First Impressions: Hemet by Niamh Regan

Late last week, I stumbled upon Irish singer-songwriter Niamh Regan’s rendition of Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush” on Twitter. For those who don’t click through to watch the 1:46-minute clip, she plays the tune on an acoustic guitar instead of piano and mostly murmurs the lyrics while (likely) referencing them on her computer screen. It’s not a perfect performance by any means, but intriguing nonetheless. She captures and conveys the nuances of the song.

I quickly discovered that she’s from Galway and that her debut album, Hemet, was released in early September. Named after the California city that her husband (Wesley Houdyshell of the band Hippie Cream) hails from, it’s a tremendous set accented by melodies that linger in the mind and lyrics that pop up from the back of the brain long after the music has ended. To my ears, it sounds somewhat like a lost album from the early ‘70s; I hear echoes from Laurel Canyon in the grooves, not to mention a little Laura Nyro and Carly Simon, too. Here are a few highlights:

In any event, I learned more about her from this well-done article by John Meager on the Irish Independent newspaper’s website. The past few years have been a whirlwind of good and bad times for her, from marriage to losing her mother, and much of that is reflected in the songs she recorded for Hemet. One quote that stood out to me: “I find it hard to talk about really personal stuff,” she says, “especially when much of it resonates in a universal way. I would love to think that the songs would connect with people and they can take what they want from them.”

The moving “Freeze Frame” is a good case in point. Anyone who’s lost someone will hear aspects of their experiences in her poetic lyrics.

Here, she performs the bulk of Hemet for an “album release” event posted to YouTube. Although stripped to their essence, the songs lose none of their luster; in some ways, they resonate all the more. (To quote the bard Neil Young, “live music is better/bumper stickers should be issued.”)

The album can be streamed from the usual suspects, plus purchased from Bandcamp on CD, vinyl or digital.

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