While it’s a smooth, intoxicating voice that draws you in, Eines’s excellent lyrics and skilful musicianship only draw you deeper.
‘Pixels’, the opening track on Ernest Aine’s debut album, may be about our ultra-modern fixation with smartphones, but it has a sound so classic that it feels like it could have come from the 90s, the 80s, the 70s or before. “I’ve been waiting for these pixels to change / So strange minutes seem like days,” Aines laments, the fusion of now and then only highlighting the strange normal we know live in where a screen controls so much of our world.
“At first it was a trickle / That turned into a lake / And love is a crazy game that quickly ups the stakes,” Aines sings on ‘Rigged Games’, an airy track that takes on the insidious breakdown of a relationship. “This wasn’t your home so you wanted to leave / But as soon as the breath left your mouth it was taken with the breeze,” he continues bitterly, his impressive words becoming even more so when you learn he penned this song aged just 21. ‘I Won’t Take Your Honesty Away’ is another early song that made the cut and it sees Aines offering gentle advice on how we should all give each other a little more grace and kindness as we struggle through the challenges of life.
‘So Far’, with its strong beat and rhythm, has shades of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘The Chain’, and while it’s a little less rock ‘n’ roll than it is Americana, it still feels like it would be completely accessible even to those adverse to the idea of the genre – something that can’t be said about the next track ‘Lady in Waiting’, a far more traditional folk tale described by Aines as his “only mediaeval love song”. “There’s a fog in the valley, a tear in his eye / He wades past the drifters that drape the horizon / No longer thinking of himself alone / There’s a feeling he gets that he shares with girl / Who is stooped by her majesty’s arm while she sips from her spoon,” he sings majestically, before his vocals soar into a chorus of “ooh”s.
‘Rain City’ is the only cover on the album (it was originally released by Turin Brakes two decades ago and introduced to Aines via the soundtrack to 00s glossy American teen drama ‘The OC’) and much like the original, Aines’s recording is lo-fi and intimate, the words less sung and more breathed into the microphone. “I’m thrilled, can you not tell?” Aines asks, sounding anything but, on ‘Stranger to Me’, a song that channels 90s Radiohead at their rolling, thoughtful best, while ‘Locked in a Cage’ – set on a French canal and thus fittingly accordion heavy – flows along like a chilled sort of meditation towards a breakup.
The banjo, bluegrass styling on ‘Yellowstone’ showcase best the kind of slick musicianship that runs throughout the album, but Aines’s smoky, soulful vocals still manage to be the highlight of every track, especially when they’re imparting lyrics as well crafted as these: “From the depths of creation turmoil grows / Cold as ice while seething below / Sometimes my heart is like that you know / Up here at Yellowstone”.
If my words aren’t enough to convince you that Aines’s music is worth your time, instead listen to what the venerable Tom Paxton exclaimed in joyous excitement to him after witnessing the performance he gave at the 2023 Folk Alliance International showcase: “Where have you been! Keep doing this, keep doing this!” Wise words indeed that hopefully mean there are many more albums of this calibre and above to come from Aines.