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Album Review

RORY FAITHFIELD
Songs for Sooner

Rory Faithfield is a broken man. Not so broken that he is irredeemable but broken enough to take things most of us take for granted to heart. Not all that long ago, he was headed for hell in Sydney, attached to everything bad and little good. He made a break for it and ended up in Ireland and claims it saved his life. Not going to Ireland, but getting away from Sydney. The exact story? I am afraid to ask.

Rory Faithfield titles his new album Songs For Sooner after a dog he had when he was a youth, a dog so abused when acquired that the damage would not heal. Sooner spent more time under the house hiding from life than experiencing it, so scarred that any form of trust had vanished. Years later Faithfield, headed down the same road (although of his own choosing), crawled out from under his house, made his way to Ireland and a new life stocked with enough hope to mend most of the damage done. Music played a large part in that healing process. He began writing songs and gaining a following and, finally, recorded an album. Circle Dance was released in 2007 and was a moderate critical success in both Ireland and Australia. That the rest of the world gave little notice can be chalked up to the realities of the new music industry paradigm. There is just too much out there and too little time for most people to discover the gems buried deep within the mountain, so to speak, and while losing good music in the rush is a shame, the good news is that it is not really lost, rather “temporarily misplaced” for these days quality of music is slowly overtaking the concept of current music and date of release is ignored by all but those who believe in the old standard, still there but on shaky foundation. What I'm saying is that as long as copies exist (or idealistically, the music, for that matter), it can be discovered.

One might think that Faithfield, having inhabited the dark alley, is a perfect candidate for the alternative market, so much of that feeding on fortunes and misfortunes, the highs and the very lows, but not so. He finds his niche more on the orchestral side of folk, that claimed by the likes of Roger Whittaker and Stephen J. Preston, and he feels right at home there. Sure, he plays straight folk here and there and is tied to his acoustic guitar, but he thrives on the majestic and flowing and while it was hinted at on Circle Dance, it really takes hold on Songs For Sooner.

From the light piano riff beginning of Big Blue Western Skies and the ensuing beauty of the chorus, you know that this is something special. Melodic and floating, it is excellent vehicle for Faithfield's voice and, oh, that production. If ballad can be majestic, it is just that, but majestic in the sense of feel rather than power. Indeed, it is the restraint which strikes me most, the song perfectly comfortable within its boundaries when it really doesn't need to be. One can easily envision a version of full symphony orchestra or at the very least banks of synthesizers and power of sound as well as feel, but that is not the way Faithfield heard it, and after hearing it once, I cannot imagine it any other way. The song is important enough to bookend, too, and the album ends with what is termed an “acoustic” version of the same song, more immediate and less produced and a fitting end to the “chapters” within.

Of those chapters, Clonard grabbed my ears right off, having been included on the first album. This time, he utilizes that full orchestral sound along with pipes and synthesizers and what sounds like harp or autoharp or mandolin and it has that power of sound mentioned before. And there are other songs which are slowly taking hold of my conscience and I can't help but begin to understand the connection of Faithfield's friend, Sooner. Titles alone give you an idea: Into the World, A Little Light, The One You Need, Assume the Position, Sooner or Later. Solid songs which stand on their own, all are parts of a journey of understanding about love and life and everything that the world throws at you during your time on Earth.

Rory Faithfield is a lucky man. For one thing, he's not dead, the implied result had he stayed in Sydney. He is not destitute, though if he is at all like most musicians, he is not that far from it. He is surrounded by people who care about him and he has the ability to care back. And he has a voice and enough talent to support that voice with outstanding writing skills and musicianship. More than that, though, he knows he is lucky. And it takes nothing more than a memory of his old dog to remind him.

He's not the only one who's lucky here. Faithfield has now produced two albums worth hearing. Hell, I'm twice as lucky now that Sooner or Later has been released. Sometimes it takes a dog to show me how lucky I am. Dog dish half full.

Frank O. Gutch Jr.

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