|Dimensions||12.5 × .10 × 12.5 cm|
Mike McCarthy – The Harrowing Account of John William Tate
by Chris Spencer
I’m not familiar with the work of McCarthy, despite him already having released 3 albums and a cdep.
However I’m going to make the big statement and describe this album as the best of this month’s bunch of cds I’ve reviewed.
But I’m going to struggle to explain why.
A lot of McCarthy’s music is downbeat, slow, and bleak.
What he does well is to vary the feel of every song, either using a different rhythm, or simple arrangements to make each song sound individual, yet at the same time retain an overall feel or ambience over the whole album.
Perhaps he’s been listening too much to Nick Drake, although on a couple of songs I’m reminded of the vocal sounds of Shane Howard, particularly on “Need You Now”.
McCarthy has been described as playing blues, folk and country soul.
He has an interesting voice without being distinctive, but he works well within his range on this recording. I had to ask for help with the lyrics, because to me McCarthy has concentrated on providing an interesting overall sound.
Spouse used some of these words to describe the album: hopeful, optimistic, angry, reflective, heartfelt, evocative, positive.
Let’s have a look at some of the songs in more detail; The leading track, “Small Remedy” is a slow, emotional song about lost love, featuring only guitar and voice with some female backing vocals towards the end.
The shortest song on the album, is among the best, “Waiting here for my Lord” clocks in at a minute 25 and is a droning, rootsy spiritual featuring mandolin or banjo.
Why are the best songs always the shortest?
The first version of “John William Tate” is a folk song written in the traditional mode: I’m not sure if it is about a sea captain or a boat!
The 2nd version, is sung in the first person, but reminds me of the work of Hans Poulsen, in its use of melody and instrumentation.
I also note there’s hardly any percussion on the album at all, mostly acoustic instruments aside the use of organ, electric guitars and distorted vocal on “Head into the Fire” which perhaps is the cornerstone of the album.
We are undecided about the focus of the song, whether it’s about descent into Hades or just losing your way.
There are some religious connotations, depending on how you interpret the lyrics.
“2 Bent Frames and a Holy Cross” is a bluesy rootsy slow number, as is “Summer&winter” continuing the use of banjo on both tracks, but the latter multitracks McCarthy’s vocals.
The downbeat, but tender, reflective “The Long Run” also discusses lost love.
“Comin’ Up” with its whistling “solo” break is about reaching out to recognise the joy of life.
Finally amid the last track is a hidden short song sung by a choir.
After listening to this album, I’m very interested in hearing McCarthy’s backlog.
Highly recommended to those of you who wish to be challenged by the music you hear; it’s not traditional folk, it’s more complex than a normal singer-songwriter album and could be even more rewarding to those of you who wish to hear the album over and over.
8 in stock (can be backordered)