|Fionn Regan, who has been compared to some of the great singer-songwriters, says he's not ready to be packaged. Regan's spare "The End of History" has been praised by critics. (Rachel Bevis/Reuters)|
Regan has what it takes
Critics have compared Fionn Regan to both Bob Dylan and Nick Drake - sometimes even in the same sentence. Referencing two iconic singer-songwriters raises some red flags. How apt a description is it for Regan's spare, acoustic debut, "The End of History"? Is it lofty or pat praise?
True, Regan's finger-picking style and indie folk songs bear a certain delicacy reminiscent of Drake. And he's a keen, wistful wordsmith, much like both legends. Even if the comparisons sum up the record dead on, which they don't, Regan's not ready to be packaged.
"Both comparisons are signposts," Regan says. "It's up to the listener to figure out if the signposts were put into the ground by people with blindfolds on or people who have 20/20 vision. From my point of view, yeah, it's always nice to be compared to things that have had a long lease of life. It's like coming out of the trap. Either people decide to place a bet or they wait for the next race."
As with his songwriting, the racing analogy is one of many colorful metaphors Regan mentions on the phone from a tour stop in Meridian, Miss. The tour brings him to the Lizard Lounge tomorrow night.
The 26-year-old Regan grew up in Bray, Ireland - not in Brighton, England, as it has been commonly misreported (he lived there for just two months). He still lives in Bray. His artist parents - Dad's a guitarist; Mom's a painter - held regular impromptu soirees populated by poets and writers and musicians.
"It was like a bureau de change with people exchanging poems and stories and songs. Those songs would just be vibrating the walls all night," he says fondly. "These things were flashpoints early on."
The road from Bray to Nashville - where he's signed to the label Lost Highway, which includes Americana greats Willie Nelson and Ryan Adams - was not an easy journey. He struggled to self-finance "The End of History," which he recorded in live takes over a period of time in 2004. Kim Buie, vice president of A&R at Lost Highway, heard some of the songs a year or so ago, but it wasn't until she saw him play Union Hall in Brooklyn in January that she decided to sign him.
"I was like, 'Oh, my God, what have I been waiting for?' " she says. "Fortunately, Fionn was very patient with me. He waited until I got it. Then when I got it, I was like, 'This is one of those artists that I'll die if I don't get to work with.' I haven't had that feeling too often in my career."
Chatting with Regan afterward gave Buie a full picture: "That was when I knew it was a calling, a passion, and that he'll do it for the rest of his life. There's no other way for that guy to exist," Buie says.
As for the nods to Drake and Dylan, Buie understands them.
"For most artists that would be unfair, but for Fionn, stylistically, particularly in his guitar playing, he has shades of Nick Drake. As far as Dylan goes, so many artists have been compared to Dylan; it's not as devastating praise as it might have once been," Buie says. "In Ireland, when I was there, I was hearing him being compared to James Joyce and Samuel Beckett. If that isn't some heavy stuff, I don't know what is."
When he used to have alone time, Regan would read Joyce and Beckett and Kerouac and Bukowski. And he'd listen to the folk of Woody Guthrie.
"When I hear Woody Guthrie songs, I can see these images. He'll say something like, 'The piano played a slow funeral tune, and the town was lit up by a cold Christmas moon,' " Regan says, effortlessly quoting Guthrie's "1913 Massacre." "It's very strong images, it's like instant film. It just appears. That's what I relate to a lot with Woody. And his sense of humor."
Regan chuckles mischievously. A comfortable silence follows much of what he says and sings. It's a space he politely leaves open for the listener to fill in; it's also a space he leaves for himself. As expansive as he is, he's also guarded.
"It's like when you're in the walls of your own kingdom, it's easy to breathe the air. To talk about things like models, genres, and contemporaries. It's like being outside the walls of the orchard," referring to his lost anonymity. "You're tempted to draw a chalk circle around yourself and say 'don't step in.' "
Fionn Regan performs with Audrey Ryan at the Lizard Lounge, 1667 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, tomorrow night at 7:30. Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 at the door. 617-547-1228. lizardloungeclub.com