REVIEW: Mickelson “Known To Be Unknown”


Mickelson – Known To Be Unknown

Politically charged, sophisticated with anxious energy Mickelson is a brave folk-based LP that comes from an entirely different direction. Its sharpened spears are subtle, but a closer listen reveals that this isn’t your grandfather’s Pete Seeger or Joan Baez songbook.

Cleverly written with a little acid in its mix there’s ample vinegar. Some powerful images were drawn up dark around the sweetness of a friendly plucked banjo (“A Murder of Crows”). Mickelson has a good storytelling voice with little contempt.

Not as gruff as Barry McGuire (“Eve of Destruction”) but equally strong & traversing the other side of the American street. Mickelson has taken America he knows to heart – the country based on science & the country living on misinformation.

Known To Be Unknown (Drops April 15–Independent) are 9-unafraid songs produced & performed by Scott Mickelson with Frank Reina (drums), Sadie Mickelson (cello), Luke Kirley (trombone/tuba) & Cayce Carnahan (trumpet).

“UNarmed American,” is a doozy of a song. Up there with Steppenwolf songs like the classic “Monster.” Provocative. Lots here in its musical simplicity to point accusing fingers but the artist does it with diplomacy & never mentions names. These songs could’ve easily been written & sung by Simon & Garfunkel with tweaks to make them more radio-friendly 60s — but they’re not. They’re here, now & by Mickelson. This record won’t cause anyone to recall Bruce Springsteen or Neil Young.

“Ithaca,” boasts a fiery harmonica coda that concludes with the excellent lyrics that deal with an encounter in the liberal town where a comment ignited an unpleasant response. An impressive performance – heavy in its gentle flight like an eagle’s cruise across the sky. The voice is perfect for this kind of song. Though at times the words seem too rhymey, Mickelson uses words that are seldom used in rhyming schemes, so they become effective.

There’s a conservative curve to the wordsmith but because there’s no aggression in the message it’s more of a lesson in logic without anger being expressed as sensibly as possible. Interludes come with well-handled instrumentals (“Chicago Transit Authority”). Ingenious flavor mixing of banjo & horns, delectable piano & harmonica. Jazzy drums keep everything tight. There’s a hint of vocal-styling & approach the mindful of Steve Swindells’ 1980 aggressive songs on his solo LP “Fresh Blood.”

S Mickelson

The CD went by too fast. Good solid messages are delivered cleverly & with just enough twist of the blade. In some respects, the final track — an acoustic version of “UNarmed American,” feels stronger than the earlier cut. The banjo’s so benevolent but the words have such a vice tight grip. Not to be taken lightly. B&W image courtesy of Mickelson’s website.

The CD available @ Bandcamp + http://www.mickelsonmusic.com/

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