Thinking about starting your holiday shopping early, or looking for new tunes to get you through the upcoming rainy season? Search no further than “Hozier,” the self-titled new release from Ireland’s Andrew Hozier-Byrne. These 13 compelling engaging tracks deliver musical splendor in spades.
He previously released 2 different EP’s, but Hozier’s first full-length debut dropped just last month. It opens with his signature song to date, the gospel and Motown-tinged hit single “Take Me To Church,” and gets better from there. “Church” – a song about human rights and sexuality that Hozier (pronounced “Hose-ee-er”) first began recording in his attic – is about “institutions that undermine parts of humanity,” Hozier says, and his fans have been clamoring for it at his live shows. There’s so much great material on this album, however, it’s a sure bet they’ll soon be calling out for other tracks as well.
Lookout for the brassy, big-guitar sound of “Jackie And Wilson,” for example. It’s a party anthem if there ever was one, and also likely a laudation to “Higher and Higher” R&B singer Jackie Wilson. A notable thing about Hozier’s musical style: he isn’t at all shy about pulling in eloquent choirs and choruses to highlight his music (he was once a member of the Irish choir “Anuna“). Both “Jackie” and its followup, “Someone New,” employ this strategy. It’s delicious ear candy, and a methodology that works quite well for him. Bravo.
Another famous Irish musician, Van Morrison, once paid tribute to Jackie Wilson with his 1972 hit single “Jackie Wilson Says.” Does history repeat itself? Time will tell. Meanwhile, check out Hozier’s major league “Jackie And Wilson” for yourself:
Jackie And Wilson
Other highlights: the bluesy but upbeat “Someone New” mixes just the right amount of playful dance hall vibe with soulful vocals and a fun, catchy chorus.
Hozier also sings a dreamy and haunting folk duet with Karen Cowley on “In a Week” — sounding more like a 15-century ballad than than something penned in 2014. And for a song about a couple whose bodies are decomposing in the woods, it’s a haunting, beautiful composition – deep, dark and lovely. We’ll hope for more like this on the next go-round.
“Like Real People Do” is another evocative piece; it’s an acoustic track that’s the perfect mix of mystery, storytelling and gentle love song. Have a listen.
Like Real People Do
Is the album perfect? Probably not; some will likely prefer steering clear of the heavier subject matter found on “Foreigner’s God” or “Cherry Wine.” But musically speaking, all the songs here are so well-constructed and capably performed, it’s hard to quibble.
From Ireland, Hozier was born March 17, 1990 (yes, that’s St. Patrick’s Day), and was influenced by Chicago blues and Motown early in life. He first started writing songs as a teen, and joined his first band at age 15. His early influences include John Lee Hooker, Tom Waits, Billie Holiday and Nina Simone. His dad is a blues musician in Dublin (and his mom did the artwork for his album cover, so she must be pretty cool, too). Hozier enrolled at Trinity College in Dublin but left during his first year to record music demos for Universal Music.
Last year he released his “Take Me to Church” EP; its title track took off on YouTube and it became his breakthrough single.
He recently performed on Saturday Night Live, singing both “Take Me To Church” and “Angel of Small Death & The Codeine Scene,” and has been touring all summer and fall. He performed earlier this month to a sold-out crowd at Portland’s Crystal Ballroom along with British singer-songwriter James Bay.
Diverse moods and styles
“Variety” and “distinction” are good catchwords for this album; the tracks aren’t only musically well-executed but diverse in mood and style, too. The pop-flavored “Someone New” is placed next to hardcore blues “To Be Alone.” The delicate, sweet vocals and dreamlike chorus of “Like Real People Do” follow on the heels of the dark, bluesy, gospel-ish “Work Song.” All total, there are at least 4 to 6 tracks here that could end up as (ca-ching!) hit singles.
Though the whole album satisfies on just about every level, a standout track is the bright and uplifting “From Eden.” The primary force behind this hugely appealing track are the strength, range and warmth of Hozier’s vocals. However, “Eden” covers the gamut with a great intro, tasteful guitar highlights, captivating lyrics, a smooth, evocative background chorus and a luscious, Spanish-sounding guitar riff about three-quarters through. Destined for future hit-single status? We hope so.
All in all a distinctive and soulful debut
Put your “play” button on pause once in a while to consider that Hozier is 24-years old and this is his first album. His soulful vocals are golden, his songwriting is entertaining and intelligent and he has a natural instinct for picking phrases that engage the imagination. Let’s just say he’s got a long career ahead of him and we’ll be along for the ride.
It would be fantastic to see him perform at a small venue, but that might prove problematic. A trip to Ireland may be in order, because all of Hozier’s February and March U.S. concert dates are already sold-out.You can, however, find his music on iTunes and Amazon, or on his website.
Suddenly, the rainy season doesn’t seem quite so bad this year…