Rarely has an album title seemed so fitting. And rarely has its creator been so unflinchingly honest.
At the risk of wondering into cliché Confessional feels like more than album. It’s an artist baring their soul, wiping the slate clean, laying all of their cards on the table and starting again.
It is difficult to believe that Janet Devlin is only 25 years old, but to say that she has ‘lived a life’ would be a spectacular understatement. An appearance on X-Factor at 16 brought her into millions of living rooms but this wasn’t your typical fairy-tale story. What followed were years of struggles with mental health issues, loneliness and alcohol abuse. All detailed in a searingly honest video posted on her YouTube channel back in March. Thankfully however, our story doesn’t end there.
Released in conjunction with her autobiography My Confessional, Confessional finds Devlin in reflective but defiant mood. The album is her owning her past and embracing her future, no subject proves off limits and there is no obstacle that cannot be overcome.
“Rarely has an album title seemed so fitting. And rarely has its creator been so unflinchingly honest.”
The opening and title track is the perfect introduction into the world of Janet Devlin. There’s a distinct Irish Folk flavour, stomping drums and a defiantly earnest vocal to go along with it. The song serves as both a statement of intent and a rallying cry. But most of all it makes you want to keep listening.
One of the real features of the album is that Devlin’s vocal sounds quite remarkable when accompanied by tinkling piano riffs and melodies. Something about the piano seems to bring out the best in the Northern Irish songstress and it’s a quality that shines through again and again. Throw in some strings for good measure and you’ve got yourself an album of the year contender folks. So Cold is mesmerising, Saint Of The Sinners is as smooth and rich as your favourite chocolate cake, while the skipping and twinkling Cinema Screen finds out heroine channelling her inner Florence Welch.
Watch the video for Saint of the Sinners:
Each track flows effortlessly into the next, while remaining distinctive and memorable in its own way. The album has a great ebb and flow, something which is less important in the streaming era, but still important to the more traditionalist souls amongst us.
The pace slows to a crawl for Speak before the rousing yet dark Honest Man takes over. One of the major highlights of this record, is Devlin’s song writing and that hits home hard here. She writes with a maturity beyond her years and isn’t afraid to explore the darker elements of her psyche singing “Where has all my happiness gone? It disappeared the moment I sang your song.” In reference to her appearance on the X Factor where she sang Elton John’s Your Song for her audition.
Watch the video for Honest Men:
Love Song is more of the same, if more solid than spectacular but bounce of Big Wide World quickly injects a shot of energy and fleet footed positivity. The first half of the album is undoubtedly the stronger, although there are still gems to be found late on such as the easy going Sweet Sacred Friend and Holy Water. A song so Irish in texture that it immediately transports you to the packed pubs and bars of the Emerald Isle.
Confessional may not be quite perfect, but even its lesser moments such as Love Song and Away With The Fairies, are still enjoyable. It is more that the quality of the rest of the album is so high, rather than the quality of those songs being particularly low. It is not too much of a leap to suggest that this album is easily the best work of Devlin’s career. The musical marriage of her distinctive vocal style, and ‘heart on her sleeve’ song writing with the rich and elegant production of Jonathan Quarmby is a match made in heaven.
After years of searching Confessional feels like Devlin has found her groove. The perfect comfy spot on the sofa. The key to making the perfect cup of tea. It’s an album that embraces past struggles and disappointments but uses them to defiantly move forwards. Devlin has spoken at length about how she feels that music has saved her life, and that is evident in spades here. She has poured her heart and soul through her pen and into this album, and the result is a record that will unquestionably stand the test of time and deserves a spot on anybody’s best of 2020 list.
Confessional is out now and is available on CD, vinyl and cassette. Signed copies and other exclusive items can be purchased through Janet Devlin’s official website.