Be still my beating Irish heart. James Vincent McMorrow is Ireland’s equivalent to Bon Iver, and like Iver, McMorrow’s soft falsetto and high tenor is heavenly. And, it’s McMorrow’s beguiling voice that seduces the listener as quickly as the opening song on his debut album, Early in the Morning (Vagrant Records). What is more remarkable is this record has been out a year, and is now just making its way to the United States.

Recorded over a five month period in an isolated house by the sea, Early in the Morning was completely self-recorded, creating an intimate feel throughout. The album consists of eleven folk-influenced songs that feature the acoustic guitar, banjo, organ, and McMorrow’s beautiful vocals. Most of the songs start quietly and crescendos throughout the span of the songs. For example, the opening track, “If I Had a Boat,” beings serenely with chamber choir harmonies that are followed by a buzzing organ and a slide guitar which helps build to its intense finish. Its lyrics also summarize the entire theme of Early in the Morning, which was written about transformation and change.

In addition to the theme, the tempos and tone of the songs change. The soft and subdued beauty of “Hear the Noise That Moves so Soft and Low” gives way to the up-tempo banjo-driven “Sparrow & the Wolf.” Some of the tracks have pop appeal, like the tempo-shifting “This Old Dark Machine” and the catchy melody of “Breaking Hearts.” In the latter half of the album, McMorrow shows his darker side with a haunting ballad “Follow You Down to the Red Oak Tree,” the ominous “From the Woods!!” and the foreboding “Down the Burning Ropes.” And then the album closes as quietly as it came in, with a simple pop-influenced ballad “And If My Heart Should Somehow Stop” and the modest folk ode to a love in “Early in the Morning, I’ll Come Calling.” Early in the Morning is a great album in which McMorrow clearly takes the listener with him on his journey of transformation. — Common Folk Music