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Michael J. Sheehy - Ghost On The Motorway (Red Eye, 2007)


ImageThe little bald frontman of Dream City Film Club returns after a five year's absence with understated solo album on new label.


If the name Dream City Film Club said anything to you when you were a music fan in the late nineties, then you will be familiar with the name Michael J. Sheehy. If you are/were not, you have been missing out. After two criminally ignored albums with the band and a handful of EPs/singles, the band had to call it quits and Sheehy released three similarly criminally ignored solo albums on the Beggars Banquet label.


After being dumped by Beggars Banquet, Sheehy must have done a lot to make ends meet. I remember buying a mail-order EP of a band he was in a couple of years ago. That the name of that band escapes me at this moment says a lot! And now, five years after his third solo album comes his fourth, Ghost On The Motorway, released on the relatively new Red Eye label (Sheehy's new album is their seventh release). Sheehy recorded, mixed and arranged the album, and wrote all the songs for it, I don't think he worked so hard on a solo album since his first one!


Break in The Clouds immediately sets the tone, a bit reminiscent of Tom Waits' How's It Gonna End. You immediately realise that his sound has altered very little compared to his previous albums, although the electronic underpinnings by Dimitri Tikovoi (producer of Sheehy's previous 2 solo albums) seems a thing of the past: this is a more acoustic affair, probably aimed at performing it live, and it suits Sheehy just fine.


What is also surprising is that, when reading who played on the tracks, is that the names Laurence Ash, Andrew Park and Alex Vald (the drummer, bassist and guitarist of Dream City Film Club, respectively) feature on numerous tracks. Most of them have not recorded with Sheehy in years! Funnily enough, Vald only plays mandolin on the album.


Curse The Day is about a man cursing the day he met his former lover. He covers his self-pity with a little smile when he sings "And all she left me with is this bittersweet refrain".


Crawling Back To The Church is another typical lyrical struggle, as Sheehy seems compelled to write on each of his albums. Even after puking his guts up when he hears the gospel sound and setting fire to the church, he's again crawling back to the church, begging the Holy Father to forgive him.


While we're on that front, Retread The Dry Bony Ground is the perfect song to follow it up. It's about an old dying farmer telling his son that their situation is hopeless. Even though he says to the boy "we've been this way before", you get the feeling that this time it's final. Beautiful use of the term "flogging a dead horse" here: it's a term used when someone is trying to convince people to do or feel something without any hope of succeeding.


Bloody Nose is the lead track of the album. As far as I know there is no single of the song (yet?), but there is a video of it: to see it, click on the YouTube link at the bottom of this review. The video features a male puppet who tries to pick up women, not very subtle I might add, and therefore gets rejected every time. (Ironically or not, the male puppet looks a bit like the self-proclaimed Twisted Little Man himself). Lyrically, it contains more of Sheehy's beautiful snatches of brilliance. The opening line is "there's many's the slip 'tween cup and lip", which means that many things can go wrong before something is achieved. The concluding line in the refrain is "a life without trouble ain't no life at all", where Sheehy is backed by a small choir of gospel singers.


New Orleans is a story where the narrator is disembowelled by a US marine who subsequently flees with the wife. After opening the track with this as a given, Sheehy the narrator brings us up to date how it came this far. It's the longest track on the album and lyrically one of the strongest. British singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Ed Harcourt contributes "saw, music box, organ, percussion and grunts".


Torriano Avenue is a short story about 2 drug users in love. The seemingly lightweight Song For Davy is about a boy who is plagued by demons when he's drunk; he's expected to sing jolly tunes, but he's likely to sing the blues. Drugs of all sorts seem to be a theme on this part of the album: the Company Man (of the song of the same name) is a dubious person. "And you're not sure if you're an abuser or if you're being abused/ I think that shit you're shoving up your nose has only got you confused". Elsewhere in the same song, he sings "your boys slipped me something they cooked up in the lab", further evidence of drug (ab)use.


The title track is a song of six concise lines (comparable to a haiku or a sonnet) which tells a tale of someone who got hit by a car. The ghost of this person is trying to get home, but Sheehy's last line of the song is "he will never find a way back home". It's even written in apostrophes, as if the holder of this poor soul's fate (God? Satan?) is saying it.


So Long Sorrow Town is Sheehy's sneer towards people in a certain town who he considered his friends until they turned on him. Very gung ho, he notes: "So fare thee well, all you sons of bitches/ If I don't leave now, I'm gonna leave you one of in stitches"! This one of the tracks where Sheehy distorts his voice, to give his voice some extra grit, a trick he has used to good effect on a lot of his songs.


Son Of Blue Moon is a very quiet closer. The song features the line "Blue moon, you saw me standing all alone", which can only be a direct reference to the crooner song Blue Moon. Knowing that Sheehy is an Elvis fan, and knowing that Elvis sang Blue Moon in his days on the famous Sun label… well, it can't be a coincidence, now can it?!


All things considered, Sheehy delivered another album full of dark tales, backed up by dark sounds made by skilful musicians. It holds up well next to his previous work, and one can only hope that he receives the reviews that he deserves. Music lovers who like Tindersticks, Nick Cave, Tom Waits and the aforementioned Ed Harcourt should definitely check out his album.


MySpace page where you can listen to the title track and Son Of Blue Moon of the new album, plus one track of every other Sheehy solo album.
Official site Red Eye Music:
Alternately, use the keywords: Bloody Nose Sheehy Kim Albright Puppet


Author: Robert van Gameren