Conor Gains – Compass
Conor Gains is opening a new chapter in his short career with the release of Compass, his first solo album, a ten song collection showing off his mastery of a number of styles and the willingness to bring them together without any stitching ever showing. His songwriting talents are prodigious enough that there’s a growing sense, listening to this release, that there’s nowhere he can’t go, nothing he can’t write about. The natural confidence coming from the structure of these compositions and their accompanying recordings is nothing less than inspiring and a little remarkable. Gains spent three years amassing a body of songs, nearly a hundred in all, that he finally mined for the ten we hear here. There’s riches in these performances you will not catch in a single listen and Compass is a release that holds up under multiple revisits.
“I Know” makes relaxed and intimate use of horn lines to bring greater melody and atmospherics alike to one of the album’s most evocative numbers. Gains’ comfort level with this style is, obviously, quite high and he’s joined by some important secondary voices that further sweeten the vocal presentation. Blues is more of a force on the album’s second song “Walking Alone” and Gains, once more, focuses a great deal on nailing down phrasing that best dramatizes the experience of the lyrics without ever going overboard. The opening trio of tunes concludes with the fire and fury of “Dance Like It’s Your Birthday” and the celebratory nature of the performance has a positive slant, but never becomes strident at any point. Instead, it’s inviting us to join the festivities.
“I’ve Been Looking for Your Heart” is one of the many tunes on Compass where Gains starts off working within one style but feels and obeys a gradual evolution during the course of the performance. The lyrics are some of the most successful on the album and inspire Gains to really dig deep for an appropriately weighty vocal. We move into more clearly acoustic territory with the guitar and vocal led track “Back to You”, another familiar sentiment in song given an individual gloss by Gains’ writing and vocal personality, and it rates as one of the more entertaining and emotionally satisfying numbers on the album. “Miracle” finds Gains fully giving himself over to the blues and it rings out with an authenticity we’d understandably never expect a modern interpreter to grasp so well. The guitar work is especially potent without ever relying too much on clichéd lines. “Darkness in the Light” moves from a firm singer/songwriter mode into a full fledged rocker by its conclusion and another of the album’s best lyrics rates among its highlights. It’s often claimed and seldom backed up, but there’s something on Compass for every music fan and there’s a near flawless balance between musical sophistication and melodic accessibility that few albums ever possess in these times. This is Conor Gains’ finest moment as a recording artist and writer and leaves no doubt why we shouldn’t expect more of a similar quality or even better with future releases.