Alan Mearns,
The Tree
(self-produced, 2003)

A Celtic recording has a certain sound. Whether the singer hails from Ulster, the Irish Republic or somewhere in North America, we recognize the idiom right away.

Singer-songwriter-guitarist Alan Mearns lands squarely in that tradition. He's a young recording artist from Belfast, now studying classical guitar in Nashville.

His debut album, The Tree, is a lovely wistful recording with a full sound. It should appeal to all lovers of Celtic music. His guitar playing is extremely accomplished (as one would expect) as is the superb playing of his supporting cast (Melissa Alderman, fiddle, Michael Crisp, bodhran, and Terri Williams, vocals).

The result is something that sounds very much like early Garnet Rogers (the musical vision reminds me of Rogers' debut, though Mearns' choice of lyrics is not, to my mind, as interesting) sung by a true Irishman. Mearns' vocals are more than adequate to the task, but sometimes sound "garden variety Irish" (though I do enjoy hearing traces of an Ulster accent coming through when he pronounces the word "now" as "nye" for example).

All in all, The Tree is a joy to listen to, from the first notes. His clear, crisp and precises playing shines and illuminates the tunes, be they instrumental or with vocals.

A clear influence on this music (though he might not acknowledge it) is that of the group U2 and singer Bono. Not in the music -- simply something in his voice. And, it seems to me, in the choice of material and the feel of the lyrics. Mearns strays towards a Christian message; the tree of the album title is "Jesus Christ the apple tree." While I respect artists who believe in something, he does not necessarily convince me or take me along for this ride.

This album is a coherent, clear vision of music. Thankfully, he sticks to the folk-Celtic idiom and does not stray into pop stylings. The result is a beautiful listening experience without a discordant note. But at the same time, this very talented musician is often stuck in well-worn "Celtic" tracks. Mearns knows who he is. It will be interesting to see where he goes next, whether he'll stick with this kind of sound and message or move into new area. In one tune, "Prayer for Belfast," he creates an interesting soundscape that might give us a clue. Whatever he decides, he's clearly a talent to be watched.

- Rambles
written by David Cox
published 5 July 2003