarkable; the musical lines blend into each other subtly, each retaining a thread of individuality which never overpowers the others. The overall presentation is cohesive: the songs flow from one to the next but are each distinct and memorable. Hardy's lyrics are powerful, demonstrating a masterful control of language.

Jack Hardy's Omens is a CD which should find its way into the collection of anyone who appreciates a fresh and original approach to Celtic-based folk-rock.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

Buy Omens from Amazon.com.