White Feather announces a new musical direction for Cormac Neeson, best known for his powerhouse vocals fronting The Answer. The singer has fused a who’s who of the Nashville and Irish music scenes to sculpt his debut solo record. Essentially country, with some Irish and soul influences, Neeson takes the “four chords and the truth” mantra and uses it to tell the story of his past few years.
Title track White Feather and Broken Wing track the premature birth and early life of his son, with honesty and sincerity. The album’s opening line, “Spent two weeks, waiting on a heartbeat, no bigger than a small seed, biggest heart I ever seen,” sets the stall out early, while Broken Wing is an open address on his son.
Neeson’s writing is mostly direct and in the first person. The album is intensely honest as a result. We learn something about our protagonist. There’s optimism in Do Something Today, a pleading urgency in Look Down On Me and in Sweet Gentle Love and Artefact’s tenderness we get a glimpse into Neeson’s soul. In the album’s most personal song, Broken Wing, Neeson does use metaphor, but here it feels less effective than the more direct approach in other songs. We see Neeson and sympathise with him through his lyrics, we listen to him and follow his story, but perhaps the influence of co-writers has diluted his words. That said, there’s plenty in White Feather to suggest Neeson’s writing will develop with time.
Where the album excels is in its production. It sounds fantastic and, littered with lap-steel, it is no surprise to find it was recorded in Nashville’s historic Sound Kitchen Studio. Gentle tremolo guitar accompanies Neeson’s soaring vocal in Do Something Today, while stand out track Don’t Wait Up builds from a delicate acoustic guitar riff to a singing organ solo at its climax, underpinned by a powerful drum and bass backbeat. Song That Lives Forever combines banjo and slide guitar before peaking with a cello (or violin?) solo, while the acoustic lead of closing track Baby You’re Home To Me is bolstered with a mandolin to bring things to a comforting resolution.
White Feather is fairly safe musically but touches like these are masterstrokes in production, ensuring a little magic in almost every song. The counterbalance of musical and lyrical intensity is perfect – as Neeson becomes deeper and more personal the music pulls back, allowing the lyrics to take centre stage. Neeson’s vocal is dominant and displays a greater range than perhaps his rock and roll days allowed.
Writing so personally for the first time suits Neeson and the production combined with his vocal range allows him the freedom to express. If the co-writes and credits have enabled Neeson to access a new level in his writing, it’s also possible that they shackled him a little with the safety of the Nashville lyrical style. Neeson’s White Feather is gentle and fragile, I’d like to see its pointy end sharpened, inked let loose again soon.