White Greyhound is the first single of Danny O’Connor’s debut effort ‘Black Sheep. Indeed this is a year of debuts for the Ballyshannon born troubadour as he also releases his first music video.
The video for the aforementioned track is a black and white tribute to loss, love and life set against the urban bohemia of Berlin. Teeming with sense of longing for solace and very much rooted in the tradition of the emigrant songwriter, White Greyhound takes the listener on an aural journey from Tir Conaill to the Tiergarten via the Bierhalls of Berlin where O’Connor learned his trade on the folk scene.
Indeed this apprenticeship can be heard in the track as O’Connor plays guitar backed by some of Berlin’s finest young creative’s. Recorded at Lowswing Studios in Berlin and Nashtrax Studios in Nashville, TN, USA the track features Danny O’Connor: Vocals, Guitar, Bass // Tobias Gille: Percussion // Sara Thögersen: Fiddle // Sinead Hayes: Wurlitzer Electric Piano // Jan Terstegen: Electric Guitar and Aaron McDaris: Banjo.
It is as a lyricist however that O’Connor excels the most. ‘Will you think about me when your there, in the clouds of fresh air’ is perhaps the most heartfelt line in a song which is both a tribute to O’Connor’s late uncle Christie as well as a rumination on life abroad. The video uses the motif of a white greyhound which the singer encounters at various stages in some of the most famous locations in Berlin. The Volkspark Friedrichshain, Friedhof Boxhagener Straße, the Tempodrom and Rummelsburger Bucht, all feature as O’Connor chases after the dog as well as his own sense of belonging on foreign shores.
The meaning behind the white dog is left open to the viewer’s interpretation. Is the white dog the protagonist encounters real, or is he chasing a ghost? Will he find him again in the lush greenery of Berlin’s parks and city forests on a summer day, in a graveyard, in the barren urban labyrinths of the big city, or inside himself? The video works best as a visual expression of the songs exploration of family ties and affection stretched over two countries and punctuated by the passing of time.
An Irish language poet once described ‘dying as walking home from the dance of life’. White Greyhound is written in this spirit and as such is a homecoming of sorts for Danny O’Connor. A very pleasing video and track. Sometimes all it takes is family to hit the mark.
German language poet Paul Celan wrote that “Poetry is a sort of homecoming”. This is true of Danny O’Connor’s debut offering. Having cut his teeth in the Irish music scene of the late nineties/early naughties O’ Connor relocated to Berlin. Its this unique blend of life experience that informs this most intimate of folk albums.
Essentially a singer-songwriter album, “Black Sheep” is a tribute to O’Connor’s journey leading him from his birthplace – Ballyshannon in the Northwest of Ireland – via Dublin to Berlin, which he made the center of his life some five years ago. The theme is captured in the album artwork and probably most present in the lyrics of “Going Home”, a ballad telling the tale of being “between different homes.”
Another prominent topic are family ties in all their beauty and sometimes inevitable difficulty. “White Greyhound”, “Rainy Day” and “Shine”, along with “Listen” arguably the strongest and most vivid tracks on the album, all connect to this in one way or another. Proving himself an attentive observant of human nature and the stories entwined in the history of generations, O’Connor does the subject matter justice – emotional, but never sentimental, energetic and always with a strong focus on hope, love and reconciliation.
The two more upbeat, happy and audibly Johnny Cash-inspired country songs “Neverland Town” and “Without” provide the counterpoint to these, embracing and celebrating life and happiness.
A lot of consideration was given to the arrangements of each song. Recorded partly in Berlin at Lowswing Studio, partly in Nashville, each instrument lends a voice to one of the motives in the tracks. Danny O’Connor’s most important ally in bringing the bittersweet nostalgia in “Rainy Day” and “Going Home” to life and moving it towards a present where past shadows are overcome is Sara Thögersen, whose powerful backing vocals and fiddle playing make for a large part of these songs sonic splendor. In “Shine”, it is the sparse and perfectly timed piano of Galway artist Sinead Hayes which underlines and emphasizes the words. Banjo, Dobro and Pedal Steel tracks recorded in Nashville make for the characteristic “twang” and the easy, summer-breezing lightness of “Neverland Town” and “Without.”
O’Connor’s is doubtlessly the kind of intimate and personal album it takes many other artists years to work up the courage to make. His voice and guitar hold the songs together and make listeners feel they are invited on a personal and moving journey with the artist, who names greats as diverse as Luka Bloom, country godfather Johnny Cash and Indie-Folk-Rockers The Decemberists as some of his influences. The stand out track “White Greyhound” exemplifies O’ Connor’s prowess as a songwriter. He laments ‘Will you think about me there, in the clouds of fresh air’ in what is a powerful ode to love and loss.
“Black Sheep” was recorded in November 2015 and February 2016 and mixed and mastered by Florian von Keyserlingk, another long-term companion of O’Connor’s. “Listen” was written by his best friend Michael McGrath, so the album is somewhat of an “extended family” production. Indeed, home via Friedrichshain is truly where the heart is for this North Western troubadour.
Black Sheep is a refreshingly honest album in which O’Connor wears his heart on his sleeve. The future is indeed bright for this emigrant son of the North West.
The album is available on CD and as digital download from all known online stores from July 1, 2016.