Arlo McKinley (Oh Boy! Records) is set to release his third album, This Mess We’re In on July 15, 2022. Recorded at Sam Phillips Recording Service in Memphis, Tennessee, This Mess We’re In was produced, engineered and mixed by Matt Ross-Spang and mastered by Pete Lyman (Infrasonic Mastering). In addition to McKinley on lead vocals and acoustic guitar on all tracks, This Mess We’re In features an all-star lineup of musicians including: Dave Smith (Bass), Ken Coomer (Drums/Percussion), Rick Steff (Piano/Organ/Mellotron/Wurlitzer), Matt Ross-Spang (Acoustic Guitar/ Electric Guitar/ 12 String/Baritone Guitar/ Mellotron), Will Sexton (Electric Guitar/ Baritone Guitar), Jessie Munson (Fiddle), Reba Russell (Background Vocals) and Logan Halstead(Vocals on “Back Home”).
There is good reason that Arlo McKinley holds the distinction of being the last artist signed to Oh Boy Records by John Prine himself, and that is he is one of the greatest voices to come out of the Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Virginia region in the last decade or more. I have been listening to McKinley since before his debut self-titled album was released and have spent the last several years seeing him perform in front of steadily growing crowds. As good as his self-titled album and his follow-up Die Midwestern are, This Mess We’re In tops both and is McKinley’s most well-rounded release to date. I am going to go out on a limb and say it is going to be 2022’s best release/album of the year.
This Mess We’re In opens with “I Don’t Mind” which sets the tone for the whole album. “I guarantee that I’m as high right now as you were once, and I don’t mind…anymore. And goodbye never is the easy part, I never thought that I would be someone that would break your heart, but I don’t mind.” “I Don’t Mind” reminds listeners why “Arlo Made Me Cry” shirts are a top seller for McKinley’s merch while reaffirming that McKinley is one of the greatest voices in music today as well as a lyrical genius.
Other highlights (there are eleven total) on This Mess We’re In include a couple of songs that I am sure will provide the soundtrack for a lot of first dances once the album is released. The title track, “This Mess We’re In” and “Where You Want Me” are both love songs for the ages. I caught Arlo live this past April and got to hear three songs off This Mess We’re In. Before they finished playing “Where You Want Me” my wife informed me it was ‘our new song’. I am sure we won’t be the only couple with a new song come July 15th.
My favorite lines of lyrics come at the intro to “Rushintherug,” “I’m scared to death I’ll always be
what I’ve always been. I thought by now that I’d be used to it.” Hearing McKinley vocalize that line the first time I listened to “Rushintherug” left me chilled to the bone and wanting more. Every one of the eleven tracks on This Mess We’re In has that potential.
“Here’s to the Dying” closes out This Mess We’re In, a song documenting the significant amount of loss in McKinley’s life during the period leading into the recording of This Mess We’re In. McKinley lost both his mother and his best friend (among others) during this period. “Here’s to the dying, here’s to the hurt, here’s to the crying, as we’re returned to dirt,” McKInley pines as only he can, “If you don’t mind, won’t you reach down your hand. Cause it’s getting so hard, without you to stand.” If you have ever lost anyone, then this one is definitely going to resonate.
This Mess We’re In is McKinley’s most finished and polished album to date. While missing some of the rawness that his self-titled debut and Die Midwestern possessed, This Mess We’re In is definitely McKinley’s most complete album to date. I say this because my first time listening to both of McKinley’s previous releases, there were songs on each that jumped out at me and grabbed me in ways that others didn’t, songs that rose above others. The eleven tracks on This Mess We’re In stand on equal footing with each other, raising the bar of my expectations for McKinley’s future release. This Mess We’re In represents a kinder, gentler side of Arlo, while still being the most complete album McKinley has released. If you don’t have This Mess We’re In already on pre-order, you are definitely going to want to grab your copy as soon as it releases on July 15th. This Mess We’re In is available for pre-order on all platforms as well as direct from McKinley’s web site (https://www.arlomckinley.com/) and Oh Boy! Records (https://ohboy.com/collections/arlo-mckinley).