Album review: Cian Nugent lets voice be heard with ‘Night Fiction’

The phrase “Night Fiction” seems like a cool little way of describing a dream. Short and slick. Is that what Cian Nugent was referring too when he was naming his third album? If not, it certainly seems to encapsulate the floating, heady feeling of those nighttime stories in your head.

Nugent is a maestro guitar fingerpicker out of Dublin, Ireland, who has always let his fingers do the singing. His previous two albums have consisted of strictly instrumental tracks that dabble in the delicate space between droning dervishes and acutely orchestrated pieces, his impressive picking always at the forefront. His work in other projects tows a similar line, such as when he is blazing a cosmic path with fellow picker Steve Gunn and drummer John Truscinski in Desert Heat. But “Night Fiction” is the first time we hear Nugent use his voice to channel his emotions in addition to his guitar playing and the results show he could make a full-blown transition to singer-songwriter if he wanted.

Cian Nugent Night FictionThough the album is credited to Cian Nugent alone, he is surrounded by a lovely quartet of fellow Irish players, The Cosmos, consisting of Ailbhe Nic Oireachtaigh on viola, drummer David Lacey, bassist Conor Lumsden, and keyboardist Brendan Jenkinson. They give the album a little buzz of liveliness to go along with Nugent’s dreamy guitar. “Burned out on the way you live, when you open your eyes. … Don’t you get tired of being so in between/ Where you’re headed and where you’ve been,” Nugent sings in his lofty accent on the opening “Lost Your Way” as the song drifts along to Nugent’s guitar and Oireachtaigh’s viola in folk-rock splendor.

The Cosmos have been playing with Nugent for a couple years now and Nugent’s shift to a more singer-songwriter approach with a verse-chorus structure is also a shift for the band, though one taken in stride. It surrounds Nugent’s playing in a wave of sound in the uplifting “First Run” and a subtly drags “Things Don’t Change That Fast” with a soft, caring hand.

Nugent is not without its flashes of familiar brilliance from his guitar that was featured on previous albums. The instrumental “Lucy” settles into a cozy acoustic path that Nugent wanders alone with curiosity. Much of the album wallows in woozy compositions and “Lucy” provides a tender jolt of clarity as you flow from the first part of the album to the second. Nugent and The Cosmos settle into the 11-minute epic “Year of the Snake” with a three-minute soundscape of humming guitar, organ and viola that catches the ear like the first hues of light in the morning catches the eye. The group slowly begins to warm-up behind Nugent’s fuzzy guitar and and as the band starts to glow, Nugent’s passionate singing joins elevates the song to its sprawling conclusion.

Drawing in his more eccentric musical tendencies and focusing on his songwriting, Nugent pushed himself to come up with a different sound that was still rooted in his essence. He succeeded with “Night Fiction” and the result is as pleasant as waking up from a deep sleep.

  • Cian Nugent
    “Night Fiction”
    Release: Jan. 29, 2016
    Notable Tracks: “Lost Your Way” “Lucy” “Year of the Snake”

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