Kevin McCluskey

Waterboat Music, 2001

REVIEW BY: George Agnos


Will the public ever regain an admiration for singer/songwriters? When will the song, not the performer's look or attitude, but the actual song, ever become important again? Unfortunately, I can't answer this question. However, in the meantime, there are a lot of talented songwriters toiling anonymously, not for the fame, but for the sheer love of music.

One example of this is the Boston-based singer/songwriter Kevin McCluskey. McCluskey, a Berklee College of Music professor, has recently put out a new CD called Trust. Does he expect to make any money off of it? Well, no. He is actually not going to make a dime off of it; the profits of his CD are going to the Sierra Club and other non-profit groups.

The CD starts off strongly with the slow, but powerful "Down The Line". This is a soul-searching tune that tries to answer the question posed in the opening lines "What's a Man?/What's he worth?". The mood is perfectly set with McCluskey's minor key acoustic guitar, and an a ominous bass solo by Michael Rivard.

I am a little disappointed that McCluskey did not build upon this theme, although the song "Only Time Will Tell" does return to it in the form of satire. Instead, my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Trust displays a lot of moods and different musical expressions. This is not surprising to me because by looking at the copyright dates of the songs, I assume they were written years apart. If the rest of Trust is not quite as powerful as the opening song, there is still plenty to like about this CD.

For example, "To The Sun" and "Fly Me Away" are solid love songs. McCluskey has a good sense of melody. He gives these songs and others on Trust the kind of melodies that stick in your head. On the other hand, these melodies can also make the songs seem deceptively simple. "News From Home" sounds like it could be a commercial jingle for life insurance, until the listener realizes this is a song about two estranged brothers getting together after a long absence.

The arrangements are very well done. Many of the songs are backed by piano and/or acoustic guitar, and for extra seasoning, the violin and dobro (in a humorous turn, McCluskey mispronounces "dobro" and name checks the player, David Hamburger). Trust also puts the Burns Sisters, as well as a vocal group called The Swinging Steaks, to good use on backup vocals.

The last three songs show Trust taking some unexpected turns. After the first song, the CD pretty much plays along pleasantly, comfortable like a pair of old sneakers, when suddenly we hit a bump in the road with "In The Valley". This song has a bit of sonic bite thanks to a funky, electric guitar part that dominates what would have otherwise been another melodic, midtempo song.

However, that is nothing compared to the last two cuts. McCluskey has been compared to artists ranging from Bruce Springsteen to Nick Lowe. One artist he is compared with is Warren Zevon. I definitely hear this influence on the song "Brain Damage", where he is right on the money in capturing Zevon's quirky brand of rock. If Mr. Zevon ever hears this song, I would suspect that he wished he had written it.

The final song, "Trouble", is indeed a curiousity. McCluskey displays an ability to mine an early Tom Waits tongue in cheek, stream of consciousness style of jazz. This cut takes a little while to get used to, and you are either going to eventually find this charming or annoying. Personally, I found it charming. There's also some nice work here from Dave Limina on the B3 organ.

All in all, Trust is a solid, enjoyable folk-rock album, and I recommend it. However, if your local record store does not carry Trust, you can find it at Borders Books, Newbury Comics (if you are in the New England area), or visit the label's website at the link below.

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2001 George Agnos and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Waterboat Music, and is used for informational purposes only.