Niall McGuigan – Awareness

Album Review | Self Release | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 3/5

Niall McGuigan is a musician and music therapist from Co Monaghan Ireland.  He is a musical journeyman playing in bands that span from rock to reggae, funk to metal.  He is a traveller and similar to the Australian Aboriginal idea of Songlines, his music and his songs are a record and a reaction to the earth he has walked and the experiences he has had.  But importantly in case this sounds like worthy musical pick and mix, from the first moments of this album he is an absolute master of laying down hypnotic acoustic guitar and building an atmosphere in a song.  “The Bigger Picture” and “Stillness” are sublime pastoral hymns built around guitar and Niall’s powerful vocal.  Fans of rich bardic acoustic music, the like of Roy Harper, Michael Chapman and Al Stewart at their finest or the raw attack of Martin Carthy will be hooked from the first note.  The arrangements are subtle and beautiful, a little double tracked guitar, some resonant Bass or a second vocal as Niall adds Robert Plant flourishes on Stillness.  Spirit adds a John Martyn blues rhythm to Niall’s beautiful guitar, throughout there is a groove and a calmness running through the music that carries you.  “Altai Magtaal” is a traditional praise song from the Altai Mountains in Mongolia.  During his MA in Ethnomusicology McGuigan studied Khoomi or Mongolian throat singing and it is that unique, otherworldly and gripping sound that features on this track.  Clare Foley’s excellent vocals with a touch of the Stepps themselves and a manic banjo build an Incredible String Band-ness through the song, creating something utterly wonderful.  However disparate it all sounds on the page, Niall’s skill is that it all blends to a hypnotic musical atmosphere.  “Buyant Goi” is another traditional Mongolian melody, slow and stately guitar and bowed Double Bass, like Danny Thompson at his finest, are the acoustic bedrock behind some eerie throat singing and a wonderful low vocal from Niall.  On this highlight track the drone of the Double Bass against the drone of the vocals is savagely beautiful and unlike anything else.  Like the chamber jazz of Jan Garbarek, the music recalls the wind over a frozen landscape and flowing rivers and streams.  Communicate a troubadour folk blues written following experience as a music therapist and “Typical Jah” another slithering acoustic reggae number lift the mood melding folk sensibilities perfectly to a Jamaican rhythm.  The Hot Club of France guitar flourishes and Niall’s Saxophone just lift the mood further in this music to put a smile on your face.  “Yarrow”, developed from a studio jam, is another wonderful piece of fusion as electric bass, Tibetan percussion, African percussion a didgeridoo and shamanic chant build an intense atmosphere bringing many of McGuigan’s musical experiences together in one piece.  Following on from a musical scrapbook track is “I Know Me Now” a moment where the power of music brings self-awareness, a perfect way to end this often intense album.