Brendan O’Shea’s Songs From a Tenement might be written about life on the poor part of town, but the album is rich with inventive textures and heart-melting harmonies that make this one of the best things I’ve heard all year!
“Miles from home/we are here at last/we hold the day that changes fast/we bite the hand that’s feeding/we take the hand that’s been stealing time/a new day for my love and I,” he sings softly on
“Bloodshot,” the album opener, before a crunchy electric shot brackets the words “I believe in you” over the chorus.
“Some say stop/others, go/you gotta take the steps that you know,” he sings on “Steps,” a song that Paul Simon would give a pension check to write today. The harmonies and playful chord structure is the perfect combination of sunniness with a cool breeze underneath.
On “One Star,” O’Shea takes a pensive piano and layers on the harmonies, and out-Frames Glen Hansard in the process. There are bluesy guitar licks, hopeful gospel organ textures on tracks like
“Waiting Rooms” and happy lyrics throughout the album, making one wonder why this wildly versatile artist would put a depressing word like tenement in the title of this disc.
“Even though the word tenement is a sign of poverty this is a great place to be,” the Killarney, Co. Kerry native explains when asked about the title.
“It’s a connection to my Irishness in a way – it’s unspoken. Our people immigrated to America and ended up in these tenements when they first moved over. It was tough times but happy times at the same time.”
O’Shea jokes that the sunny lyrics on this album are counter-intuitive to what you hear among the latest crop of Irish singer-songwriters.
“We’re the one kinda tribe that’s happy-go-lucky until things are going well,” he reasons. “Then when they are going well, you’re waiting for something to screw everything up.
“My life is all right and it could be a lot worse. I am an Irish New Yorker at this point. I am 43 years old and I just got engaged and I never thought that would happen.”
O’Shea moved to U.S. in the late nineties and has become a veteran of New York City's songwriter scene.
His music can be heard in such films as Ron Howard's Oscar nominated Backdraft, the successful Karen Gehres indie-doc Begging Naked, and the ABC docu-drama Boston Med.
He has toured with the likes of the Frames/Swell Season, Ike Reilly, Elliott Smith, and Interpol.
A lover of music of all kinds, Brendan and friends Karl Geary and Pete Olshansky also host a successful
Sunday night concert series in the East Village (5th Street between Second and Third). Now in its third year, the Scratcher Sessions feature seasoned and upcoming talent from around the world, including veteran singer songwriter Mark Geary.
“It’s turned into this great thing,” O’Shea enthuses. “I usually book two acts a night. I was always gigging around the Village doing my thing and bumped against this great talent.
“I love listening to music and I wanted to create a place where people that are really into music could give it a good listen.”
O’Shea will play tracks from Songs from a Tenement when he takes the Scratcher Sessions stage on May 1. For more information or to hear samples of this fantastic collection, check out www.brendanoshea.com An Open Letter to Chris Kelly
Hey, Chris (and every other groom caught between an Irish bride and an Irish mother):
Well, congratulations on nabbing yourself the genuine article! By placing a ring on my cousin Sinead’s finger, you fulfilled a dream no doubt held by every Irish mother to include yours -- that you stick with your own kind.
With her name, red hair, milky smooth complexion, warm blue eyes and the brogue that creeps on you when she is angry or drunk, you could not have proposed to a more Irish bride.
Truth be told, we’re damned glad and more than a bit lucky that you are joining the family. Over the last two
decades, myself and the cousins have come home with Italians, people “a darker shade than ourselves,” same-sex partners, Jews, and other forms of human beings that tested the boundaries of tolerance in our parents.
I am happy to say that older generation passed the test beautifully, yet I think they were breathing a sigh of relief that the tests ended when you first walked in the door. “He’s one of our own, like,” was whispered under their breath.
Now that you are part of the family, allow me to tell you what I think about how you’re running your life.
This family is good at this and rest assured, I have learned from the best. Get used to it and your life will go smoothly.
My heart really went out to you the other night, as you cradled your big LCD screen of a head in your hands and massaged your temples as Sinead reeled off one problem after another in the planning of your wedding.
Like an LCD, your anguished expression was brought to us in high definition, the beads of sweat dripping furtively from your brow.
Bridesmaids playing chess with offspring! Family members off their meds! Dueling views of what the engagement party and shower should look like!
These are all things that could drive a lesser man to drink. You’re hanging tough, friend. I like that in a dude.
From my vantage point, it would appear that an epic battle of wills was touched off between your Irish fiancé and your Irish American mother about the minute details of rehearsal dinner and wedding. You are feeling the squeeze and looking for a win-win here, and I am sorry to tell you that there isn’t one.
“I just want to keep the peace,” you shouted in an agony that gave Jesus in the garden a run for his money.
Like him, you were sweating blood, which was an impressive trick indeed. But Jesus taught us that even that will not keep this cup from passing over you.
Struggles between my wife and my mother have played out numerous times during our marriage, which has lasted nearly 19 years as of this writing.
In one corner is a wife that tells you in no uncertain terms to “grow a set” and stand up to your mother for once in your life. In the other corner, there is a woman mourning the fact that her brand of mothering is no longer sought after or even appreciated at times.
Sound familiar? Thought so.
Consider this letter an early wedding present, for the next sentence contains the secret that unlocks an easy life.
The wrong Missus Kelly is worrying about this.
Feel free to use this when Sinead weighs in on how your mother mollycoddles your sister or complains about perceived slights against you in your role as prodigal son.
This sentence also comes in handy when your mother comments about the tone of voice Sinead uses when talking to you, why you are spending so much time with that side of the family instead of your own, how she is feeding you too much or too little, and above all, how your wife cares for the grandchildren should God bless you with them.
Make sure you deliver the senses without a hint of anger, drama, or emotion. Chances are you will have to use this sentence when one of them is emotional and your lack of response will probably drive them nuts!
Saying “the wrong Missus Kelly is worrying about this” often enough will result in both sides getting the hint that you will not tolerate your wife making your mother wrong and vice versa.
I know that sounds impossible, given the smog of anguish you are choking on the week of your wedding, but a steady diet of Animal Planet has taught me that even the most rabid creature can be tamed. This sentence is the chair and whip you will need to keep the tigresses behaving in their respective corners.
Remember the words of “Coward of the County?” It goes like this: “Promise me son/Not to do the things I’ve done/Walk away from trouble if you can/It won’t mean you’re weak if you turn the other cheek/I hope, you’re old enough to understand/Son, you don’t have to fight to be a man.”
That Kenny Rogers is a prophet. He’s telling you that when you learn to politely tell your wife or mother that the wrong Mrs. Kelly is worrying about the matter at hand, you learn to scream without raising your voice and reclaim your manhood in the process.
You have an embarrassment of riches on your hands -- two good, caring women who are deeply committed to your happiness and greatness.
By implementing a little psychology, you can take advantage of both perspectives. They are smart ladies who both have impeccable taste if they love you.
One more thing. I’d like to be seated close to the bar, and given the choice of chicken marsala or stuffed salmon, I will pick the fish over fowl.
Mazel tov (Gaelic for good luck),
(This essay appears in Mike Farragher's book, This Is Your Brain on Shamrocks, available on thisisyourbrainonshamrocks.com)