Release Date: November 12th 2021
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
Ronan Keating– Songs From Home (Amazon mp3/iTunes)
- Ragland Road
- Into The Mystic
- Where The Streets Have No Name
- The Voyage
- The Island
- Summer In Dublin
- Guiding Light
- No Frontiers (feat. Mary Black)
- The Blower’s Daughter
- The Parting Glass
- Set In Stone
One thing that I’ve learnt throughout the past few years of me blogging about influential artists; is that I probably instinctively know a whole lot more ‘mainstream’ music than I thought I previously did. And that’s definitely not a bad thing at all. Even at the time of 2 and a half years ago when Jon and I started this ongoing series, there were songs and artists that were around, that we heard; that pierced our soul, reminding us that God uses anyone in order to convey His message to us. Of course, we’d like it if the artist were a Christian; but God isn’t in the business of using perfect people, as evidenced by the flawed heroes in the Bible; and thus, I guess it shouldn’t come to any surprise that perhaps over the years, the most impactful and inspiring songs I’ve heard, that I believe God has used, are songs that aren’t of a ‘Christian’ nature, and are songs that are more in the mainstream. Throughout the years, there have been many songs that have inspired me and have encouraged me to keep one foot in front of the other. Songs like “You Raise Me Up” (Josh Groban), “Head Above Water” (Avril Lavigne), “Nobody” (Selena Gomez), “What About Now” (Daughtry), “Where The Streets Have No Name” (U2), “Warrior” (Demi Lovato), Believe Again (Delta Goodrem), “Crazy” (SEAL), “I Wish” (Rascal Flatts), “Little Me” (Little Mix), “Alive” (Dami Im), “All For One” (Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart & Sting), “Limitless” (Jennifer Lopez), “Beautiful” (Christina Aguilera), “Out Of The Woods” (Taylor Swift), “What About Us” (PINK), “Run” (Snow Patrol), “Footprints In The Sand” (Leona Lewis), and “Halo” (Beyonce); have all touched me immensely over the past 2-3 years, and has reminded me of God’s power to change the world and to change a life- within any type of song. And as I’m more attune and aware to how God uses ‘mainstream’ music to draw people to Him, and to remind us that music that isn’t inherently ‘Christian’ in nature, isn’t necessarily ‘bad’; another album released this past few weeks, that has reminded me that God is moving, that God is working, that God will continue to flip the meaning of ‘inspirational music’ on its head and continue to redefine it to how He sees fit. Songs From Home, from Irish pop artist Ronan Keating, is one of the most calming, soothing, vulnerable, personal and emotive albums I’ve heard in 2021- and before I hear some readers groan and complain that Ronan’s album doesn’t sing about Jesus, and thus doesn’t sing about the eternal hope of salvation; can I just say that we ought to give something the benefit of the doubt before we write it off completely? Can I also just say that an album like this can move someone towards Jesus, and that should be ok?
The last couple of years have been tough on us all as many have been separated from family and home. During that time, music became even more important to remind us of the special connection that we each have with our hometowns and countries. The songs on this album helped shape me as I grew up in Ireland and then as I’ve travelled around the world. They may be songs from my home, Ireland but they are really songs for everyone and wherever home might be for them.
I won’t dive into the particulars of Ronan Keating and his history and how he came into being part of one of the most respected and popular boy bands of the 90’s (BoyZone); for that I’ll leave it to Jon in his blog about Ronan which he wrote in 2019, as well as Jon’s review of Ronan’s 2020 album Twenty Twenty. If you want to know more about Ronan, read those two posts and then carry on. But what I will say is this- that Ronan’s contemplative, reflective, sometimes sombre, sometimes introspective, and all-the-time uplifting music; is music indeed for the soul. There may not be mention of Jesus, but Ronan does ask the deep questions in life- as he has done in his career with songs like “Life Is A Rollercoaster”, “She Believes (In Me)”, “The Long Goodbye”, “Lost For Words”, “When You Say Nothing At All”, “If Tomorrow Never Comes”, “Fires”, “Wasted Light” and “This Is Your Song”, to name a few. Specifically on Songs From Home, Ronan sings a few originals, and then handpicks songs about his hometown, and songs that mean something special to him, as we all gravitate to nostalgia and sentimentality during the unpredictability of COVID-19. The result is a well thought-out and superbly sung collection of songs that minister to our spirit and remind us all that we’re not alone, that with friends, family and God beside us, we can really accomplish anything we set our minds to. Album opener “Ragland Road”, a famous Irish folk song by The Dubliners, is exquisitely recorded here by Ronan, as he earnestly recounts to us a story about the persona diving head first into a relationship he knows is doomed to end badly, yet he embarks on it anyway. A melody that is in fact a warning to us to really know what we are in for when we pledge our love and commitment to someone; this modern Irish hymn, complete with bagpipes and wind instruments, is a stirring and emotive opener, and reminds us that sometimes our heart longs for something that our head disagrees with- and it is in this tension and dichotomy where we feel truly alive and truly human. “Into The Mystic”, originally recorded by Van Morrison, is a lyrically vague and nebulous melody, that could be about any Eastern or New-Age religion; and with this melody leaning heavily into topics about the spiritual realm, this song is a perfect segue into a healthy discussion at the dinner table of what it truly means to be spiritual, and how God and Jesus enter into that equation.
The rest of the songs on Songs From Home continue to speak to our soul, with each bringing forth something different yet equally profound about the human experience. “Where The Streets Have No Name”, one of U2’s most popular songs ever, is stripped down to an acoustic ballad, and speaks about longing for heaven and spending eternity with Jesus, with Ronan emphatically and ardently relaying to us that ‘…where the streets have no name, where the streets have no name, we’re still building and burning down love, burning down love, and when I go there, I go there with you, it’s all I can do…’; while “The Voyage” is another well known Irish hymn, originally by Christy Moore, and compares the journey of marriage between two people, to be similar to the ever continuous voyage out to sea between a captain, his first mate, and the crew. “The Island”, by Paul Brady, is another emotional and hard-hitting melody, where Ronan sings this song to perfection, as the political and somewhat controversial track speaks about the horrors of all of the terrible things happening in this world and then later on speaks about how ‘…this wasn’t meant to be no sad song, we’ve heard too much of that before, right now I only want to be here with you, till the morning dew comes falling…’; while “Summer In Dublin” is a patriotic Irish song by Bagatelle, and a track that reminds us to always be thankful and grateful for where you grew up, and to always grow where you’re planted, and to create a home somewhere where you can stay grounded and rooted in your identity in Christ.
I originally thought that “Guiding Light” was a song by Mumford And Sons, and though Ronan would have created a brilliant cover of that song, this melody is instead originally by Foy Vance and Ed Sheeran. It’s one of the most vulnerable, honest and powerful songs on this album, as Ronan creates an almost worshipful experience, with the melody speaking about someone nameless (maybe God?) being the persona’s guiding light; and as Ronan eloquently and emotionally cries out that ‘…well the air is cold, and yonder lies my sleeping soul, by the branches, broke like bones, this weakened tree no longer holds, well, the night is still, and I have not yet lost my will, oh, and I will keep on moving ’till, until I find my way home, when I need to get home, you’re my guiding light, you’re my guiding light…’, we are ushered into a beautiful moment of surrender and submission into Someone greater than ourselves. “No Frontiers” is another beautiful melody- this time with a ton of imagery, as Ronan and Mary Black sing one of Mary’s songs from the 80’s. With the track speaking about the inner beauty of someone whom the persona values very much; Ronan passionately declares that somehow this person lights up the room and brightens even the darkest soul, that the person is truly heaven personified. “The Blower’s Daughter” by Damien Rice, is a passionate and intense account of Damien’s telephone love affair with a woman whom he later found out was only a 16 year old teenager- and Ronan vibrantly and skilfully makes this cover his own; while “The Parting Glass” is a Scottish traditional song. With Ronan singing with such enthusiasm and excitement, this song tugs at my soul and at my emotions. With Ronan delivering a ‘parting’ word of sorts, this melody is a fitting way to be at the back end of the album; as he covertly and gently alludes to the theme of us all holding the album to our souls very deeply and us all hopefully gaining peace, joy, comfort and healing from these songs present.
“Heyday”, originally by Mic Christopher, is a moving, heartfelt and stirring melody, as the acoustic guitar led track speaks about taking risks and living in the moment- living life as if it is your own time to do something that will make a difference in this world. And as Ronan passionately cries out that ‘…this is our heyday baby, and we’re not gonna be afraid to shout, ’cause we can make our heyday last forever, and ain’t that what it’s all about, oh living, in our own terrible way…’; we are presented with a track that can and should be an anthem for many- yesterday has passed and tomorrow isn’t promised, and as such we should live each day as if it is our last, and each day as if we will step out in faith, be brave and show the world what we’re made of. Songs From Home ends with the most personal song on the album. “Set In Stone” describes Ronan’s love for his wife Storm, and speaks about how their love is built upon ‘stone’ and a foundation that lasts, that ‘…we didn’t give up, even with doubt, climbing over walls that we built, we don’t have to tear them down, love is a home, these walls keep us warm, even in the eye of the storm, I know we’re unbreakable, love set in stone…’.
Ronan Keating isn’t the most popular artist these days. He had his heyday (no pun intended!) back in the 2000’s, but this album reminds us that a good artist is a good artist is a good artist. And sometimes that experience translates into something special and timeless- of which I believe Songs From Home will be both now and into the future. And as Ronan passionately and beautifully pays homage and a tribute to his home and the concept of having a home, we are presented with an album that speaks about identity and love and being with the people who treasure you the most. This album, dare I say it, is one of the most important of 2021 (even though I’m not Irish!), and if this fact disturbs the religious person in you, that claims that songs need to be explicitly about Jesus to be worth listening to; then let me say that God… can use anything He wants to bring us all closer to Him. And so with that, let us marvel at how Ronan Keating is such a brilliant and inspiring entertainer, performer, singer and songwriter- and an artist that can transform a cover into his own song. This album surely brings this fact to the fore. Well done Ronan, I can’t wait to hear what God has in store for you in the future!
3 songs to listen to: Where The Streets Have No Name, Guiding Light, Set In Stone
RIYL: Bryan Adams, Robbie Williams, Westlife, Guy Sebastian, Kylie Minogue, Delta Goodrem, Rod Stewart