‘St Paul’s Boulevard’ – Michael McDermott

5 stars (out of 5)

0

Michael McDermott isn’t making life easy – every year he releases an album (sometimes even two) that grabs your attention immediately with quality of the songwriting, the quality of the playing and arrangements, and the sheer variety of influences from the classic American pop/rock songbook. The difficulty lies in trying to think of something new to say about this steady sequence of excellence. There are some easy comparisons to make, but when all of those have already been made, it’s a challenge to know where to go next. I guess it’s safe to say that ‘St Paul’s Boulevard’ is a continuation of the winning sequence; it’s a classic album that would be huge if we still had a significant market for albums.

There’s a narrative running through Michael’s work since The Westies ‘Six on the Out’ of degradation, recovery and redemption. ‘St Paul’s Boulevard’ feels like a postscript to that narrative, looking back to the lowest of times with clear-eyed detachment and looking forward to the future with technicolour optimism. As you would expect from a Michael McDermott album, ‘St Paul’s Boulevard’ is packed with historical, geographical, mythological, literary, biblical and popular culture references, particularly ‘Marlowe’ which is a nod in the direction of Deacon Blue’s ‘Real Gone Kid’ and a tribute to Raymond Chandler’s sleuth Philip Marlowe.

The arrangement of title song is a slow builder; the ambient intro with slide and piano gradually fills out into a full band sound as the various characters in the story make their brief appearance. The Boulevard is that place we have in our history that’s full of possibility for triumph or tragedy; the place where we met characters that would have positive and negative impacts on our lives. There are a few references to heroes on the album and the most telling is probably in this song: “None of the heroes around here have capes, they’re just talking in taverns and on fire escapes”.

Michael McDermott isn’t afraid of throwing in musical or lyrical references; ‘Where the Light Gets In” has a hint of Coldplay’s ‘Higher Power” and the obvious Leonard Cohen reference, while there’s plenty of chiming guitar in Byrds/Tom Petty/Flaming Groovies style. While we’re on the subject of guitars, a true master of the fretted stringed instrument plays on the album and any project featuring Will Kimbrough is going to be good; he plays guitar, mandolin and banjo across the album.

‘St Paul’s Boulevard’ is another powerful Michael McDermott album that blends musical references from folk, soul, country, rock and other areas to produce an album that looks back to difficult times but also looks forward with optimism (“Peace, lave and brilliant colours to you all”). It’s a celebration of this moment and the moments to come.

‘St Paul’s Boulevard’ is out now on Pauper Sky Records (PSR010).

Here’s the video for the album’s final track, ‘Paris’:

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