When an intense bout of singer-songwriter fever broke out in the early noughties, Fionn Regan stood out like a sore thumb. His skewered folk was progressive and otherworldly, far removed from the bog-standard, meat-and-two-veg fare served up by lesser talents. The Brits even tried to claim him as one of their own, calling him a new pied piper for the so-called “Brit folk” movement.
In 2019, Regan re-emerges with Cala, his sixth studio album, and follow-up to The Meetings of the Waters in 2017, which quietly became one of his most successful yet, with a title track generating in excess of 29 million streams. In 2007, Regan’s debut, The End of History, was nominated for a Mercury Music Prize, ultimately won by those nu-rave flash-in-the-pans Klaxons, who split in 2015.
“I wear this crown of light for you on this August moon,” Regan gently croons on a gorgeous opening song, immediately elevating Cala to something rewarding and special within its opening bars. Regan has a lovely fingerpicking style, which manages to be rich and minimal all at the same time.
Intriguingly, this is the first album Regan has written in his hometown of Bray, Co. Wicklow since his lavishly acclaimed debut. His global troubadour status and profile has led to writing and creating in far more exotic climes; his third album, 100 Acres of Sycamore, was conceived in Deia in Majorca, in a house owned by the actress Anna Friel. Now, the Bray wanderer returns to the same coastal town where Robert Smith reputedly wrote the lyrics The Cure’s classic album Disintegration.
He excels on Glaciers, a haunting, deeply atmospheric tune that shows he is capable of dabbling in spooky electronica
Unsurprisingly, the sea looms large in Cala, which is the Spanish word for cove. The title track namechecks an iconic Anglo-French actress: “Effortless like Birkin is /Basket and her jeans cut high.” Brass Locket mentions American landmarks the Catskills, Tennessee, the Lower East Side of Manhattan and the Hudson River, the product of a writing expedition to New York.
All the instruments on Cala are played by Regan. He excels on Glaciers, a stone-cold highlight and one of the best things he has done yet: a haunting, deeply atmospheric tune that shows he is capable of dabbling in spooky electronica as well as he can do folk. Again, it features some sparkling lyrics, such as, “She wears a veil of stars/Lightning is bottled in the city lights/ They blur howling to the glaciers”, and the moving statement of intent, “I’d shoulder any storm for you.”
Who knows where Cala will lead Regan to next. He is hitting peak form six albums in, and although he has been nominated for both the Mercury and Choice music prizes, neither gong is resting on his mantelpiece. Yet such trivialities don’t really matter at this stage of his game. The work is paramount, and this Bray boy now boasts a back catalogue to put him right up there with the country’s best.
Cala closes with beautiful parting glass and closing lyric, “When you’re here tomorrow night I’ll sing to you with my jaw of light.”
To paraphrase Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca, sing it again, Fionn.