Irish singer-songwriter Fionn Regan answers straightforward questions with beguiling sidesteps. Take this response to the nature of his home town, the County Wicklow seaside village of Bray. “Yeah, it’s the last stop on the train line, you know,” he explains during our phone conversation, on the eve of an American tour that brings him to the Lizard Lounge this Friday. “You fall asleep on the train, and they have to knock on the window to wake you up.” The 26-year-old Regan describes his birthplace as “strange,” “desolate,” and “frantic” before confessing, “You do feel like you want to break loose from it.”
INSTANT FILMS: Regan’s songs are “evidence of the journeys I’ve made and the conversations that I have had.”
Breaking loose is just what he’s accomplished over the past year, thanks to his debut, The End of History, which was released on Bella Union in the UK last year and then in the US this summer on the Americana label Lost Highway. By then, the disc had racked up superlatives from the British press and snagged a Mercury Prize nomination.
The End of History is a spare recording — and for all the right reasons. Regan’s quicksilver acoustic guitar frames a high tenor that’s drawn comparisons with cult folk-rocker Nick Drake. It’ll even make you forget how, just yesterday, you vowed to never to fall for another singer-songwriter. Regan paid for the CD out of his “piggy bank,” digging for change in “old coat pockets.” Not that he needed much for a recording that couples the warm glow of his voice with an acoustic guitar. That just sets up the drama when drums kick in on the bouncy “Blackwater Child.”
And his lyrics are poetic in a way that doesn’t make you cringe. The bone-chilling “Snowy Atlas Mountains” is fraught with unspecified tension: “My jumper’s soaked in pig’s blood,” he whispers at one point, and then, “If you pull a hatchet, I’ll pull something to match it.” “Underwood Typewriter,” a rambling ode to love, is as bright and playful as “Snowy Atlas Mountains” is dark and taut.
Regan says that he writes his songs “very fast” — and despite evidence to the contrary, he denies that he favors imagery over narrative. “The songs are documents, like the evidence of the journey I’ve made and the conversations that I’ve had. In a way, they’re instant films.” He’s been likened to Dylan, of course (what literate songwriter who plays acoustic guitar hasn’t?), and to folk icon Woody Guthrie, which seems a better fit. Being called a “folk artist” amuses him. “It’s a neighborhood people want to put you in. People like to build a little house for you. Like everybody there wears top hats or something like that. There’s singer-songwriters I wouldn’t want to go camping with, you know what I mean?”
For his Lizard Lounge date, Regan will be joined by a drummer and a vocalist — an indication of how much Lost Highway is willing to invest in the hope that the young Irishman becomes the next James Blunt. That would be a stretch: Regan is too slippery and his choruses don’t hammer you over the head. But he does fit in well with the new folk movement, where Iron and Wine and Devendra Banhart are making shaggy-haired campfire music cool again.
FIONN REGAN + AUDREY RYAN | Lizard Lounge, 1667 Mass Ave, Cambridge | September 28 | 617.547.0759