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18 for ’18: Junior Brother

Junior Brother

We continue 18 for ’18, our feature of showcasing eighteen Irish acts we’re convinced are going places in 2018. Throughout January we’re going to be previewing each of those acts, accompanied by words from our writers and an original photograph from one of our photographers. Next up is Junior Brother.

Photo by Sarah Ryan

Having played Whelan’s Ones to Watch festival the last two years running and given his recent move to Dublin, Ronan Kealy is set to make 2018 his year.

The Kerry native, who goes by the stage name Junior Brother, followed up his debut EP Sleeping at the Bottom of the Sea with Fuck Off I Love You last year. The five-track EP is full of honest, experimental folk tunes with the acoustic guitar as their heart. Methodical taps of a tambourine give the singer-songwriter’s sound a slight edge, alluding to influences of Irish trad music, something Kealy’s sound is steeped in.

His latest single ‘Hungover At Mass,’ is one of his most humorous and quintessentially Irish efforts. Recorded in Ailfionn Studios with Christopher Barry (Myles Manley, Ye Vagabonds), it details the struggle of being…well, hungover at Sunday morning mass. Lines like “I made it through the river, of old people’s knees/Now half the church is looking, directly at me,” will spring eerie familiarity in the mind of anyone born and reared in rural Ireland.

Beneath the banter, there’s a darker side to Kealy, who cites the likes of Slint, John Martyn and Joanna Newsom as key influences. ‘Witches Willow’ is a haunting, graceful folk tune while ‘You Make a Fine Picture’ cuts deep: “I asked you then would you be my wife/The echo of your ‘no’ will chase me to the clouds.” Junior Brother’s cover of ‘O Holy Night’ also featured on A Co-Present Christmas, a 15-track compilation of Christmas songs which was released earlier this month in aid of Pieta House.

It’s easy to imagine Junior Brother lamenting away in the corner of the local, but his clever lyricism and authentic folk is sure to see him playing to a much wider and captivated audience in 2018. Nicole Glennon