A Beginner’s Guide To Bravery finds poetry in the moment. By-way-of a record that brings dynamism and repose to each deftly woven word, ramshackle strum of the guitar and punctuated crack of the snare, David Keenan’s debut takes life by-the-scruff for all its past trauma, present fears, and future promises.
Keenan is a storyteller. And, A Beginner’s Guide To Bravery plays out like an old-worn book of lost poetry found in a side-street store with the pages well-marked at the edges. Commencing with a deep-bodied delivery of “the beginner’s guide to bravery begins…” Keenan’s opening line draws us into a world populated by matadors, slot machines and a dreamlike vision of James Deen alive and “working for Irish Rail”, as the songwriter acts as our narrator who feels “like a road sweeper dressed up to the nines”.
As A Beginner’s Guide To Bravery continues to unfold, so too does the sense of rhythm and repose. With the intense joie de vivre found within the music of ‘Unholy Ghosts’ twisting and turning with each lyrically entangled descriptive delivery from Keenan. Indeed, just how David Keenan vocalises each story is just as important as the words themselves.
Delivering lines like “there was once a man who loved me, he was older, he left this scar, and a book about an angel who made her way back home to God” (from ‘Alter Wine’) the emotional weight from the beginning of the verse is carried right through into the next with the intensity modulating with every word like the underlined snarl of “may he fall into a well, he left me old before my time”.
While there is no release from the thematic potency of the lyrics there is a sense of scale, as it builds to a final primal scream before falling sharply to the gentle intimacy of ‘Love in a Snug’. This is essential to the very being of Keenan’s music and A Beginners Guide To Bravery itself, from the roar to the repose, everything has a weight to it.
However, it’s the sprawling ‘Evidence Of Living’ where A Beginner’s Guide To Bravery leaves its high-water mark. A tale of listlessness and defiance in the face of smalltown malaise, Keenan’s ability to find the wonder in the every day makes for a cathartic experience as our narrator introduces us to men whose family name is “disgrace” and kids whose “dreams died in fifth class” as he dramatically weaves a powerful vocal around scratching background textures and heavy piano chords before giving way into waltzing finale that dances free of the confines of the aforementioned smalltown restrictions.
And so it goes, David Keenan’s A Beginners Guide To Bravery is a work of intricate beauty. From intricate world-building to the overall sense of how the music relates to the intensity of the written word, Keenan’s debut hardly feels like a debut at all. But instead feels like the opening chapter in a greater novel. Indeed, we have been introduced to our narrator David Keenan, now we await the journey to come.