Derry-Londonderry singer Paul Casey aims to engage both hearts and minds with his latest studio release, Big World. It is an epic, reflective set of songs that focuses on the songwriter's personal woes and the current cultural resurgence of his native city.
Optimism is tempered by caution throughout. This is immediately evident from the title track, a soothing, uplifting song featuring various instruments and few words that immediately sets the tone for the remainder of the album.
When Casey sings, 'Now it’s here, it’s gonna stay, so many things they can’t take away, there were times I thought we’d fail, but I believe in you' on new single 'Now He’s Done', it is evident that he is talking about Derry. Perhaps Casey is reflecting on the successful City Of Culture bid, and we all know who the unnamed 'they' are.
Big World stands out as Casey’s most polished and experimental recording to date. This experimentation is most notable in the techno tempo of 'Now It’s Done', and a remarkable guitar solo worthy of his idol and friend, Chris Rea, on the title track.
The electrified calypso of 'Something’s Gotta Give' is unexpected, and a highlight of the album. Thanks to its catchiness and rhythm, it’s effortlessly infectious. Unfortunately, it ends far too soon.
'Different Planet', meanwhile, provides a moment of melancholy. It’s near impossible to listen to this song in the light of the Troubles and not be moved. And when you hear Casey’s nine-year-old son speak the refrain near the end, you wonder: what exactly does the future hold for our children?
After such bleakness, we need hope, and the excellent piano opening of 'Hindsight' provides it. One thinks here of emerging Derry songwriter Best Boy Grip, who is currently making waves with his piano-led ballads, and agree with Casey that the time for Derry really is now.
Thereafter the album begins to lose a little of its lustre. 'You Are' is a solid effort, but it doesn’t resonate quite like some of the opening tracks on the album. The heaviness of the instruments also threatens to drown out Casey’s voice at times, which is a shame, because, in general, the production on the record is very good.
Still, there’s much to admire. The smooth and rhythmic 'Blow Away The Clouds', featuring Bronagh Gallagher and a fine piano solo from John McCullough, is instantly likeable. It’s a vital breather in a sea of much heavier and higher tempo songs. And then there’s the aboriginal sounding 'Hope', an all-out instrumental.
Casey finishes on a pleasant note with 'Thanks For Letting Me Crash', a tribute to the generosity of the locals. It is, admittedly, a little disappointing that Big World doesn’t quite fulfil the promise of its first five songs. On the whole, however, it is an interesting progression for Casey, and the perfect long player with summer just around the corner.