There’s Only So Much Sorrow You Can Drown: A Lazarus Soul’s ‘Funeral Sessions’

Son I best be going, don’t know when I’ll rise again / Son I’m sorry that our prospects are so bleak / A funeral’s a sad excuse to see your only son / But I’ll be back to my old tricks within a week”

‘Funeral Sessions’ from The D They Put Between The R & L

A Lazarus Soul’s record The D They Put Between The R & L is officially out on May 3rd. It’s out at the time of writing on May 2nd, really, as the CD copy I ordered online arrived today. I’ve had a Bandcamp copy for a couple of weeks now and Brian Brannigan’s vital, furious, tender songs have soundtracked my trip in to work in Inchicore for the last few days. I’ve been the guy on the Luas shaking his head at the brilliant bitter poignancy of ‘Lemon 7s’ (“Smoking Lemon 7s through a broken bottle neck / Pills ground down like powder, til your problems are no louder than / A little infant whimpering for Ma to come and help.”)

The D They Put Between The R & L is a dense, tense, explosive, and novelistic record about life in Dublin now and in the last fifty years. It is huge and teeming with life and death. It is crisply and economically performed by Brannigan, Joe Chester, Julie Bienvenu, Anton Hegarty, Vyvyenne Long, and Steve Wickham. They perform in such a way as to frame and illuminate the stories Brian Brannigan is telling. These are songs celebrating people in the inner city and raging against lives being decimated and those doing the decimating.

I’ve spent a few minutes trying to come up with a sentence that captures the content of the songs on this album, and I can’t, and why would I? There’s too much going on. I wrote “novelistic” above, but it’s nearly more like a series of poetic short films, Kieslowski’s Decalogue only on Dominick St. I can’t not quote ‘The Long Balconies’ here: “First day of April 1963 / Mother fell into the lap of luxury / Still tells of the day they handed her the keys / Second floor palace, the long balconies / They did a little dealing in the shade / But of the cops and priests they were afraid / They hung the washing out there on parade / There was good drying.

And I won’t attempt a hot take. It would be a mistake to give some unnecessary overall impression of  The R & L without another couple of dozen listens or so. It might be enough to say that it will clearly demand and reward all those listens at least. It is one of those that you want to stick right back on once you’ve just finished playing it. And records like this have layers. You think you have a favourite song, and you do, but then another one, that maybe you missed something subtle about on first listen, sneaks up and takes its place. I’ve come to consider this in an album as a sign of mastery.

So I only wrote this to convey some early appreciation of A Lazarus Soul’s accomplishment, and to give a quick mention to the R & L song I’m playing most right now. It was my wife who honed in on ‘Funeral Sessions’ the first time we played the record at home and it does capture you. The song’s narrative is a father’s apology and hard-earned advice to his son. They meet at a funeral of a friend who died of an overdose; he “scored bad gear on Henrietta Place”. The father has had to leave because he is afraid that if he stays he too  will die: “The boys I ran with dropping off like flies”. Even now, he knows that he has to get away again or he’ll “be back to my old tricks within a week”. Before he says goodbye to his only son, who he never sees, he gives him one piece of counsel: Leave too.

Some of why we connected straight away with this song is simply its irresistible musicality. Joe Chester’s acoustic guitar has an electric immediacy and Vyvyenne Long’s cello underpins the melody with a haunting counterpoint.  And some of it, for me, I suppose, was how it gives voice to people and stories I encounter every day.

I didn’t grow up in town but I have worked in the south inner city on a community mental health team for about ten years. Mental health crises here are complex: depression and psychosis and suicidal behaviour fuelled by poverty, trauma, deprivation, systemic neglect and drugs and alcohol. All of these things are intertwined. Things keep changing for good and ill but it seems that drugs are more lethal than ever. Crack cocaine took its time getting here but it is ravaging long balconies right now.

So the story told by the father in ‘Funeral Sessions’ is all too familiar and the song is so devastated and resonant and brutally truthful. The father’s escape has left him stalked by guilt and sadness, and “There’s only so much sorrow you can drown“. ‘Funeral Sessions’ ends with the father’s admonition to the son he says he had to leave to save his own life, and it’s a hard one: “In my head on a clear day / I hear my late great father say / You come from here you only got two routes / Be a drunkard and stay local / Be a gearhead, go to town / Or you take your second chance and you get out.”

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