Maverick Sabre: When I Wake Up review – A battle cry in troubling times
When I Wake Up
R&B / Soul
On Maverick Sabre’s third album When I Wake Up, there’s a running narrative that details how our actions and our words can send ripples through a community. Taking the opportunity to look outwards from himself and observe how others navigate through the world, the singer from New Ross, Wexford (by way of Hackney, London) poignantly lends his soulful voice to the marginalised, the lost and the downhearted.
No matter where you’re from in the world, we experience universal truths and universal doubts. Sabre pins those unifying experiences and they can feel as relevant to someone who’s living lost in a big city or surviving alone in a rural town. Opening with Preach, Sabre sings of the societal chains that keep us in our place, chains that have us “sinking slow” and preventing us from “feeling our faith” and, using a nostalgia-laden soundscape, he goes on to explore the socio-economic chains that have taken hold in almost every town across the world.
Riffing over a restrained bass line, Guns in the Distance powerfully plays images of street violence and poverty off against global terrorism and useless leaders. From the “little girl getting cold by the food bank” to the “mother who cries for her children”, this is a cry for change as he asks us to “see who gets mentioned as your minute’s silence expires, tell me who gets sentenced”. He continues with this hazy pace on Don’t Talk About It, where “the world is on fire” and truth is in short supply. Written from the perspective of someone who’s always looking over their shoulder, fearing a bouncer who might check their bag for booze or a neighbour who might phone in a noise complaint to the guards, Drifting is a particularly brilliant snapshot into the day in the life of the idle and the lonely. Its striking La Haine-inspired music video by Hector Dockrill, which was filmed in Ballymun, bolsters the song’s message with Sabre saying that he aims “to tell as many different untold Irish stories within a grander film”. Both the song and the video capture the moments where we unwillingly lose control, leaving our fate in the care of something else. “We turn around and now we’re drifting . . .”
Taking in stories of gun violence, domestic abuse, manhood, youth, loneliness, idleness, second chances and last resorts, When I Wake Up is a mellow hue of 1960s soul and modern storytelling. Slow Down, his slinking R&B duet with Brit Critics’ Choice Award winner and regular collaborator Jorja Smith, cleverly plays out the two sides of an argument in romantic feud and Into Hope is a bluesy, heavy-hearted tale of a man at wits’ end. Where despair lies in songs such as Big Smoke (“another young man got stabbed on the pavement, then another young man never made it to the station”), glimmers of hope come through in the solidarity Sabre offers. He constructs songs that contain righteous levels of spite and dismay but in the softness of his voice and the warmth of the instrumentation, this record is both a reassuring word and a battle cry in troubling times. It’s a pointed finger at those in the wrong and a hug for those with nowhere to turn.
Closing with Glory, a Damien Dempsey-styled ballad, Sabre’s voice becomes louder and as he wishes for better days and bigger opportunities for those who so badly need a break, he very simply but very effectively says “keep your head up, you’re coping”. And sometimes, that’s all you need to hear.