Fionn Regan: The Shadow of an Empire (Inertia/Border)

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Fionn Regan: Protection Racket
Fionn Regan: The Shadow of an Empire (Inertia/Border)

On the cover he may look like one of the more camp American Idol finalists, but Irish singer-songwriter Fionn Regan occupies that appealing musical territory between Dylan in '66, Pete Molinari and lo-fi Chris Knox with his urgent, lyrically twisting songs which are punctuated by ear and heart-gripping lines.

Catacombs here suggests a story in just a few lines: "I've been noticing bruises on your skin. Have you've been walking into furniture again? Let's take it outside, the kids are sleeping. I'll pay you to do me some damage . . ."

Regan was a 2007 Mercury Prize nominee for his previous album End of History and won much critical acclaim, but the follow-up (produced by Ethan Jones) was rejected and locked up by his record company Lost Highway . . . so he moved on from them, went back to square one with his lyric-driven songs and, with a small band, knocked this off in rapid time. And that urgency comes through in the intensity of the delivery and the sharply spare and immediate-sounding self-production.

Ten songs in 34 minutes too -- but a lot of words.

Perhaps because of that Johns/Lost Highway situation there is also a constrained anger in some of the songs, but on the ballad Lines Written in Winter there is a simple and elegant beauty to his music and a refined poetic imagery in his lyrics: "Sleet and hail on the skylight, like sheets wrapping beds of white. I painted pictures of them, depicting angels in Heaven . . ."

As with Molinari, this is at its least when it too faithfully recalls Dylan (House Detective) and at its best when Regan draws on some deep internal energy to deliver songs which evoke characters (Coat Hook, Little Nancy) or his heart comes through as slightly wounded (Lord Help My Poor Soul).

And ignore the White Stripes references you might read elsewhere. That's nonsense and despite the Dylan namechecking all -- myself included -- make, Fionn Regan mostly sounds like his own man.

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