How it’s New York: The residenc was at Irish Arts Center, so by definition was a New York event.DSCN4119
How it’s Irish: Declan O’Rourke is an irish singer-songwriter, who lately has been embracing that identity more and more.

Damn it, Declan. You made me cry again… last year, when he played “Poor Boy’s Shoes,” a song from the Famine album that he’ll be recording last year, I couldn’t even describe the song afterwards without choking up. But, I told myself, I was kind of upset about something that time. I wouldn’t feel it so much this year. After all, I knew what was coming.

Nope. After the very first line I had a lump in my throat. And when the song, a sweet song of innocent courtship, suddenly slows down and tells us how in the poorhouse, “First God took the little boy… then the little girl…” I wept again. That’s some really great songwriting.

Aidan Connolly introduced Declan O’Rourke on the first night of his residency at Irish Arts Center, which runs through Sunday, April 28, by pointing out that the concerts blend two of IAC’s most successful programs: Masters in Collaboration, a residency of two artists, dreamed up by Mick Moloney and SongLives, a singer-songwriter program conceived by Susan McKeown.

We reviewed the last Masters in Collaboration, featuring Aoife O’Donovan and Karan Casey, two weeks ago.

Declan is a singer-songwriter, but his long residency captures a feeling of exploration too.

He’s in town with a string quartet, and he’s playing songs from his starry career, including his most recent album Mag Pai Zai (2011), Big Bad Beautiful World (2007), and Since Kyabram (2004).

Susan McKeown

Susan McKeown

McKeown introduced him by reminding us that that first album entered the charts at number five, and went platinum.

She also reminded us of some of the people he’s played with, including Damien Dempsey and Paul Weller.

“I’d like to knock your socks off,”

Declan told the full house in his deadpan, low-key delivery. His droll commentary was a hallmark of the evening.

“So take your shoes off.”

He opened with the sweet, wistfully catchy “Time Machine,” and then went into “Galileo,” his best known song, which has been covered by Josh Groban and Paul Byrom.

“I’m playing this song early, so if you came to hear it and you have somewhere else to be…,”

he said and gestured. It’s a love song to the world as much to a person.

His voice throughout the night sounded strong and clear. The string quartet, including Christian Herzberger and Curtis Stewart on violin, Nora Krohn on viola, and Eimear O’Grady on cello, amplified the lyrical atmosphere of his moody, almost filmic songs. Many of the songs, particularly “Dancing Song,” are on the slow, and peaceful side.

He sang “Poor Boy’s Shoes” without them, alone on stage, just him and strong, strumming guitar. The fast pace with its traditional scene-setting DSCN4118of a boy so struck by a beautiful girl is completely devastating.

Declan explained that he’d been inspired by picking up a history book on Famine workhouses, after learning his own grandfather had been born in one.

Fortunately, Declan picked up the spirits of the weeping house with his own take on a country song, “Yellow Moon,” and also played his kinda reggae, kinda mystical happy song “Lightning Bird Wind River Man.”

“We have a tree you can hug on your way out,”

he said.

There really wasn’t one.

Hugging Declan instead of a tree.

Hugging Declan instead of a tree.

But there were lots of people wanting to hug him-and embrace his catchy, soulful songs.

Declan O’Rourke plays through April 28 at Irish Arts Center, 553 W. 51st St.


Gwen Orel
About the Author

The only New York journalist who writes for both the Forward and Irish Music Magazine.