The dominant theme of Brendan Staunton’s Last of the Light is the push and pull often driving interpersonal relationships. Its subject matter as old as popular song, but Staunton’s work never traffics in clichés. The album’s first track “We Don’t Talk About It” illustrates this with stark clarity. It doesn’t matter if these songs are autobiographical or not, Staunton lives the lyrics for the opener out with wrenching conviction that contrasts sharply with the lean instrumentation and restrained evolution of the arrangement. This isn’t a song for teenagers nor are any of its successors. The words will resonate with anyone who has struggled to maintain longstanding connections with others and, conveyed by Staunton’s voice, takes on the trappings of performed poetry.
Despite the digestible melodic qualities of Last of the Light, there’s a singer/songwriter influence running through each of the album’s nine tracks. “Mean to You” underlines that with Staunton’s voice reaching gripping emotional heights over the arrangement’s gentle mid-tempo pace. A light synthesizer swell fills in the track and adds under the radar color to an already excellent performance. The third song “River” ranks as one of Last of the Light’s finest tracks after listening to the album a few times and I expect it will continue to grow on me over time. I appreciate how Staunton is with every word from first line to last and the different meanings listeners can assign the track help it stand out. The musical arrangement is note perfect to my ears.
“Smiled” is another heart-rending moment on Last of the Light. Staunton further slows his customary tempo and draws out each line with phrasing dredged from his bone marrow and brimming with emotion. The characters in Staunton’s songs are invariably incurable romantics forever thwarted by their own foibles and teetering on the edge of complete heartbreak, but the tracks never left me mired in despair. He shapes each performance with such care you cannot help but listen.
“Nine Day Wonder” is another peak moment on the collection. The inspired lyric certainly captured my attention, but the synthesis of his words and the accompanying music has a seamlessness many songwriters and performers never achieve. Staunton makes it sound effortless. “A Moment” features a biting electric guitar solo during the song’s second half and the understated jazz influence shadowing the song’s sound marks the track as a rewarding departure from the earlier cuts. I noticed the spot-on bass line from the first as well.
Another departure comes with the album closer “A Girl”. I admire Staunton’s willingness to never stand pat with one approach and, instead, to broaden his scope by utilizing various sonic architecture. The presence of synthesizers in this track is never pronounced, but it plays an important role in defining the song. Brendan Staunton’s voice never sounds out of place in this aural environment. He brings the same powerful spirit to bear on the song’s lyrics that distinguish the earlier performances. Last of the Light is a bevy of delights and represents a full-throated comeback for this performer.