Galway singer-songwriter Ultan Conlon is highly regarded in his native Ireland and, on the face of it, there's no obvious reason why this popularity should not spread farther and wider.
His third studio album is that of an artist on top of his game and playing to his strengths. There are moments of doubt and sorrow, but in general the chief focus of the songs is on contentment not sadness.
Conlon works at a steady pace and this release comes fully five years after his last album, 'Songs Of Love So Cruel'. 'Last Days Of The Night Owl' was written on both the west coasts of Ireland and America and mostly recorded live in a studio in Galway over the winter of 2017 before being mixed in Nashville.
Pedal steel was recorded in Nashville by Russ Pahl and brass and strings were added at Yellow Arch Studios in Sheffield by Richard Hawley collaborator Colin Elliott. The Hawley connection is no coincidence. A Weak Heart Like Mine is one of several tunes that you could easily imagine being sung by the Sheffield crooner.
Conlon uses his own life experiences but transforms them into safe generalities rather than delving into anything more down deep and personal. "I want to make songs that are timeless, with good melodies and hooks" he told the Galway Advertiser. This ambition is rendered in song as "I want to get lost inside, hit that perfect groove"on the lively, feel good single The Measure.
Placing commercial appeal above confessional soul-bearing has its drawbacks. "It takes Time To Mourn" is just one example of the kind of platitude he routinely serves up in lieu of anything more nuanced and he can't resist resorting to clichéd lines such as when he sings of the need to "ease my worried mind" on Hurt Inside.
The tendency to play things safe also means that a song about resentment and bitterness (Fond Memories) is rendered more palatable by a 1950s Rock'n'Roll arrangement.
The Van Morrison Enlightenment groove of Hall Of Mirrors is a good indication of where he's pitching this collection. As the closing track reveals, the nature of the quest is to let go of negativity and discover The Fine Art Of Happiness.
The search for this holy grail proves a fruitful source of song writing ideas and the AOR format is assured of gaining a solidly reliable approval rating.
Ultan Conlon's website