Out From Under

Michael McDermott

Pauper Sky Records, 2018

http://www.michael-mcdermott.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/24/2018

One thing about leading the life of an addict—if you’re aware enough to notice what’s going on inside and around you, it leaves you with a lot of stories to tell.

Michael McDermott was deep in the life for 20 years—all while somehow also managing to function as a recording-and-touring singer-songwriter—before getting sober four years ago. Like many who’ve been through that particular wringer, he seems eager to unburden himself, to turn his darkest moments into redemptive art.

Out From Under, the second album McDermott has released since getting clean, delivers 11 tracks of intense Americana that ranges from retrophile roots-rock to dusty folk to soulful ballads to defiant anthems. Recorded mostly in McDermott’s home studio, with help from a half-dozen players along the way, it’s a travelogue of depravity and renewal that veers from autobiography into fiction and back again, embellishing, obscuring and occasionally even mythologizing his own past.

The album opens in deep darkness, as a character who’s had a “day from hell” enters a bar “In need of getting’ drunk again.” Things spiral from there as McDermott’s spare, spooky acoustic picking and rough-edged voice inevitably inspire comparisons to Bruce Springsteen’s my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Nebraska, especially when the last two verses roll around, taking you to the very bottom of the well that is the human soul.

Thankfully, things brighten up a bit from there, though the tone of this album only briefly wavers from stone cold serious. From a countrified tune about the working life (“Gotta Go To Work”) we delve into gritty, grooving soul (“Knocked Down”) with a nice flow and a true-to-life catch phrase: “I know a thing or two about being knocked down.” “Sad Songs” offers a clever contrast, a bright, anthemic guitar line lighting up an upbeat tune that finds McDermott declaring he’s “so tired of singing all these sad songs.” (Of course, when he declares “Let’s start a fire,” it’s hard not to think of Springsteen’s “Dancing In The Dark,” another semi-autobiographical tune about battling depression.)

“This World Will Break Your Heart” immediately offers just that—another sad song—albeit one that ends with the uplifting idea that even the saddest things in the world can be redeemed by love. And then we’re into the title track, an airy anthem of determination and resilience featuring McDermott’s wife Heather Lynne Horton on harmony vocals. Horton’s presence is also felt on the two love songs found here, the jaunty mid-tempo “Celtic Sea” and the Motown patische “Rubber Band Ring.”

“Never Goin’ Down Again”—said to be the song that sparked the rest of this album—is a steady-rocking, defiant anthem of recovery, a powerful mission statement for this album and for McDermott himself. “Sideways” then delivers a playful, chatty, expansive story-song that would have fit nicely on Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. McDermott wraps up this outing with the somber, contemplative “God Help Us,” an exploration of faith and doubt, tribulation and grace that leaves the ultimate answers up to the listener, offering only this by way of conclusion: “If it’s true, we’re going home / But in this life we’re on our own.”

Early in his career, McDermott was labeled as “one of the best songwriters in the world and possibly the greatest undiscovered rock ‘n’ roll talent of the last 20 years” by no less than Stephen King. He’s far from the first to suffer under the curse of expectations, but he does a fine job here of turning his trials into art. And if it all seems rather intensely self-aware, that’s just who McDermott is, maybe especially at this moment, an artist still working hard every day at becoming the man he wants to be.

Rating: B+

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