There is an art to making music which seems to buzz with contemporary vibes yet echos with the sounds of the past but that is exactly the mix that James Donnelly manages to bring to On The Radio. In an era where pop music, because this is pop as much as it is folk or roots or music hall or anything else, seems to ever more seeking to re-invent the tools that it uses to make its sound, here is something different. Not only is it music forged from traditional instruments, it is forged from instruments, ukulele, accordion, piano, which are either associated with more niche genres or bygone eras. Yet this is as fun and funky as anything else you will find doing the rounds today.
On The Radio is a homage to the power of music, specifically, as the title suggests, music emanating from the radio, music chosen by a third party, a seemingly random event that in this planned and predictable world where all media seems to be at the control of the listener, still has the ability to deliver the present surprise of a tune you weren’t expecting to hear. There is also something of the mercurial blend of Caribbean sass and urban cool that Paul Simon was a great exponent of in those early post S&G days and that is always going to be a good thing.
It is this blend of urgent folk, roots and a post-modern take of what popular music sounded like in the past, from early jazz dancehall tunes, to folk-revivalist troubadours to the current re-examination by artists of many of those core sounds. It is spacious and even through it drives along with energy and groove, there is plenty of room for each of the musical elements to have room to breath creating a wonderful mesh of interlocking yet identifiable sounds, rather than the usual pop wall of noise. Hats may be tipped to the past but this is certainly a song for today, for the young, discerning and hip.
In short it is music made with no limits, geographically or generically and exists in the present only because it has one foot in the past and the other in the future. Maybe if we spent less time trying to decide what music should be and how it is made and just let it all naturally fuse together ignoring rules and tradition, fashion and fad we would end up with more albums like this. Wouldn’t that be refreshing?