By any standard, this is an outstanding piece of work from Matt McGinn. Passionately and brilliantly conceived and delivered. Everything about the work is top class, the concept, the writing, the singing, down to and including the artwork and packaging.
The singer-songwriter from Hilltown, Co. Down has built up a loyal following and much critical acclaim for engaging live performances and his three previous albums. But ‘Lessons of War’ is without a shadow of a doubt his most powerful and fully formed work.
It is an anti-war album but do not let that deter you from listening. This really is in the very finest traditions of such work, avoiding the temptation to preach or present a cheerless rant which many lesser performers fall prey to.
‘Lessons of War’ is very much a full studio album with a talented array of gifted and sensitive players joining Matt. Noteworthy among them being John McCullough on piano and Hammond, Colm McClean a very tasteful guitar player, Jon Thorne on bass, Matt Weir on drums, Barry Kerr on flute and Barry Walsh on accordion. Alongside these musicians, there are great vocal contributions from Ciara O’Neill, Ria Maguire, and Ciaran Lavery.
A fine twist and bonus comes from the original concept behind the work of trying to reach out from Co. Down across the world to reflect upon the futility of war. So, we get Yazan Ibrahim – a young Flamenco guitarist from the Golan Heights, Citizens of the World – a London based choir of refugees – and percussionist Seydu from Sierra Leone.
As with all his work, Matt’s singing and guitar playing are of the highest order and a fitting vehicle for the songs. And what songs. Ten very different but at the same time interconnecting and complimenting works.
‘Bubblegum’ has rightly been getting a lot of attention, inspired teenage diaries, a co-write with Mick Flannery reflecting upon the Troubles with references to the hunger strikes and bubblegum. It’s beautifully sung – not by Matt but by Ciara O’Neill.
In truth, each and every song is a gem, ‘Refugees’, ‘Lyra’, ‘Lessons of War’ with a full band and chorus treatment. Finishing with the reflective ‘When Will We Learn?’ with shimmering cello, Hammond and Rhodes organ and nylon string guitar.
Great credit to Matt for pulling this together. The work deserves to be heard both locally much further afield. Its themes and the delivery surely have universal appeal. ‘Lessons of War’ is recommended if not essential listening. Every home should have at least one to hand.