There is a moment, whilst watching Dan Mangan’s short documentary, that I wonder how anybody could fail to be inspired by the beauty of the Canadian landscapes that are home to this indie-folk songwriter. But, of course, if this were true, all lands of beauty would be filled with artists and no artisans, and the economy would be as much of a mess as it is when we let bankers run it. In truth, inspiration is a symbiotic relationship. Every artist needs a muse, but every artist must take his own spin on that muse, and has to put the sweat in.
Mangan released his first EP when he was 20 and his first album two years later. In rock a young singer can sing about love and sticking it to the man with cheerful abandon, but it you go down the singer/songwriter, folk route then a maturity of insight is called for. You can’t fake experience. Now, nine years later, when we hear Mangan sing, “I should know better by now” on his latest album, then we see the insight that experience truly brings – nothing actually changes and we keep making the same mistakes.
Oh Fortune, Mangan’s third album, was released last year and shows his maturity. It is a beautiful, thought provoking, evocative album. They are songs of loss, longing and hope; small moments set against large landscapes. Songs of death, but meditations not sadness.
The album opens with an almost Beatlesque orchestral build up before it drops away to leave Mangan and his guitar. And this sets the tone. The songs always come back to the singer and the song, even though they often swirl into full blown band efforts. He plays well, with a slight touch that reminds me just why I love the guitar, with just a few notes and chords a whole vista of images are conjured up. His voice is strong and, at times, yearning, with no parody of other, greater, singers, which is often a curse for singer/songwriters.
As befits an indie-folk singer there is a protest song, ‘Post-War Blues’, which reminds me of The The, though lyrically not as cutting as Matt Johnson (not a criticism as few people write lyrics like Johnson). There is also a driving song, ‘Daffodil’, which is a small thing of eerie beauty. He rocks out on ‘Rows of Houses’; maybe just to prove he can, or just to have fun. The album ends with a song called ‘Jeopardy’ (presumably named after the famous American quiz show), with Mangan reeling off soul searching questions. It builds to a joyous conclusion, with brass kicking in like a New Orleans celebration, or, maybe, given some of the themes, a joyous funeral send-off.
My own favourite track is ‘Leaves, Trees and Forest’. It opens with Mangan singing, “My heart is a ghost; he drinks and he smokes and he keeps me awake”, which is a wonderful metaphor. I would have preferred this as the upcoming single, rather than ‘About As Helpful As You Can Be Without Being Any Help At All’ (but that one wins as a song title!).
As I have been writing this, I’ve suddenly become aware that today Dan Mangan is 29 years old. He’s playing Manchester tonight. Go along and wish him happy birthday. I, for one, am looking forward to where he heads on his musical journey as he enters his 30s.
Very much recommended.
Oh Fortune is available now.
‘About As Helpful As You Can Be Without Being Any Help At All’ will be released on April 30th.
Mangan’s mini-documentary: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WeJQwGYht8c
This review appeared on Backstreet Indie- 01/05/2012 : http://backstreetindie.com/oh-fortune-favours-the-brave-by-mark-ray/