What I love about The Lost Brothers is how their songs often seem quite placid on the surface. Then one realises just how depth-charged they truly are.
Paul Muldoon

I have an unwritten rule that I need to listen to an album all the way through six times before I can even begin to pull words together. I need to know if there’s a story, to find a narrative perhaps, and if so, to let it unfurl. The Lost Brothers’ fifth album, ‘Halfway Towards A Healing’ is indeed an absolute pearl, full of hidden treasures. It is also brutally existential and honest.

I felt a bit bruised by the end. I’ll explain why in a while, but first, the initial impressions – the harmonies are to die for. The Lost Brothers (Oisin Leech and Mark McCausland) may not be biological siblings, but their voices have that shared understanding and quality that often only blood brothers can make into magic. They have been compared to the Everly Brothers and I can hear that, but for me, the opening track ‘Echoes In The Wind’ immediately reminded me of Simon and Garfunkel. The songs of Leech and McCausland are so beautifully poetic, that someday, their names will be up there with the great songwriting duos of all time.

There is something in the quality of this entire album that transported me back in time. The opening track took me to the soundtracks of a sixties childhood – the music that played on my parents’ turntable. But it was more than that – it has a certain cinema-scape. The imagery is so defined and clear that I envisioned the bleak and dusty iconography of old Sunday afternoon Westerns. Then I read the blurb and it all made sense. The album came to be in Tucson Arizona (if conceived elsewhere). It was here that their producer Howe Gelb dropped the lonesome anti-heroes off each morning on the dirt tracks of the dusty desert – presumably to seep up and search for creative connections in the surroundings.

It worked. Big time.

One of my early impressions was just how much the natural environment weaves in and out of every track – the elements of earth, wind, fire, and metal; shadows and light; day and night; seasons; sparrows and crows; rain, rivers, rocks, storms and skies ripped open – echoes of shamanic connection and the spirits of all things. But most of all, it is about the circle of life.

Not only did this album form a loop in my head, I came to realise there was a loop from beginning to end. And as that began to sink in, so did the sorrow and the raw reality that we, and everything we come to be, or achieve, is all just echoes in the wind. Stay with me – it rotates to the end – the wheel does indeed turn full circle. It all got a bit Shakespearian – the more I listened, the more I sensed the tragedy and hopelessness. I fell into the arms of this melodic melancholy. By the fifth listen I was in tears. By the sixth, the floodgates opened. How did they do that?

‘Where The Shadow Goes’ is a reminder that there’s no escaping our dark side – that we all go where the shadow goes. The pace steps up in ‘Come Tomorrow’ – like a galloping horse – but still that shadow ghost is in hot pursuit – the sands of time unwind, reminding us that we are all just transient here.

‘Cry For A Sparrow’ might just be my favourite – but still, the darkness lingers despite the sweetness. Dark waters, drowning, sorrow, for a little bird. ‘More Than I Can Comprehend’ asks more questions than it answers.

The beautiful instrumental ‘Reigns Of Ruin’ conjures up images of cacti and cantinas, the aridity of the Arizona desert is nowhere more present than in this charismatic melody. This is where the spaghetti-western, ghost-town cinema-scape of this album is at its most profound.

At the mid-way point, as if stepping off the horse and letting those reigns drop, we find ‘Halfway Towards A Healing’, the title track. It has the weary pace of a plodding horse:

I walked down to the Spanish church and I felt no grieving. Snow melting on the cold hard ground, winter must be leaving. And I could be halfway t’wards a healing.

Here, the Hammond organ adds to the ghostly atmosphere of a deserted church.

Things warm up again with ‘Songs Of Fire’. With its melodic, Simon and Garfunkel-esque intro, the harmonies continue on a long and winding road of isolation, barren desolation, and chronic loneliness.

The cruel hand of man would seem defiant, and my eyes would stop this endless cryin’

Visions of lonely funeral pyres flame the finality, the banality of it all. It’s all feeling a bit bleak.

‘The Iron Road’ is another interesting track with a tragic, Shakespearian–twist and a Lear-like storm:

Out upon the iron road we heard the quiet sky come rumblin’

curses us in danger but we knew we had to find the way…

Later after midnight fell, a lightning bolt came crashing, striking on the stones that did glow with the serpent’s light; at the dying of the iron road we heard the burning sky come clean, asking for an end to this long and cursed fight.

It is an elegy for some other, long-lost brother; a lament for the dead.

The final track – The Ballad of a Lost Brother’ is well worth a listen to. It is a spoken word track opening with the words “Listen. No, listen to me…” At first, I swear I thought it was Liam Neeson’s voice, but it’s not. It goes deep into the heart of the matter. It says what most would never dare. It is stark. It is about the banality of stuff – the things we gather over a lifetime that, ultimately, mean nothing in the end.

This takes me back to the beginning – to my search for the narrative. Here the story ends, in a spoken word, brutal and honest offering. It is the outworking of the ultimate existential crisis, and the painful aftermath. Indeed, it’s precisely why this album made me cry buckets but then, at the very end, I discovered something I hadn’t noticed before – a beautiful bonus track of instrumental Spanish guitar – called ‘Gabriel’s Midnight’. Perhaps it is a reminder that no matter how bleak it gets in the desert, there’s always an angel about; there is always hope.

This is The Lost Brothers fifth album. They’ve been composing together for over a decade now, and herewith we are presented with an absolute gift.

The Lost Brothers play the Black Box, Belfast on 14th February – St Valentine’s Day. Treat the one you love, and if you ain’t got one, then songs of loneliness, isolation and despair may be just the order of the day.