Cathal Coughlan

Black River Falls

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Having made his name twice over with Microdisney and the Fatima Mansions, not to mention the goof-out Bubonique project, Coughlan's solo debut gave the Irish musician a chance to remake his musical image once again. The role model this time out seems to be less Scott Walker than noted Walker disciple Nick Cave in Johnny Cash mode -- there's the same emphasis on burnt-out, death-tinged country/folk metadrama. Accompanied by a slew of backing musicians, notably former XTC guitarist Dave Gregory, who appears on nearly every song, Coughlan makes a pretty good case for trying for a little of his own Bad Seeds-style dark magic. His lyrical emphasis certainly hasn't changed much from his Fatima Mansions days, with tales of life's losers and down-and-outers mixed with warped and wracked imagery, but the setting is less half-destroyed council estates and more mythic Western America, Las Vegas after the lights go out -- for all the mentions of Swansea and other U.K. locations here and there. Coughlan's strong voice in many ways has almost found its truest, best setting yet, with the occasional string arrangements given a queasy, slowly descending swirl thanks to multi-instrumentalist Aindrias O Gruama. Highlights are multiple, there are multiple black diamonds on this fine release: the title track, a sweeping, truly cinematic performance in its detail and Coughlan's rich, sorrowful vocal; the strong duet with Dawn Kenny on "Dark Parlour"; and the string-heavy fragility of "God Bless Mr. X," suddenly shifting into a dank hip-hop crawl three minutes in without breaking the mood of the song. Not everything is complete mood-out, to be sure -- "The Bacon Singer" has a quick lounge/funk bite to it, however quietly haunted by the low-vibe tones throughout that linger in the back of the mix, while "Payday" and "Frankfurt Cowboy Yodel" have similarly swifter yet still shadowy impacts.

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