This October Dublin’s extraordinary singer, songwriter and storyteller will cast his finest spell yet with the release of Dark Eyed Messenger, a masterful work of unwavering focus and beauty.
Album number eight and Crowley’s fourth for Chemikal Underground, Dark Eyed Messenger comprises 11 songs that alight on the various branches of the song tree the Irish singer-songwriter has established and nurtured between his debut, A Strange Kind, in 1999 and his last release, the ravishing Some Blue Morning, in 2014.
While crowned as ever with Crowley’s mahoganied baritone, Dark Eyed Messenger is the Dublin-based artist’s first set untouched by the instrument with which he is most associated, guitar. This is just one of many surprising yet bewitching results of the album’s stress-free birth at the hands of American producer and musician Thomas Bartlett, aka Doveman (Sufjan Stevens, Martha Wainwright, The Magnetic Fields, The Gloaming).
“Thomas said he had a potentially controversial suggestion,” recalls Crowley. “He asked how I’d feel about having no guitar on the album. I jumped at the idea. The notion of showing up and just singing appealed to me very much.”
Recorded in four days in May 2016 in Bartlett’s New York studio, the record captures not merely Crowley at the apex of his song-writing powers but also the creative lava that can flow when two perfectly aligned musical minds come together. “Thomas’s instinct and my vision seemed to work in synergy,” says Crowley. “It was moving to see him conjure these spectral sounds seemingly out of the air between us.”
As the singer suggests, Bartlett’s contribution to Dark Eyed Messenger is variously unsettling, comforting and effervescent, eliciting a sweeping array of dream-like sounds and deploying dissonance where the listener might least expect it. The result is an immersive record that inhabits a world of dusk, dreams and desire. As with Crowley’s previous releases, an air of literary depth and poetry pervades the set, reflecting its creator’s lyrical flair and elegantly assured writing style.
Evoking fragments of such diverse works as A Walk Across The Rooftops by The Blue Nile and Deserter’s Songs by Mercury Rev, Dark Eyed Messenger sounds like it took ten times as long to make as it did, an illusion that is testament to the strength of the partnership that forged it. The singer outlines how their modus operandi evolved after he first arrived at Bartlett’s studio on West 37th Street after walking from his cousin’s apartment on the Upper East Side.
“Day one set the rhythm for the week. I’d make coffee while Thomas switched things on. I’d name a song and we’d listen to my demo of it. Thomas would play it on the piano or Mellotro n and I’d sing. We’d do a run through. He’d hit record. And then another song and another. He’d say, ‘Let’s do a scratch vocal’ so I’d do a take. But soon we realised my scratch vocals were final takes. By day four we had 11 songs recorded.”
While modesty prevents its creator from lauding those songs as the most beguiling in his two-decade career, as a label Chemikal Underground is happily unencumbered by such restrictions and we stand by our judgement. Dark Eyed Messenger finds Adrian Crowley at the very peak of his powers.
The striking cover art for Dark Eyed Messenger above comes courtesy of Galway-based visual artist Louise Manifold.