“…Shiels’ naked voice – bruised, yet richly timbred and endearing”

“Robyn G Shiels has been around for a while now. Quite a while. His debut release, a split 7” single with Desert Hearts, ‘Two Nights in June’, was released back in 2004. It received a lot of good press (including an 8 star review on the influential webzineDrowned in Sound, which compared his folk-country sound to Elliott Smith and Will Oldham).

This was followed by an album, A Lifetime of Midnights, in 2005, which raised his reputation further. Then it all went quiet.

Recording-wise, anyhow. Shiels still appeared in high profile support slots for the likes of The Low Anthem, Cat Power, Richard Hawley and the aforementioned Will Oldham, as well as sessions for Radio One and performances in the UK and America.

The highlight, though, is Shiels’ ‘Hello Death,’ a macabre little nursery rhyme ditty with a lyrical nod to Malvina Reynolds’ classic folk ballad ‘Little Boxes.’

It turns out that ‘Hello Death My Old Friend’ was a mere appetiser for The Great Depression, a 5-track EP of such heartworn (and heartfelt) beauty it should immediately elevate Kilrea-born Shiels to national treasure status.

Opening song ‘When We Were Brothers’ begins with Shiels’ naked voice – bruised, yet richly timbered and endearing – confessing that he ‘shot a man who was not there / A bad moon follows me everywhere’, before McAuley’s brushed drums are joined by Hutchinson’s minimal piano notes.

A rousing accordion carries the listener off on a mysterious tale of inherited sin where everyone dies ‘in their own hearts and their own way’. It’s a song – and a sound – that seems as old as the hills and as fresh as tomorrow’s news.

‘The Love of an Honest Man’ follows, whose unnamed narrator ‘shared my bed with the shame I’ve known / I bathed in blood that was not my own’. The sparse instrumentation and delicate harmonies carry Shiels’ resigned vocal over a lazy shuffle beat.

The highlight of the EP – and the most affecting song on the record – is ‘Look What You’ve Done,’ (listen below) a tale of regret and disappointment at how a relationship can be undone by one of the lovers.

The song has the momentum of a funeral march, until the music rises, like a wave of despair, before falling away and leaving only the faintest percussion and guest musician Tom Hughes’ mournful cello. The song ends with ‘the flowers of romance’ buried deep into the ground.”

Review of The Great Depression by James Meredith for Culture Northern Ireland

Leave A Comment