Michael McDermott – What In the World
Well, any artist tagged the “new” Dylan will become a PR nightmare. It’s a shame this happened to Michael McDermott. However, having been in major market PR I see where the holes were. The bottom line: after all the brouhaha when Michael landed, he was left high & dry despite accolades. It doesn’t surprise me. Many incredible artists become sideshows or reign over their dedicated fan base as “best-kept secrets” in music despite greatness. Michael’s not alone.
Dirk Hamilton, the late Robert Hazard, blues singer Karen Lawrence, Jackie Leven, Clive Gregson, Heather Mullen, Alfie Zappacosta, William Topley – all masterful & relatively unknown.
Good isn’t good enough. Musicians treat their expressive music personally. What is it really? Product. It has a limited dollar shelf life. It’s all supermarket in theory. Nothing more. It has little to do with being a great writer, singer, musician, original, creative, or dynamic.
“What In the World” is a great rocker. Follows a Dylan lineage in delivery. McDermott has Bon Jovi enthusiasm. The song smokes. The problem? He starts to lay out clever creative political lines. Pokes fairly at both sides of the aisle. But when he sings “…climate change deniers…” “the President’s a criminal…” — he’s in the territory of alienating an audience. You never want to do that. It hurt Neil Young & he had credibility. Don’t like the President? Fine but “criminal?” Prove it. Itemize it. Climate change deniers? Prove it. I’m all for this theory but show me proof. I’ve seen bad things, but I witnessed the earth heal itself too.
Don’t alienate a potential audience. Their pocketbooks are deep too. Keep it a little vague.
Since his critically-acclaimed 1991 debut, Michael’s been about. Now with the 11-track Michael McDermott – What In the World (drops June 5 – Pauper Sky), he tosses a few to see what sticks. “New York, Texas,” & “Positively Central Park,” are solid ballads with no posturing. When McDermott rode the crest, he should’ve had the advice to write a controversial song. Not a political song. Controversial. Something challenging to draw attention, so he’d get ink i.e. Randy Newman scored with “Short People,” career-boosted.
The musicians are wonderful: Michael (guitars/bass/piano/keys), Heather Lynne Horton (fiddle), Matt Thompson & Lex Price (bass), Grant Tye (guitars), Will Kimbrough (guitars/banjo), John Deaderick (piano/organ/keys), Steven Gillis & Fred Eltringham (drums), & Rich Parenti (saxes).
Though sung with Springsteen tone “The Veils of Veronica,” is beautiful. What he needs is a “Born To Run,” “Like a Rolling Stone,” or “Hallelujah.” It’s not there yet. “Die With Me,” is substantive. No Springsteen/Bon Jovi nods. Warm, poignant, solid. He continues with the brass-led “Contender.”
The excellent “Mother Emanuel,” (vocals by Parenti) & “No Matter What,” have melodic drive like John Wesley Harding-Joe Henry-Peter Himmelman. The world has many great songwriters. I like Mike. He has good material; a great showcase & paid his dues – let him play.
The 56-minute LP was produced by Mike. Available at: https://michael-mcdermott.com/