A Growing Season is a breathtaking debut album by Seamus McMahon. Released in June 2020, it’s a true solo effort in which McMahon wrote, sang, and played all the instruments on every song. The project name, “Marjorie,” is the name of McMahon’s grandmother who owned the house in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts, where he wrote and recorded the album.
McMahon intended the title to evoke summer in the rural community where he made the music. But it really could have been called “A Grown Season.” These songs bristle with a maturity and perspective that comes from having gone through some stuff rather than the uncertainty pervading one who is just in the process of “growing.”
Sonically, and lyrically to some extent, A Growing Season reminds me of one of my favorite albums Gladsome, Humour & Blues by Martin Stephenson and The Daintees. And going back even further, Seals and Crofts. That sense of musical lightness in both voice and instrumentation has come to be associated with a soft summer breeze bringing just a sense of warmth on an otherwise cool early evening.
A Growing Season, though, doesn’t rest on achieving the attended vibe and letting a little melancholy hang in that breeze. The guitar work impressively serves the songs well. The electric piano and vibes are loving and tasteful. The vocal approach is perfect. It’s the lyrics, though, that make this so good. Not in the triumphant, revelatory sense. But just in the “yeah, I been there, I get it” – or at least I wish I did – sense.
I hesitate to start writing about the songs from the beginning because A Growing Season, much as a love this album, it starts with an instrumental, “Idyll,” that includes some breezy nature sounds along with acoustic guitar. There’s another instrumental where side 2 would start if this were vinyl and another at the end. I understand that McMahon has said that he sees the instrumentals as letting listeners get into his headspace. Maybe they just aren’t my cup of tea. But to my ears, they detract from the story the eight songs with lyrics tell about where the song-writer’s head is at.
“Goin’ Low,” the album’s second track, is a wonderfully lyrically layered heartbreak song about a guy whose baby planted herself deeply in him and then took off. He “went low as [he] could go.” “Sleeping all day and drinking all night,” he realizes a change of direction is needed. And he heads for the cross roads ready to make a deal. It won’t be easy, “but you gotta start somewhere” and now he knows he “ain’t afraid to fall.” This guy can write lyrics. And the string squeaks and clicks along with the “do-do-dos” provide a coda fitting the song perfectly. Nothing is forced, and he’s just getting started.
“Ain’t a Care” is where the singer ends up when he gets back from the crossroads. He’s “come up short and paid the price.” But lately, well, he’s come to terms. “As long [he’s] livin’, [he’s] livin’ loud.” And what passes for “loud” is something a little different than what most people think. But we get it, and that’s what matters. MaMahan thinks of this album as simple – apparently, he has some serious jazz chops. The little electric piano fills here, though, strike this rock and rollr as anything but simple. Tasty, maybe.
“Doo Wop (A Ballad)” is a Willie-and-the-Poor-Boys number worthy of that comparison. It’s another back from the crossroads take. “Cherish what you have, because you never know.” My nickel is in.
“Josh’s Song,” perhaps my favorite on the album, is just a touch harder-edged. It’s a memory song about a friendship that was like a song “with thousands of rhymes” that they sang “hundreds of times” from back in the day. And he still wonders if he’ll ever hear it finished. “Waitin’ on the Thunder” would have been a great title for the album.
“95” is a breezy driving song. Another of my favorites that captures the wonder of highway driving with music playing. “But I’d rather keep driving” is another killer line delivered with just the right wait-for-it pause amidst lyrics that capture well the thoughts that run through your mind on the highway as the sun sets and the moon rises — “and all I think about is you.” The codas on so many of these songs are luscious and this one is no exception. The electric piano is somehow the sound of the road.
“Me & Mary” uses vibes to great effect. It’s another break up song focusing on looking back at the effects and how they linger. “It’s the blues baby, I think it’s going around” would be another great album title. McMahon likes to use mysterious song titles, making you listen to get the killer lines. I get it. But he may want to consider that listeners are not privy to the information that makes these titles meaningful. When you have all the great choices he’s created, picking one that most listeners won’t get may make it harder to get people to listen.
“Mind of Grey” is the most up-tempo song on the album. Great guitar intro. Great baseline transitions. Another great line about how the company of another can save us even when we don’t have anything in common. “Put on your dancing shoes and sing the blues.”
“Rollin’ On” seems like it’s going to be a cliché ending to the album – at least the lyric songs on the album – but like the rest it avoids the expected. We don’t do it alone. But with the help and the challenges of others, we keep on. McMahon is wise beyond his years. And he makes a splash with his first album. I’m looking forward to what’s next.