After the release of their last album, ‘M.A.D (Middle Aged Debauchery)’, tragic circumstances dictated the path that Welsh trio Sonny Jim would journey down. ‘Dead Man Walking’ is the end result of Sonny Jim guitarist/songwriter Lloyd Jenkins wearing his heart on his sleeve and dealing with personal tragedy through the cathartic process of songwriting. It’s dark, and in places, unsettling, almost like the listener is intruding in someone’s grief. ‘Dead Man Walking’ deals with the heartbreak of miscarriage, and sadly, in this case, a second miscarriage followed. With the help of his bandmates, Robbie Brewster on drums and powerhouse vocalist Jason Donagh, Jenkins has come up with a short concept-mini-album that will knock the listener for six.
When Donagh sings “Good things come to those who wait, I’ve been waiting too long…” on opening track ‘Numb’, the hurt is there for all to hear. Donagh delivers the vocals in a soft narrative style, almost whispering in places, resisting the urge to unleash his powerful range until nearly three minutes in, where he finally lets loose. Easily one of the strongest voices that you might not yet be familiar with, Donagh has that rare anguished-yet-very-strong voice that has not really been heard since the early days of the Manics. Listen to ‘From Despair To Where’ or ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’, and you’ll pick up both the anguish and the strength. Donagh also has that trait. ‘Denied’ is massive, the volume rising significantly with some enormous riffs and solos from Jenkins, and thunderous drums from Brewster. Shorter, but faster paced, with a modern groove to it, lyrically it deals with the aftermath – “The cards have been dealt but the dealer chose me….no rhyme or reason, no reason at all”. ‘Hollow’ follows with a simple guitar picking intro that fades in and out throughout. The tempo changes constantly, as Sonny Jim do what they do best, and mix it up. The spoken word segment from Donagh is effective and quite eerie, especially if you are listening through a decent pair of cans. Musically, the title track reminds me of parts of ‘The Wall’, on some of the guitar parts especially, ‘Young Lust’ springing to mind. Another powerful track with a towering vocal performance from Donagh, but this one has to go to Robbie Brewster for his sublime and un-fussy drumming. I’d say he smashed it, but I’m not 21 or a nonce. After all the heartache, the semi-acoustic ‘Freedom’ offers up some hope, “With our hearts and our souls, we’ll find a way to make it work….let’s form a queue and say goodbye to our fears”. The unplugged version is even more effective, as Donagh’s vocals are pushed front and centre. A track that most people will find that they can identify with.
Dark, powerful, heartbreaking, and memorable, ‘Dead Man Walking’ is a collection of songs that will live with the listener for some time after.
Available November 29th through Holier Than Thou Records. More information on Facebook.
Review: Dave Stott