Padraig Whelan’s music is a glass of wine over dim candlelight: it comforts the soul after a long day, and converts any misplaced uneasiness into cool relaxation. Whelan’s latest EP Never Be So Wicked, No More As You Once Were - a follow-up to 2010’s Stand Up Pat Whelan - offers more crackers and cheese as you gaze through the soft flicks of orange light at the crooner in the spotlight.
Whelan opts for hushed drums, gently-plucked notes, and resting vocals that never lift above a warm complacency. Restraint is the operative word. It’s felt all over, and it feels like Blue Velvet. Which is fitting, since Whelan’s music would feel right at home at a slinky, piano-jazz bar, full of fishnets and fedoras.
“What I Know, I Know With You” is a downtempo lounge-room duet that evokes the romantic swagger of Dean Martin, the intimate sentimentality of Perry Como, and perhaps the modern touch and slight tonal similarity of Michael Buble. The point is, Whelan is clearly tipping his brim to the golden old days where flashiness never outshone the basic substance of a lone crooner and his backing band, and where one only needed a well-tailored suit to attract attention. His music does the rest, understated though it is.
“Off and On” keeps things light and clean, and adds some delicate harmonies over soft-spoken guitars, percussion, and chirping, barely-audible glockenspiel. The mellowness can’t possibly be overstated: this song is incredibly smooth from top to bottom, like a slightly dusty, maroon bottle whose contents suddenly disappear, in spite of what memory might dictate.
“Rolling Stock” is a little less relaxed-sounding, as a fidgeting bass groove and a reluctant-sounding cello carry the EP into a darker, mysterious, and slightly sexy territory, consummated by an upbeat neo-soul chorus. Add to that a stormcloud ambience, and the ideal tone is set for a back-alley make-out session in an abandoned phonebooth.
“The Gypsy’s Beak Hath Spoken…” concludes the EP on the inhibited soft-jazz notes that opened it, and makes for a perfect thematic curtain drop. Brushes graze a snare drum, trickling piano notes string you along like a cruel mistress, and Whelan whispers pieces of his soul into the night.
This film noir of an EP spends a great deal of time gazing at old shadows. A quiet devotion to dead legends is stitched into its very fabric. And while it may creep behind you like a pillow of swift relief, you may find yourself thankful for this (albeit brief at about 19 minutes) opportunity to just slow down and reflect.
Listen to Never Be So Wicked, No More As You Once Were