Oisín Leech: Cold Sea – An impressive solo debut from one half of The Lost Brothers

Leech, a writer of great sensitivity in melody and lyrics, has composed a batch of songs that nestle up and whisper in your ear

Cold Sea
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Artist: Oisín Leech
Label: Outside Music

“As much as I love everything The Lost Brothers do, it felt very liberating to go off down a side road – my own road, as it were,” says Oisín Leech about recording Cold Sea, his quietly captivating debut solo album. Leech has been part of the much-loved Americana duo for more than a decade. And that partnership with Mark McCausland is not at an end. “The Lost Brothers will return, but I have a journey to take on this debut solo album. I could only have made this album right now in my life.”

The Meath man also probably could have made Cold Sea only with the American producer and cult guitarist Steve Gunn. Together they spent a week in a converted schoolhouse near Malin Head, the most northerly tip of Co Donegal, recording the album’s nine tracks, six of which are songs of rumination and reflection and three of which are mood-filled ambient instrumentals. Gunn’s influence is light-fingered, deft guitar and synth touches that add subtle shades and colour, enriching the texture and tone of the music, creating the ideal platform for Leech’s acoustic guitar and strong but often vulnerable voice.

Leech is a writer of great sensitivity in melody and lyrics. These songs, more steeped in folk than in country, just nestle up and whisper in your ear. They are deliberately uncluttered, even sparse. Like Malin itself, space and air are everywhere and the pace is unhurried. He says the songs “head on off into the imagination, touching on love, loss, fatherhood, sorrows and healing”. And so they do: “I was rolling home / adrift and alone / Late for the day like a skimming stone” (October Sun).

The danger with this kind of introspection is that it can all become too much. Leech and Gunn avoid such excess by keeping it tight: no track outstays its welcome. In addition, Bob Dylan’s regular sideman Tony Garnier (bass), Mitch Ward (guitar), Dónal Lunny (bouzouki) and Róisín McGrory (strings) pitch in with telling low-key assists on key songs such as Colour of the Rain and One Hill Further. All in all an impressive late-stage solo debut.