‘If you haven’t said hello to the music of Jim McHugh yet, let this be your roaring, soaring introduction!’
Intro to Jim McHugh
Bringing us his third album ‘Pretending to Wake Up‘ today (28th May), Irish singer-songwriter Jim McHugh sets to prove that his ability to create incredible folk-rock tracks is stronger than ever. Spoiler alert: he hasn’t just proved this but exceeded all expectation. Truth be told, I wasn’t really aware of Jim’s music until I heard ‘Dave’ earlier this year, but once I had, I was hooked on it. Perhaps it’s because it feels somewhat personal, however, it’s more likely to be the sheer strength of the track. Likewise, in going through his other releases to date, and hitting play on ‘Hey Jimbo’ proved the same was true. Given this, it should have come as no surprise that ‘Pretending to Wake Up‘ is a knock-out album. An album crammed with Jim’s much-loved guitar riffs from beginning to end, and a musicality that knows no bounds. However for me, it’s the track harnessing Jim’s nickname that highlights everything there is to love about his music. Read more at: Behind the Music: Interview with Jim McHugh.
Hitting us with an onslaught of crashing drums followed by guitar riffs, the opening of this mid-point track on ‘Pretending To Wake Up’ causes you to leap out of your seat. In stark contrast to the mostly understated sound of preceding track ‘Her Love’, here we are in Jim McHugh central where a sonic explosion of those musical elements he truly loves play their part. Pushing a rock-out feel, the percussive drive is hectic, the distortions drill into our heads, and together there is no getting away from the fact Jim creates a groove like no other. And yet, while the rhythmical intentions may be reminiscent of opener ‘Dave’, everything about it feels brand new.
Having solidified such a tremendous atmosphere, the initial vocals emerge to deliver a sound that both complements and contradicts those surroundings. Projected above the heavy texture, gentle rasp balances with softness meaning the line ‘She moves my skin, she moves my every morsel’ contains an unexpected, non-aggressive tone. Then, as we continue on Jim treats us further by truly embracing his accent, and as such, his heritage too. Shamelessly inflecting phrases with Irish tones, it’s an absolute delight. Even more so given the sense of joy that is so clearly exuded with every nuance.
Dropping into his lower range, there is real depth. Leaping into his falsetto, there is real freedom. And with the latter taking us into a chorus crammed with both there is a real sense of seamless musicality. Pushing home the title lyricism, it’s impossible to not join in. Developing the kind of sound that you can imagine soaring across a packed venue, crowd arms aloft, singing to the rooftops, it’s a nostaglic moment that makes us long for those much-missed live gigs to return. Behind this though, there is more to it than just creating a phenomenally successful chorus.
‘Hey Jimbo, she don’t love you, Hey Jimbo, you’ll see.
In the morning, she will leave you, In the morning she’ll be free.’
Almost half-time against the undercurrent of energy, the momentum comes from specific areas rather than every area. Emphasised via ringing guitar chords on its first appearance, we are ever-guided through the infectious lyricism. Contrasting with the ear burrowing riff-laden textures that lie either side, the inferred sense of space enables us to become fully absorbed by the phrases, thus further enhancing that aforementioned sensation. Likewise, when the transformation into a rip-roaring second version occurs, that semi-controlled arm-waving turns into a full-blown tussle.
Near relentless in drive, it would be incredibly easy to think that the chaotic nature is quite simply a wall of sound. But it is not. Proving this perfectly, throughout the second verse and onwards additional instrumental elements infuse the texture in a way that highlights the preciseness. Showcasing that he can not only create earwormy riffs with aplomb but secondary motifs too, the horn lines bring an alternative edge. Working in a way that may or may not be an intentional nod to the relaxed reggae influences in the next track, these not only enhance the sound, but bounce off all other elements in a mid-tempo pseudo-ska fashion.
Having given the impression that we may very much be on course for the atmosphere to continue, it comes as a real surprise when things suddenly take a turn in a much softer direction. Almost as though Jim is fully aware our energy is likely to be waining at this point, a brief moment for breath occurs. Delicately swirling skyward, pushing his vocal range, and underpinned by exposed chord progressions, it’s about as far from what we’ve heard already as could be. Yet it works perfectly in both standalone context and what occurs after.
Delivering a balance of textures heard throughout, the softness of the guitar just experienced is picked up by the drums, while the formerly accented horn lines provide sustained harmony. Meanwhile, in an effort to further prove he is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to vocal versatility, controlled tones and screamers take us back into the shamelessly driving nature of the chorus. Taking us through such a diverse range of sounds, in such a short space of time, really makes for an incredible sequence. But wonderfully for us, with the emergence of tonally suspended title lyrics, colliding cross-rhythms, and a hecticness that’s greater than ever, an even more incredible, utterly anthemic finale is reached.
Album Artwork Credit: Eimhim Farrell