Michael McDermott – What In The World…: Album Review

What In The World is the latest offering on the state of the world by Michael McDermott.

Release Date: 12th June 2020

Label: Pauper Sky Records

Formats: CD / DL

You may be familiar with Michael McDermott.  The Chicago singer-songwriter has been around a long time, since around 1990 in fact, and in that time, he’s been hailed as the next big thing, cast roughly aside, sunk to unimaginable depths of alcohol and substance dependency, served jail time and released eleven albums of observational, confessional and always honest songs. 

What In The World is his latest offering and it is riddled and splattered with the remnants of his life experiences. Packed with observations on the state of the world and his US home in particular, it ultimately, oozes with the confidence of a better, stable future for all.

Stephen King (no less) is a big fan and has referred to Michael as “possibly the greatest undiscovered rock and roll talent of the past 20 years.”  Other commentators have identified Michael as ‘the next Dylan’ and ‘the next Springsteen.’  I’m not sure whether such superlatives are appropriate or not, but What In The World does provide incontrovertible evidence of a great rock and roll talent.

One who has very visibly absorbed the positive influences of not just Dylan and Springsteen but also the musicianship and lyricism of Richard Thompson and the Celtic phrasing and delivery of U2 and The Waterboys, yet through it all, has remained true to his unique self.

What In The World is my kind of album.  Equally rocky and reflective, it’s musicianship shines throughout but it is the lyrics that provide the killer punch.  As well as the copious references to aspects of his tempestuous life, Michael also demonstrates his great talent for storytelling, most notably on Blue-Eyed Barmaid, a role-reversal tale in which, instead of the usual situation of the barmaid listening to the ramblings of a slumped drunkard, the barmaid regales her reformed and sober customer with a list of her own troubles. 

The rocky numbers, notably the title track, Contender and Mother Emmanuel are crisp, tight and strong and are crammed with words. However, in my own opinion, it is on the more acoustic numbers – the aforementioned Blue Eyed Barmaid, No Matter What and Until I Found You where Michael’s lyrics can be enjoyed to optimum effect.

The title track is the album’s opener, and it’s a cracker.  A loud rocker with some country undertones, it is a rambling observation of many aspects of modern USA life.  It pulls no punches in its assault on redneck culture, white trash, neo-nazism and particularly Trump – his wall building aspirations, treatment of refugee children and financial juggling all command column space and the message is put over in as strutting, cocksure a way as possible.  Incidentally, the song is reprised in acoustic form as the album’s final track and on this acoustic version, the message is, if anything, even clearer!

Confession is the order of the day in two of the album’s other standout tracks.  Contender is a bawdy, sax-driven rocker with Celtic flavourings, in which Michael reflects upon his own missed opportunities and concludes that he could, indeed, have been a contender.  The beautifully arranged acoustic No Matter What is a song about survival in which Michael makes repeated references back to his boozy and druggy days. The song is littered with phrases such as “I was still drinking then” and “Never felt at ease, never felt my age” but ultimately is a song of celebration of having come through the hard years and out the other side.

Alongside Blue Eyed Barmaid, my favourite track is probably the enigmatic The Veils Of Veronica.  Close your eyes, and this majestic song could easily have slipped from the pen and guitar of Richard Thompson at his very best.  The song tells the story of a mysterious lady, intent on withdrawing from the world, and is laced with tasteful twangy guitar work and abundant string bending.  Marvellous!

The album is produced with a clear awareness of the importance of Michael’s lyrics and they come over clearly throughout.  The band are highly competent but never intrusive, although the shuffling drum line on Blue Eyed Barmaid, the sax part on Contender, the fluent bass line on Mother Emmanuel and the violin contribution to Until I Found You are all worthy of a special mention.  What In The World is a highly enjoyable album, well worth a listen. 

Listen to the album’s title track here:

Michael McDermott online: Website / Facebook / Twitter / YouTube

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