Produced and Engineered by Hugh Christopher Brown
Recorded in Ontario, Kilkenny, Lisburn and New York City
Released July 2020 on Wolfe Island Records/CRS Continental Record Services
While the songs are not connected as such the underlying motifs of personal loss, tongue in cheek bravado and astutely observed stories tie the album together. Whether the writing reflects hidden or slightly vague truths or flights of fiction the songs work on singular concepts. The lyrics are clear and often conversational – a person recalling a past event, asking a question or speaking direct to a loved one lost or won.
If there any recurring themes to the record they might be love, life, death and most important of all - survival.
Celtic Rock legends Horslips coined the term “Bog Gothic” to sum the genre PJB explores with his song writing. This album is a testament to that – even if we are not quite sure what the genre is other than to say it more than tips its hat to Old World sensibilities set to New World sounds.
Front cover art by PJB
1. Swim *
2. How Many More Tears
3. Wedding Gown
4. Pillarstone *
5. Two Wrongs
6. All Those Things
8. I Believe
All songs written by PJB & HCB except * written by PJB
PJB Vocals/Acoustic Guitar
Hugh Christopher Brown Piano/hammond Organ/Wurlitzer/Acoustic Guitar/Backing Vocals
Elijah Abrams Electric Bass
Michael Mormecha Drums/Percussion
Alex Soikans Electric Guitar
Joey Wright Electric Guitar/Mandolin
Burke Carroll Pedal Steel
Rocky Roberts Lap Steel
Jason Mercer Arco Bass
Stephen Stanley Backing Vocals
Hadley McCall Thackston Backing Vocals
Sarah McDermott Backing Vocals
Kate Fenner Backing Vocals
Jake Bury Acoustic Guitar
Martha Hillhouse Organ
RnR magazine (UK)
There are many myths and fallacies to be found witinin music. The biggest has to be that it is a younger persons game. Perhaps from a marketing point of view for fly-by-night indie bands or transient pop-tarts, but when it comes to what really matters, the music itself, how can it not improve as the artist behind it becomes more experienced, more worldly wise, more…well, aged? Don’t believe me?
Then give Paul J Bolger’s latest album a spin and tell me that I’m wrong.
It may be 25 years since his last album but since then he has exploded in so many creative directions including drawing, direction and design across everything from film to books to graphic novels. And as is often the way, an offer to play a support gig brought an unexpected chance meeting; plans were made, fires stoked, engines slipped into gear and an album emerged.
Bog Gothic! How’s that for a generic tagline? Coined by Irish legends Horslips, it is one which is perfectly applied to Paul J Bolgers blend of Celtic folk, dirge-infused darkness and rootsy rock revels. There is deftly crafted, forlorn folk with Wedding Gown’s gentle reflections, there is low-slung, rock and roll in the form of Pillarstone, Unkind’s chiming, country minimalism and All Those Things’ heart-wrenchingly gorgeous search for redemption.
Paul has never sat on his laurels, always creating, always exploring, always adding to the artistic canon across all manner of disciplines. But if you do want to look for the bigger picture, the core message that you might use to sell the rights of the story to a Hollywood executive, it is that you are never too old. Not in a condescending, ahh, isn’t that nice sort of way but in a embrace the doors that open…or in this case reopen, sense. Creativity isn’t age appropriate, do what feels right, you only live once, opportunity knocks, …(more cliches are available upon request.)
A great album and perhaps one which is so good because it was made only once Paul had so much life-experience tucked into his belt. Young people, bah! What do they know about music anyway?
Reviewed by Dave Franklin
Whisperin & Hollerin
Our Rating: 7/10
This album has been sitting on my review desk since the end of January when I saw Paul J Bolger play a showcase gig in Hoxton. At that point the album didn't even have a press release. Originally due out in April because of the virus the album is now finally coming out at the end of June but I believe you can order a copy now.
Pillarstone is more of a country outlaw rocker like the more focused end of Ryan Adams or a bit like Johnny Cougar but with a bit of an Northern Irish twist and some superb playing that will make you hear different things in it most times you play it and it is as Horslips put it Bog Gothic
Two Wrongs has a very familiar tune as the argument of a song unfolds and Paul gives his apologies for his part in the tiff and I hope this song works to repair any damage he did.
Penny Black Music
Paul J Bolger is an artist, film maker and writer as well as a musician. He’s spent many years in the entertainment world and achieved a great deal of success. Music is something he has come back to after a long break thanks to a chance meeting with an old friend, American singer David Corley. Paul toured with him in Ireland and was then introduced to the Wolfe Island Records team in Canada when he made a film related trip there.
Paul J Bolger describes his working life as a "lifetime spent shifting between music, visual art and film and he describes making this album as "a 'never too late' dream come true or this grey haired old rocker who finally found his voice."
Celtic Rock group Horslips recognised a genre they named ‘Bog Gothic’ and Paul identifies with that description. I can see where he’s coming from, but there’s a wealth of influences from across the Atlantic too. In the deep past of Celtic and Americana music this isn’t surprising. Influences have gone back and forth over centuries with the musicians who make the music.
The album starts with the upbeat track 'Swim', which put me in mind of Canadian songwriter Ron Sexsmith and the Travelling Wilburys. 'How Many More Tears' has beautiful country rock harmonies. The pedal steel guitar creates an eerie mood for 'Wedding Gown'.
The sleeve notes quote the lyrics from 'Pillarstone', "I can weather any storm/Like a pillarstone..."
Paul J Bolger has worked with fellow musicians to create some great arrangements of his songs. He is a confident musician and songwriter bringing a wealth of experiences and influences to these songs. I understand that two albums worth of recordings were made in Dublin and Canada. This is the first and I look forward to the second.
Paul J Bolger last released an album twenty-five years ago. In the interim he has been working in visual arts and film rather than music. Over the past five years, what reads like the lighting of a slow-burning fuse brought him back into music through a combination of chance encounters and his own desire to put music back in the centre of his creative life. An EP was released in late 2018 and the self-titled album, Paul J Bolger, which has resulted from a more intense focus on his music is to be released in June.
The single, ‘I Believe’ is already out and can be heard in the video link below. Bolger has taken the Horslips phrase ‘Bog Gothic’ to describe his style. I’m not sure that would give many people a feel, so listen to the video and you’ll hear a vocal which is easy on the ear and some nice guitar fore-fronting a little orchestration. ‘Two Wrongs’ is a little rockier; ‘Pillarstone’ is a little fuzzier; and ‘All Those Things’ is propelled by piano and pedal steel; all are similarly easy to get into.
My favourite tracks, though, are ‘Wedding Gown’ and ‘Swim’. Bolger’s vocal on ‘Wedding Gown’ is much more compelling, deeper on the verse and higher, haunting and wistful on the almost-chorus (the words change to develop the story). Musically, there’s a sophisticated sparsity which matches a sophisticated lyric. It’s a splendid song which deserves wider playing.
By contrast, ‘Swim’ rocks; it’s the opening track for the album and would make a great opener or closer for a gig, particularly if followed (as it is on the album) by the similarly catchy ‘How Many More Tears?’.
Bolger describes his return to music enthusiastically, “after a lifetime spent shifting between music, writing, visual art and film I am doing what I want to do at an age some might say I should know better. Nothing can deliver instant satisfaction like writing, recording and performing a song you wrote for a live audience. Making this album has been a ‘never too late’ dream come true for this aging rocker who finally found his voice.”
Paul J Bolger is successful publisher , film maker , and has recently carved out a career in the music industry. He has been spending time with Hugh Christopher Brown and he is producing all of Paul's new material, having spent most of his time devoted to visual art , film , writing and now music, Paul has produced his first piece of music in 25 years and he has given us self-titled Paul J Bolger, I have the task of reviewing the new piece of music so please sit back and relax.
Swim - Cool guitar with a nice riff comes in and has an awesome cool bass line for company, elements of slide guitar are flowing through this uptempo blues / country type track, drums have a cool snare hit and bass drum draw that gives it a cool edge, vocals have a blues tone to them and it also has a country feel with tones that fit well with the arrangement.
How Many More Tears - Slide guitar come at us and has country vocals with a nice vibe and these have cool backing vocals that combine well with this feel good number, bass is cool and has a nice chorded vibe to it that fits well with a snare drum punch and a percussion section that just goes, piano, synth tones are floating towards us and go with strong bluesy vocals that are just awesome.
Wedding Gown - Haunting keys and a cool guitar strum are floating in o get us started on this ballad style track, mandolin comes in behind the awesome steel guitar with nice tones and a cool arrangement, it has a haunting feel to it with stylish lyrics to match that just set the scene, a sincere percussion section is teetering in the background with nice bass drum kicks that are a nice addition to this rather dark number that gives off haunting blues tones that kick ass.
Pillarstone - Snappy snare punches and cool bass drum kicks are the main event on this rather rockier track that has awesome guitar riffs with a real heat, bass chords are pounding with attitude and helps this track reach full potential with a cool arrangement that has it all, a rather blues style guitar solo with high pitches and hooks is a killer as it adds real body to this track, this is totally different from the other tracks but I guess that is what makes it tick all the right boxes.
Two Wrongs - Blues toned guitar stringed intro comes at us and has a percussion section that is front and centre, the bass that is running through this track is awesome as the tone is really funky and sharp and mixes well with keys and synth that are just made for this track, it has a certain bounce to it that just works as the arrangement is tight and has power chords of sheer blues tinge coolness that are fantastic.
All Those Things - Steel guitar with a cool strum and riff are soothing and it is just awesome, these are joined by smooth toned vocals that have a nice backing singer section that is melodic and it just pops, there seems to be slide guitar also that adds another dimension to the proceedings, this is one of those songs that are played in a saloon bar with sawdust strewn on the floor and has coupled dancing to the cool tones and slide guitar and steel guitar tones, with a snare drum hit and cymbal back up it is complete.
Unkind - Bklues style slide guitar with a cool bass line running alongside it make this track sing like a choir and it just has a cool tone to it, vocals are cool and have a country twang to them and this adds intrigue to the proceedings as the music just flows and gives you goosebumps along with it, the whole track is just a cool lyrical piece of coolness that has a certain way to it.
I Believe - Up tempo acoustic guitar comes at us and has an awesome bass line with attitude running through it, vocally this is a cool strong performance with smoky undertones that just work, the arrangement has a nice combination with bass, violin, steel guitar and drums combining to bring together a well worked blues tinged classic number.