At the center of the Irish singer-songwriter spectrum, bookended by artists such as Van Morrison and Hozier, sits Cian Nugent. “I’m not sure where I am anymore,” he sings on “Nightlife,” the penultimate cut on his third release Night Fiction, out Jan. 29 on Woodsist. One would be inclined to agree given the Dublin guitarist’s recent foray into vocals, however the trek into new territory suits him well.
Never bogged down by the weight of his words or overshadowed by the expertise of his guitar work, Nugent takes the Kurt Vile or Steve Gunn route and pairs his fingerpicking with straightforward wordplay. “Things don’t change that fast / and that’s one good reason why you shouldn’t sit counting every moment / trying to resist,” he states simply over chord strums on lead single “Things Don’t Change That Fast.”
His vocals are a thing of beauty, not overly embellished—only with a bit of reverb on “First Run”—but with the appropriate amount of emphasis when the time calls for it, sleepily on the languidly sanguine 8-miute “Shadows,” or bouncily on album opener “Lost Your Way.” At times, his delivery rings similar to Tobias Jesso Jr., other times Vile, but never like he’s emulating anyone.
Featuring one instrumental track, “Lucy” Nugent excels in his solo arrangement building, focusing on folk fingerpicking standards while full-band numbers, featuring David Lacey on drums, Conor Lumsden on bass, Brendan Jenkinson on organ and piano and Ailbhe Nic Oireachtaigh on viola add texture and dynamics.
The near 12-minute closer “Year of the Snake, plays with space and slow building psych rock elements before erupting into a searing solo and Nugent’s preaching “Yesterday just gets farther away / Don’t know why you try so hard.” It’s a delightful turn of events on an album where you’re not quite sure what’s going to come next.
Night Fiction is a chameleon of an album, morphing from one thing to the next, and that’s what makes it exciting. Nugent is trying on various singer-songwriter hats, however letting his guitar work remain the best supporting player.
Review by Allie Volpe