Conor Gains – Compass
Compass, the ten song solo debut from Conor Gains, is the full flowering of a talent who has already established a growing reputation thanks to his work with the band of the same name. Plying his trade and honing his craft over the last three years with a busy live schedule has, likewise, produced nearly a hundred songs for potential use on this release. Gains managed to cull down that prodigious output to ten songs that, undoubtedly, he feels are most reflective of the personal lyrical and musical statement he looks to make with this solo release. The quality is such that we can only hope he continues to explore this vein of his development for some time to come. Compass is an exemplary effort featuring evocative production that never comes off as glossy or ostentatious. Instead, this release sounds fully realized in a way few albums ever do.
Compass opens with “I Know” and it’s a relatively unfettered tune compared to some of the higher minded efforts coming later on the release. Gains’ comfort level with the material is obvious from the first and he has an intensely musical voice perfectly suited for these arrangements. Some of his bluesier side begins emerging with the song “Walking Alone” and I can’t help but be impressed by how much of his approach to the style is a throwback to iconic figures rather than more modern artists with a shallow understanding of blues. The song’s guitar work is well recorded, surrounded in a warm glow, and nicely contrasts with Gains’ singing. Hip hop works its way into the musical mix with the song “Ordinary Love”, but it begins as a sweltering R&B/soul number with just the right amount of atmospherics before transitioning into a stormy and passionate second half.
The vocal harmonies accompanying Gains on “I’ve Been Looking for Your Heart” softens the deep longing in both the lyrics and Gains’ lead vocal and the track is, arguably, one of the more memorable melodic moments on Compass. The same penchant for strong melodies reaches another peak with the song “Back to You” and it definitely wraps itself around a sharper folky vibe than any of the aforementioned or later songs. The blues makes its presence felt more than ever before with the song “Miracle”, the longest on Compass, and moves from near Delta electric beginnings into a more strident, theatrically minded second half. The choruses are particularly hard hitting. There’s some great backing vocals and grooves over the course of the six plus minutes it takes for “Mexico” to play itself out, but the lead vocal and guitar playing are keys to the success of the album’s second longest cut. Conor Gains will, undoubtedly, log a lot of new touring on the backs of this new release and many of the songs here are immediately ready for his stage show. Compass is a truly impactful way to begin his journey as a solo artist and sets the bar high for Conor Gains’ future efforts.