Pete Kavanagh – Join Up The Dots

 Pete Kavanagh – Join Up The Dots

Pete Kavanagh – Join Up The Dots – Album Review

Exciting times for solo artist Pete Kavanagh based out of Ireland…I know he’s been workin’ his way towards his official debut record for some time now – and congratulations my brother, it’s now officially just around the corner!  Pete’s highly-anticipated first album Join Up The Dots comes out this Friday on the 5th online…which…*cough *cough…just might be the next upcoming sale at the Bandcamp website too folks…I’m just sayin.’  If you’re looking for the right time to encourage an artist or band to keep on keepin’ on – there really ain’t much better time to do it than to show your support for a debut – and thankfully, Pete’s made it well worth it for ya.  He’s got himself a first record that is full of songs he’ll be able to proudly stand behind & play live at shows for years ahead of us now; these are tunes that’ll hold up strong over time…and believe me when I tell ya folks…that ain’t always the case in a debut scenario.

Technically speaking, “To Hold The Red Rose” would be the track that traces back the furthest, at least in terms of what was released prior to the full album – this is one of three lead-singles, dropped online back in September of last year.  It’s a beautiful tune, and a great way to start Join Up The Dots with a personal touch that includes another Kavanagh – Pamela – in the mix as well.  For as quaint as it sounds, and as inviting as the melody is, there’s a very sad theme that is attached to the core of this tune – the passing of Pete’s father, which occurred during the process of Kavanagh preparing this debut record.  There are many things out there that can derail a project…I salute Pete for soldiering on…I’m sure at the end of the day, his father would have wanted to see him persevere and succeed, even in his absence.  “We stand together through all that life throws” as Pete sings with his family right there beside him – it’s a powerfully evocative moment when you consider what was happening in Kavanagh’s life at the time.  I dig it though…it’s kind of got this dusty Tom Waits-esque like vibe to it…like it could have fit into the tales told throughout a timeless record like Alice.  The piano is outstanding, Pete’s vocals are spot-on, and all-around, “To Hold The Red Rose” does a great job of giving you more than enough to get you interested in what might follow without giving everything away all at once – Kavanagh’s got a full lineup of impressive material folks…track one, is simply where it all begins to be revealed to ya.  There are many songs that feature the more character-laden aspects of Pete’s voice on this album – “To Hold The Red Rose” plays it much closer to the vest, buckles down, and focuses hard on bringing the sweetness to the melody, as intended.  It’s a comforting song all said & done…clearly created for personal catharsis, and as a result of achieving that goal for Pete, he can now pass this song’s healing properties onto you.

I’m pretty sure “Hold On” was my first experience with Pete’s music if my memory serves me correctly.  Something in behind the scenes here I believe…a press release or something along those lines…but what I can tell ya is this – it’s the kind of melody you remember, and one of Kavanagh’s most mesmerizing on the microphone as well.  Though I’ll say this…while there’s always value in bringing back a song that you know will provide strength to a lineup of tunes on a record like Pete has done here – “Hold On” technically made its first appearances online over a year ago – it’s like it splits me into two gears, where one recognizes the strength of songwriting that keeps a song like this just as fresh as it was yesterday, and the other knows it’s always the new stuff that’s gonna capture my interest even more, like a new present on Christmas type-thing.  That’s what listening to a record is like for me y’all…I’m sittin’ here, unwrapping presents with my ears when I check into what you all create, and Pete’s certainly included.  If anything, you might notice a bit more of a vibrant sound to this second tune, which may or may not be the result of having to put things on pause to deal with the loss of his father, and the worldwide pandemic that ensued shortly afterwards.  In any event, “Hold On” was where everything in the Pete Kavanagh sound felt like it found its way to its full potential in terms of what we hear – I’m not arguing one song is any better than the other really…but production-wise, the thickness in “Hold On” leads directly to a deeper, more involved, all-encompassing atmosphere we can surround ourselves in completely.  Solo-wise…someone will have to correct me if I’m wrong – but this is the best one you’ll find Pete rocking on Join Up The Dots is it not?  I’ll have to confirm that as we move through this review, but you can clearly infer you’re in for a highlight there…and all-in-all, the weary spirited hero in Pete that we find on this track is down, but not out…there’s a relentless thread of hope, and it’s genuinely inspiring.  Again, when you consider all that he’d have been through in the past couple years alone, never mind the rest of his whole life which I’m sure is laden with the ups & downs so many of us experience – it’s impressive to hear that the darkness hasn’t consumed him altogether.  Somewhere deep down, Pete Kavanagh truly did CHOOSE to “Hold On” – and for that, I’m thankful – I’m sure it wasn’t always easy to see the pathway ahead…but now that he’s here with his debut, he’s back on track and on his way to wherever it might lead him next.  With the songwriting & execution he puts into songs like “Hold On,” one would have to assume this Irishman has a firm date with an international audience.

Look.  I had great things to say about “Mercy” when I first heard it and played it on the SBS Podcast.  I went on raving about it even further in the review of this single in advance, just last month in fact.  And you know something?  I STILL might have underestimated just how powerful this moment in music truly IS.  It’s such a subtle & savage track…and it’s created in such an undeniably compelling way that, you really can’t help but get the chills EVERY time you listen to it, and that’s a priceless aspect of great music that resonates and makes a connection to us in profound ways.  I will concede that…perhaps in the context of this particular lineup of songs, “Mercy” does seem to take a much deeper dive straight into the dark than the majority of the set-list will by comparison…but…I never felt like the fit into the album was odd or not cohesive enough…it still fits, it still works…heck, it’s still essential to Join Up The Dots in so many ways…but technically speaking, we are talking about a song with a significantly different vibe, goal, intentions, and message than most of what you’ll find on this debut.  Ultimately I think the reality is that “Mercy” is so astoundingly addictive within a couple spins that Pete would have been crazy not to include it, despite it having a somewhat different direction than the rest of the set…so yeah man, I’m all about its inclusion, and I think the way he transitions out of this heavier shroud of emotions as he slides into the mysterious melody of “Can You See Me” right afterwards was a really smart move in terms of the flow of Join Up The Dots.  As for the rest of what I think about “Mercy” – suffice it to say, I think it’s written with mesmerizing craft & the boldness it required – read my complete thoughts on this advance single here in review.

From “Can You See Me” on forward, it’s all brand-new for all of us as far as I know.  While there will more than likely be some kind of single or something from the rest of the set-list to be released at some point along the way in support of the new album, it’s the first three tracks that Pete had already put out in advance of the release of Join Up The Dots.  Which certainly ain’t a bad choice at all in terms of how to approach things…he’s already tested out the opening cuts in the court of public opinion and knows the verdict…you can rest assured that, the fact that they all made the lineup of the official record, that the testing phase went well and the response was good – so you know you’re in-store for solid material.  I had a moment…I ain’t gonna lie to ya…I had a moment as “Can You See Me” began where I wasn’t entirely sure Pete was going to be able to keep up to the material he’d released in advance…and truthfully, I think there’s still a valid argument to be made that the first three tracks come out stronger in the final results.  That being said, “Can You See Me” re-confirms the fact that there’s a ton of artistic dimension & depth to these Folk-based tunes that Kavanagh’s creating when it comes to the writing.  I’m probably of the mind that “Can You See Me” is the kind of song that’s going to continually get stronger with time & experience…I’m not opposed to its inclusion, and I still think it’s a bold track with a lot of positives, especially on a debut record.  I don’t know that Pete fully unlocked the melody he wanted from start to finish in terms of the vocals, but for the vast majority, he’s on target.  I will also be honest with you all out there – this song has the toughest spot in the lineup, bar none.  Being wedged between the powerful grip of “Mercy” and the uplifting vibes that come through “Getting Things Done” afterwards is a very tall order for any song to fill – “Can You See Me” still holds its own in a kind of Kansas-esque “Dust In The Wind” type of way…but yeah…I stand by my statement – Pete will find that this track gets more & more dialed-in over time I’m sure.  The potential and upside of finding that other 5% he’s looking for at points in the melody as he sings this song is well worth tracking down & attaining – “Can You See Me” could go on to become a verifiable show-stopper in a live setting and highlight of the set.  Gotta include these awesome backing vocals too though if he does, that’d definitely be a must.

Here’s where you know that Pete is worth every penny – listen to the beginning of “Getting Things Done” will ya?  As much as I LOVE the way this song fills in – and I DO – he had me at hello here – the natural melody and tone in his humble vocals and guitar at the very start of “Getting Things Done” was so good, that part of me was honestly hoping this song might even stay in that gear, which would have been A-OK with me too.  No kidding though, “Getting Things Done” has a brilliant way of becoming more & more enticing & inviting as it plays on…the addition of the piano into this tune was nothing short of a complete show-stopper – it’s pretty much everything here – and you factor in the warm glow of the organ & bass supporting it, the gentle beat, the endearing personality of Kavanagh on the mic…I mean, it’s basically game over from there folks – good luck resisting this tune.  And you know something?  That irresistible aspect of Kavanagh’s music is about to go on such an extraordinary run here at the mid-point of Join Up The Dots that there’s simply nothing I could write that’ll accurately put just how exquisite it is to listen to “Getting Things Done,” “Say You Will,” and “Sweet Friend” back-to-back-to-back – they’re all low-key, mid-tempo or slow moving tunes, and the magic that Pete creates in’em, is truly award-worthy.  “If you don’t do it, who else will?” asks Pete – and I’m inclined to back him up on that – “Getting Things Done” is all about chorin’ and chorin’ proper – with purpose, with passion…with the knowledge that life is about doin’ the work; even when it’s hard – if not especially when.  At least in part – we spend some time gettin’ our mouths washed out with soap in the process too – but you get the idea – a LOT of “Getting Things Done” is about finding that real connection to doing what you love, and doin’ it for that very reason each and every day on afterwards.  And if you do, just like Pete’ll tell ya – “it’ll be alright.”  What’s ‘it’ in this scenario, you ask?  Life, my friends…life.  LOVE the piano & instrumentation at the end, but overall, I’ve got nothing but love for “Getting Things Done” – it sounds lively, vibrant, and inspired.

Talk about crushin’ it with charming sound – “Say You Will” is just one of the best songs you’re gonna hear this year, you know, no big deal, just another thing that everyone so easily accomplishes with their debut record, right?  C’mon y’all – Pete’s absolutely created an achievement to be proud of with this whole set-list, and perhaps no song shines brighter for its sweetness than the remarkably sparkling vibes of “Say You Will.”  From the shimmering brilliance of the music and it’s enticing, intimate vibe – to what’s gotta be one of, if not THE biggest highlight for Pete’s vocals on any of these tunes melodically – everything about “Say You Will” is straight-up magnificently sincere.  Were it not for the equally amazing performance he puts into “Sweet Friend” right afterwards, I know I’d probably just declare this cut as my most memorable moment in terms of the melodies he’s written…but he will continue to go on and knock this outta the park as Join Up The Dots plays on, so stay tuned, I’ve still got more to say – surprise!  I really have a hard time not declaring “Say You Will” as my top favorite on this album here…I just think it’s enchanting, it’s beautiful, it’s got stellar depth between the guitars and string sounds…it’s a genuinely spellbinding song that’ll charm the socks straight off of your feet.  Yeah…you know something?  I’m just gonna tell it like it is as I always do – for me, I think “Say You Will” is quite likely my favorite now, and will probably have no problem at all remaining that way for a very long time, probably permanently.  I don’t even know that I’m here to claim it’s necessarily perfect – I think there are still a few spots that Pete could potentially polish up just 10% more in his vocal melodies maybe, but I mean – I ain’t gonna go trying to trade the organic allure he brings to “Say You Will” just for another smooth note here & there.  Part of Kavanagh’s inherently charming sound really does come down to the fact that, pass or fail, rightly or wrongly (as if that’s even a thing in art & music), he goes where the music is taking him…and it’s a truly crucial part of his identity as an artist when it comes right down to it – he’s got a voice you could pick out of a lineup of songs blindfolded, just by listening, and that’s gonna be a huge part of what takes his music & career forward from here.  Melody-wise, for the bulk of this beautiful jazzy tune, Pete’s found a great connection to the sweetness it needed…and the accenting guitar notes with the gentleness of the drums & keyboard organs were all gorgeously well-suited to “Say You Will.”  Chorus-wise, Kavanagh taps straight into the magic of the melody at the heart of this song, proving that when it comes to the clutch, he’s there to deliver with everything right where it should be.

“Sweet Friend” might just very well end up becoming Pete’s own “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” type-tune – it’s got that similarly haunting, down-to-earth vibe and grounded perspective that sincerely connects and comforts in the oddest of ways.  This track though…as far as themes go…you feel the crushing weight of “Sweet Friend” with every single note, tone, word, and inflection in the way that Pete sings.  A tributary tune that has all the stunning craft you’d find on the records Tom Petty was writing towards the end of his career on Wildflowers and The Last DJ, with the spirit & atmosphere of a Bob Dylan classic, and the heart of the same very man that’s brought you to track seven without hesitation, Pete Kavanagh.  Anyone out there that’s loved and lost, whether it’s a significant other, or a best friend, or even just someone you know, look up to, and/or respect for whatever many reasons you may have – which is pretty much all of us at some point in life – you’ll feel the heartbreaking sweetness at work here on “Sweet Friend.”  Beautiful use of the piano on this song…sparing, but incredibly effective in gently supporting the melody…fantastic drums to be found, subtly used as well, but bold when they show up – a lot of “Sweet Friend” is left right on Pete’s shoulders to deliver…and I’m happy to report he puts in one of his best performances from start to finish on this cut.  He’s great in the lead, he’s exceptional with the harmonies from the backing vocals…the hooks are strong & memorable…”Sweet Friend” feels like one of those moments that could just as easily inspire you as it could potentially crush you into rubble too.

I was probably more on the fence about “Ashes” than I was with the other eight tracks on Join Up The Dots.  Pete’s got an advantage with me…I’m not only a fan of many different types of styles & sounds, but I happen to really dig what the dude creates and the way he sings – but I’ll acknowledge, I’m not a great measuring stick when it comes to how the masses receive the music they listen to.  In that respect, I’m nothing but realistic…and that realism can be grim sometimes.  In saying that, “Ashes” is probably a bit too loose & a bit too wandering to really keep the people as locked onto this song as they have been with the rest…but by that same token, it supplies an entirely different vibe than you’ll find in any other song as well.  “Ashes” sounds too me, like it’s born out of a great rehearsal, and still a bit on the incubation-side of its evolution as a song – but there IS something here that certainly works.  I keep trying to figure out if it’s the atmospheric vibes of a record like Pisces Iscariot that the guitars & melody of the music seem to remind me of…the B-side album by the Pumpkins from back in my heyday.  Which incidentally, was filled with pure sonic gold – so there you have it – if this reminds me of that, then Pete’s on solid ground, ain’t he?  Like I said…I’m realistic about it – “Ashes” still has a ton of positives working in Kavanagh’s favor…they might be more spread out through this atmospherically-inclined tune here, but they are still there in healthy audible doses from the music to the microphone.  The same rule applies to “Ashes” as “Can You See Me” earlier on…these songs have the potential to be monumental moments in a live setting as they evolve with time & experience playin’ & singin’ them…the fundamentals are still all there – “Ashes” might be more of a mellow cut, sure – but it’s still got major appeal to it, an inviting and inventive melody…it’s a unique moment on this record that’ll likely get the people out there debating back & forth about whether or not it worked at all, or was a true highlight – and that kind of polarizing aspect in songwriting is always beneficial.  There’s something about Pete’s vocals in this tune that has my gut telling me he could rock the living daylights out of a Matthew Good cover, for those of you that know that Canadian-based reference.  I wonder if Matthew Good ever made it all the way over there to Ireland.  Anyhow…those of you that know him, you’ll hear what I’m talking about in that tension & the live-wire melodies they sing with…there’s definitely similarities between’em.

What IS that?  Is that like…a muted Banjo or something?  Whatever Pete’s got loaded into the beginning of “Tonic For A Troop” is straight-up sonic genius – but the same could also be said of everything else that you’re gonna hear in this stellar finale.  Sliding guitars, clever percussion, a unique vocal performance from Pete in yet another gear of his versatile style…”Tonic For A Troop” is a compelling final track to have gone out on in this debut…almost like a Roy Orbison cut with more low-end and spark to it, but similar qualities in the endearing nature of the melody.  And OKAY, okay…there’s a good chance that the solo around the three-minute mark will finally rival how I felt about “Hold On” earlier in the set-list…BUT…I’m not entirely willing to concede that it’s better, just really, really damn good too.  As he chases “shadows through the dirt” – Pete finds his way to victory in this last track, and wraps up a stellar debut filled with smart songwriting, exactly like you’ll find in the tale of “Tonic For A Troop” at the very end of Join Up The Dots.  A song that examines life at war, dreaming about home, and the hope that in returning after battle, that things could somehow be the same just as they were before – and of course, that’s not the case, as far too many know.  In fact, as Pete roars through the third-minute of this song, you’ll hear about the tales & stories of a whole bunch of people that’ll definitely never be the same after their experience at war…if they even come home at all that is.  “Tonic For A Troop” ends on notes of peace, hope, light, and love…a final reminder of what’s important, no matter where we are.  “Tonic For A Troop” also serves to remind us just how hard that becomes after “weeks in the belly of the beast” – “before all this death, and all of this regret” – it’s really quite the well-crafted tale, filled with graphic-but-justified imagery; it makes for a thought-provoking finish to Pete Kavanagh’s debut album & a final experience that’ll make an impact & induce the repeat that Join Up The Dots definitely deserves.

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