‘Cala’ roughly translates to ‘creek’ or ‘inlet’ in Spanish. Despite his Irish roots, it’s not the first time Fionn Regan has shown an affinity for the southern reaches of Europe. Third album 100 Acres of Sycamore was written largely in Majorca, a place Regan described as “laced with magic” and “spliced with walking in the woods in Ireland”. That the language of love and natural wonder of its country of origin has surfaced in Regan’s work and reflected in his own land makes sense, given how much the mood and poetry of his music have centered around these themes. Certainly here with Cala, his sixth record, Regan embraces the elemental; as a personal record written in your own home in Bray on the coastal outskirts of Dublin might be expected to.
Often deemed an Irish Bob Dylan of sorts, Regan has explored a vaguely comparable progression to the iconic folk pioneer. From raw acoustic roots in debut The End of History, the plugged-in rockabilly of The Shadow of An Empire and modernized electronic washes of last album The Meeting of the Waters, he’s tackled all and sundry with boldness and proficiency. But it’s in the warm embrace of his finger-picked guitar and tender melodies that he’s always appeared most comfortable, and where he retreats to here. This is a collection of ten hushed and gorgeous acoustic tracks, almost a mirror of his stunning and celebrated debut, but overlaid with years of experience in both life and in songcraft.
Countless references to the fundamentals of nature – bottled lightning, ocean waves and celestial bodies – wash up like flotsam throughout his lyricism. Poetic as always, Regan’s ability to cut to the bone with swift transitions between dense metaphor and simplicity waft through this restraint of these songs; almost deliberately obfuscated wisdom. Regan wears a “crown of light” on an “August moon”, in ‘Collar of Fur’, the whimsy of almost an almost magical ideal giving into a simple “you went out and came back in, and went out again.” It’s romance and it’s home, at times seemingly verging on sentimental, but always hinting at wider truths and losses that keep it grounded.
The wandering bard is a staple of Ireland, something steeped in its mythical history and that weaves threads through the country’s modern music. Regan has always been perceived as embodying this to some degree since his arrival, and Cala feels like a destination of sorts. A wanderer arriving home, even if the wandering spirit remains. His guitar, voice and songwriting are what are championed – the ambient washes, flourishes and gentle percussion smartly and sparingly used to enhance an atmosphere that reflects this, a contented yearning if you like. “It’s a mystery to me, how songs evolve,” Regan says, “thankfully they do. But the place you’re from continues to resonate.” Haunting and beautiful, as a mood piece Cala is lovely, but deeper still is the warmth of belonging it somehow creates despite its inherent sadness. That home doesn’t always need be an expression of joy.