Aengus Finnan,
Fool's Gold
(Shelter Valley, 2000)

I bought this record based solely on the lyrics I'd read on the artist's website. They are poetic and touching, and, as it turned out, form only the base of a well-rounded and thought-provoking debut from this Irish-born, Canadian-raised singer-songwriter. It's been a long time since I've been rendered breathless by a song, but it happened a few times the first time I listened to Aengus Finnan's Fool's Gold.

The record is made up of traditional and original tracks, as well as a spooky cover of Heartbreak Hill's eerie "John Tyrone," which, Finnan quips in the liner notes, "is about the only Heartbreak Hill song I can keep up with." Described by Finnan as a "set of dark and depressing folk songs," Fool's Gold, produced by Stan Rogers' producer and bandmate Paul Mills, is far more than that -- it is the future of modern folk music. Well-placed acknowledgment is given to both Gordon Lightfoot, "for filling my childhood days with music," and Rogers, "for wounding me with his writing."

Finnan opens the record with the true-to-life tale of Marguerite de la Roche, a young girl exiled by her uncle to a North Atlantic isle for her love of a young sailor. The lyrics are poignant and show Finnan's respect for, and interest in, history and heritage. A haunting melody floats through the song, weeping with every tear that falls from the young girl's eyes. In "War Bride's Waltz," Finnan plays the historian once more, telling the surprisingly uplifting story of a new bride left behind by a husband bound for war. "Lately," a sweet love song, is one of the standouts on the record, and provides a showcase for Finnan's depth as a songwriter and a vocalist. He shares vocal duties with ex-Heartbreak Hill frontwoman Jenny Whiteley, whose pure delivery complements his perfectly. Their voices twine together so exquisitely; and yet the song is breathtaking in its simplicity.

Melancholy overtakes the writer as he thinks back on his troubled childhood in "Fly Away." In the liner notes, Finnan explains the song: "I spent the two darkest years of my life in Moosonee, where I lost many things; however, it was there, in an apartment overlooking the Polar Bear Express tracks and the liquor store, that I wrote my first song. This is for Bobby, who called to apologize." And the artist is exposed. ... The message of the song reflects the closure gained on a lifetime of bitterness: that anything is possible if you want it bad enough ... and that sometimes the deepest pain breeds the most startling creativity. It worked.

My favourite track, by far, is "Sweet Evelina," an a cappella duet with Whiteley. This tale of unrequited love would not be the same without the sublime fusion of voices achieved here. The title track, rather buried at track 10, is an upbeat take on the futility of it all. Finnan takes on the voice of that guy who sits in a dark corner of a dark bar, a pint of Guinness barely touched in front of him, marveling at the hypocrisy of life and silently meeting the eyes of those who can also see.

The final cut on the record is dedicated by Finnan to "those who have the courage to see past the dollar." For me, this track is the most direct nod to the influence of Stan Rogers on Finnan's writing. At points, you can almost hear that deep voice whispering the chorus to the wind. Finnan's poet's soul is angry in this one, as he sings to a dreamer who is cut down by the commercial interests of mediocre minds.

Fool's Gold is well worth a hundred listens -- it will carry you away and expose the poet in your soul.

[ by Rachel Jagt ]