Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Guggenheim Grotto ? The Universe is Laughing (United for Opportunity)
Hard knocks and the vagaries of love obsess Dublin duo
The Guggenheim Grotto could prove a test for the limits of marketability when it comes to plainly intelligent, musically direct singer-songwriter duos. Dubliners Kevin May and Mick Lynch invariably carry the weight of a certain tradition in Celtic acoustic music. Yet, their more specific contemporary reference points might list between Simon and Garfunkel and Stephen Duffy?s Lilac Time.
?Trust Me I?m a Thief? pretty much betrays their general sensibility. Circumspect ? something like a cautionary tale ? it no less begs for love and connection. Throughout their new release, The Universe is Laughing, one gets the feeling that love (heck, life) is a complicated mess, but that like Woody Allen?s character in ?Love and Death,? we persevere, especially in the pursuit of love, because ?we need the eggs.?
May and Lynch sing in bittersweet harmony, also sounding a bit like Michael Stipe and Mike Mills in their call and response vocals in the song?s coda.
?Map of the Human Heart? is reflective of their arrangement strategies. Properly, they let their dour, lovely melodies do most of the talking. Guitar and piano chords and lines are neither frilly nor attention seeking; they are there to embrace the tunes. Songs like ?Never Before? and ?Concentrate? speak to the insufficiencies of human communication in poetic, but unblinking language that?s reminiscent of both Jimmy Webb and Townes Van Zandt. ?Wisdom? cleverly has and devours its cake too, wisely denying wisdom?s attainment ? well done, lads. This song offers the kind of little details that make the Grotto?s songs rise above most singer-songwriter pabulum (suggesting to the listener the modest goal of ?adopting a highway?), while the music veers toward East European and Middle Eastern sonorities.
That gift for observation informs ?The Spiegel Song,? a ditty about a suspiciously collected individual (?he never folds his arms, he lets them hang?). The title track brings the program to an end with a compassionate hymn to a beloved oddball, the sort you suspect the Grotto wish the world had more of. Here, the implicit tradition of Celtic balladry is more express, the duo sounding a bit like Martin Carthy or Andy Stewart.
The Universe is Laughing isn?t prepossessing. It won?t rock your world. And The Guggenheim Grotto?s ambivalent laments won?t always provide balm, but their fine, sturdy melodies and quietly poetic lyrics are aimed at fellow travelers ? those longing for belief, but wizened enough not to believe it?s around every corner.
Source: Kansas City Free Press