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Damien Dempsey
To Hell Or Barbados
United For Opportunity/Clear Records
www.damiendempsey.com


Taking the title of his latest record from a book by the same name written by Sean O' Callaghan about the Irish slave trade in the Caribbean is a big step for Damien Dempsey… It is not that Dempsey has never tackled political or spiritual issues head-on before, but that the record is immediately set up as a bit of a downer. These songs are weighty from the get-go, but there is an overwhelming sense of profound hope buried within the music. In a sense, To Hell Or Barbados perfectly embodies the true Irish spirit.

Dempsey's work has always been a bit larger than his contemporaries' and on his latest release he continues to write anthemic and beautiful songs and imbues them with a deep sense of self. The searching and ever-present hope of the Irish spirit lives in his music now as it always has, a darkly abiding longing for that which was lost and longs to be found again. All great Irish music has this ken, and Dempsey proves once more that his affinity is in-line with this spirit. The opening lines of the first track on the record "Maasai" set up the remainder of the record as Dempsey's brilliant voice howls, "When I Die/ I want to die, not in a house built for the unknown/ But by the hand of a Maasai/ When I sing, I want to sing/ Sing like a lark as dawn beats the dark/ And let sweet melody set me free." Even amongst the dark depth of these haunting songs and their tales of terror and the terrible things wrought upon the Irish ancestors there is an overwhelming feeling of hope. "Chase The Light" is filled with Uillean pipes and a very strong Irish sound - tricked out with a false sense of hope - before the upbeat Caribbean sound of "Your Pretty Smile" lightens the mood of the record and gives reprieve from the tales of loss and despair. Damien stretches a bit more on the almost rapping rants of "Serious", a song that moves from a driving rhythmic storm to a lightly orchestrated pop song before once more falling prey to the catchy Caribbean sounds of "Teachers". Things get a little coolly strange in a King Crimson/Peter Gabriel kind of way on the title track and the prog-heavy island groove of "The City".

To Hell Or Barbados finds Dempsey reaching out his arms to encompass a world of music, with songs ranging from a lilting Reggae beat to a deeply-rooted traditional Irish row. The songs are poetic and lush, ably telling the stories of his ancestors and their tribulations, and hopes, and of those dark years of Cromwell's England. The tales that he weaves are thick with history and an honest searching; perhaps Damien is finding his own peace in the trials of his forebears as we can all find a bit of ours in his.

-Embo Blake


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