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A Beginner’s Guide to Bravery is a remarkable release from David Keenan, showcasing his effortless, ambitious talent.
“I had a dream that James Dean was alive and well today / looking for the quiet life / working for Irish Rail,” Keenan sings on the opening track, ‘James Dean’, relating a Hollywood icon to Irish life.
Keenan is more confident than ever on ‘Unholy Ghosts’, totally in tune with himself and his craft as he discusses the Catholic Church.
“There was once a man who loved me / He was older he left this scar and a book about an angel who made her way back home to God / I still think about him sometimes, running my finger up its spine / May he fall into a well, he left me old before my time.”
The album is extraordinarily ambitious lyrically. On ‘Love in a Snug’, Keenan creates wonderful imagery while expanding his listener’s mind:
“can you hear the clicking of bootheels on barstools / and see the bald chalkless tips of the pool cues / and the three-bar heater that’s gasping for air.”
‘Tin Pan Alley’ is a stand-out track, drawing the listener further into the album. In particular, when Keenan sings, “Yeah brother, yeah brother, yeah brother, I’ve one arm as long as the other,” his vocals are endearing, similar to the likes of Damien Rice.
‘Origin Of The World’, is a story about discarded love. The heart-wrenching tale is told wonderfully, with Keenan singing, “I’ve emptied my skull of stale symbolism; from my fingers I’ve scrubbed you like a nicotine stain.”
There’s a nostalgic feeling on ‘Good Old Days’. When Keenan thinks about the reality of poverty, he sings:
“I heard an old one speak of the emergency / hiding coal beneath a baby in its pram.”
‘The Healing’ has a musical shift where the harmonic and rhythmic instrumentals are much more structured. This creates a fascinating collision with Keenan’s lyrics. During the chorus, when he urges, “hold me; I’m only a moment away,” there’s a lot of bold imagery, typical of David Keenan. Drawing a sense of connection, he is bringing listeners closer to their experiences—“somebody dies; a child gets born.”
‘Origin of the World’, has moments that might remind the listener of Van Morrison, with fascinating vocals—“Wish me luck I’m in trouble again, I’m in love with a woman friend”—over a captivating, charming instrumentation.
‘Eastern Nights’ is a fascinating listen. The guitar and drums beat down the rhythm as Keenan sings, “it’s the ones who seem destined to get left behind that interest me the most.” This song further highlights the prominence of storytelling on the record.
‘Evidence of Living’ has some memorable lines and its slow-paced instrumental and vocals certainly bring a different energy to the album.
“A revolution of the mind and of the soul and of the heart,” Keenan declares on closing track, ‘Subliminal Dublinia’, discussing the homeless crisis in Ireland. He goes on to sing, “no one dies of the cold while others reap what they’ve sold”—a politically charged appeal to another type of audience, an audience that may be able to help. He repeats over and over again, “occupy the city with original ideas,” making for a personal end to the record. Closing with an issue close to his heart highlights Keenan’s passion, a passion that will surely translate to listeners.
Throughout the album Keenan furiously scribbles down his thoughts and feelings. He creates a narrative, connecting with his audience to paint a bigger picture than just a guy and his guitar.
Above all, it’s a brave release, as Keenan dives deep into self-doubt, vulnerability, and regret. This bravery makes the entire record a worthy listen from the beginning. David Keenan is an excellent craftsman, and one will know his signature instrumentation and lyricism. He storytelling is vivid and his lyrics are a crucial expression of the things he wants to talk about. From the start, the unapologetic tone and energy set the album off with high expectations, building anticipation in the listener.
Overall, A Beginner’s Guide to Bravery shows the Irish singer-songwriter’s artistic discovery and creative journey. This debut is a personal evolution and David Keenan is truly unique with his storytelling. The lyrics will stay with you, and Keenan’s musical strength heralds a promising future.