I probably shouldn't tell you this because of author bias and all that, but I have a proclivity for Irish multi-instrumentalists who can do a mean Tracy Chapman emulation. And Stuart Lunn, an Irish multi-instrumentalist hailing from Belfast, does just that on “Is It You?,” the opening track of his album Starting to Burn. And he does it on most of the other 13 tracks as well!
Lunn is something of a purist; He wrote Starting to Burn across the span of a decade or so, with the intent of using as much analog sounds as possible. Key example: "…if an amp wouldn't make the right song, use a different amp rather than process it."
The whole Irish thing will probably draw knee-jerk comparisons to U2, and that's fair sometimes (the lead guitar on "Heartbeats and Scars" and Lunn's croon over a plodding drumbeat on "To See You Smile" are totally justifiable) . Still, Lunn takes more notes from 90s alternative radio. Many of the songs have that restrained guitar sound that uses an instrumental set-up to bring in the punchy choruses. "Summer's Wasted (Losing Touch)" features excited drumming with tight guitar playing and frat house vocal harmonies that gives room for Lunn to turn a joke into a heartfelt plea. "We Still Sing" finds Lunn going down the path of Chapman. Honestly, I'm not sure it was intentional but it's always nice to hear a musician doing Chapman. Anyway, the slow tempo, dusty percussion and slight guitar licks under more gentle stemming reminds me of the musical stretches alternative rock began trying out around '98. There's even a piano in the chorus or a keyboard making piano sounds.
There are quite a few players here. Lunn commands most of the prominent instruments, but Decla Iegge does guitar (bass and lead) and keyboards as well. It’s a good thing too because the musical versatility is what keeps things going on an album that borrows much of its sound from a nebulous genre that exists more for nostalgia than artistic gain. Louise Ruffell lends her vocals every now and then, and she and Lunn KILL it on "Landslide." The music itself is pretty basic (measured drum beats with brooding guitar and stuff) but the duet and the way the voices match…both are husky and heartfelt. They don't mince their pauses, either. Even on the midnight melancholy of "Sometimes," it's almost like they're afraid of silence, of not hearing the other speak. There are pockets where the human voice doesn't intrude, but they are few, and the two sound most comfortable when they harmonize.
Also, according to himself, Lunn was also voted most original busker at the Belfast busking festival.
The 20- and 30-somethings will have the most fun with this album, playing "spot the artist we grew up with" on the tracks. Younger crowds can score a few novelty listens before becoming actual fans, but the wayward portion may have trouble acclimating to the genuine/genuine-sounding emotion heard in Lunn's voice, and old people are dying so whatever.
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