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Michael McDermott

Orphans – 2019 (Pauper Sky)

Reviewed by Jim Hynes

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CDs by Michael McDermott

Chicago-based Michael McDermott's vocals and songwriting style easily invite comparisons to Bruce Springsteen. His wordplay lets you know he's listened to plenty of Dylan and The Boss, but he's got his own well-established place among those that appreciate terrific songwriting. Sometimes, even for a writer like McDermott, good songs need to hang around for some time, remaining as orphans before finding home on an album. Thus, the aptly named album title. McDermott says these aren't outtakes. He even has another album ready to go, but couldn't get these songs out of his head. It was time.

The term 'orphan' could also be applied to the way McDermott has felt over the past three years, having lost his parents and spending enormous amounts of time on the road, much of it alone. That lens colors much of the shifting moods here. He comes right out and says "I want to go home" on "Meadowlark" for example. The haunting "Black Tree Blue Sky" takes it further with this lyrical excerpt - "I've been so out of my mind, that I'd wake up in different states/Somehow checked into cheap hotels, with negotiated rates."

Time to oneself, of course, leads to reflection. In "Sometimes When it Rains in Memphis" you can practically feel his yearning. Not so pleasant reminders of his checkered past emerge in "Los Angeles, a Lifetime Ago" and "The Wrong Side of Town." McDermott has been sober and clean for over four years now, conquering his demons with the help of his wife, fellow singer-songwriter Heather Lynne Horton and their child. Horton plays on the record produced by Nashville mainstay Lex Price and featuring such backing musicians as Will Kimbrough and John Deaderick.

McDermott has the rocker spirit too, captured in the opener "Tell Tale Heart," a song that comes from an Edgar Allan Poe story of the same name, with dropped in references to Dorian Grey and IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands. "Giving up the Ghost" and "The Wrong Side of Town" are Springsteen-esque in spirit, use of choruses and instrumentation. McDermott has a tender side too. "Full Moon Goodbye" and "What If Today Were My Last" are simply gorgeous. McDermott finds plenty of sustenance in these songs. You will too.