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Declan McGarry – Self-Titled Debut – (LT Records)

Posted by on May 22, 2010 in Album Reviews - No comments

Declan McGarry is obsessed with summertime and being seventeen again. That’s what you might think on on the opening “Summer Heat” and subsequent songs like “Seventeen” and “Summers of My Life.”

But hold on. This 25-year-old Canadian who hails from Winnipeg — hometown of the legendary Neil Young and an early influence — has much more to say. Sure, the coming-of-age songs about driving to the lake in a pickup truck on a warm summer’s day when you’re a teenager put a smile on your face, but there seems to be something deeper here.

Producer Nick Pellegrino, who co-wrote many of the songs, helped to polish up most of these cuts into Americana rockers straight out of the Bon Jovi and Springsteen catalogs (another early influence), but Nashville resident McGarry is also mature beyond his years. He has something to say and a powerfully controlled voice with which to say it.

“Everything” with its shiny mandolin riffs, is a loving ode to multi-tasking women everywhere. “She Disappears” evokes melancholy images of a woman who’s been mistreated and can’t quite trust anyone, disappearing into herself in order to distance herself from her own emotions.

A smoky piano highlights his heartfelt cover of Neil Young’s “Wrecking Ball,” but the crescendo of fuzzy guitars sounds forced and a bit too polished.

“Seventeen” is a radio-ready anthem about the risks of teen sex, being “young, desperate and seventeen” and dealing with emotions teenagers are ill-equipped to deal with. The requisite images of thunder and warm air, stripping off clothes and being consumed in the moment are present. Horny teenagers have been fodder for songs for years.

“Angels On The Billboards” highlights a young man’s confusion about a world rife with consumerism that runs contrary to America’s Christian preachings. The song practically screams hypocrisy! “I see angels on the billboards/Telling me what I need to save my life…and it’s so damned hard to keep faith.” Welcome to the real world, Mr. McGarry.

“Summers of My Life” is enough to make anyone misty-eyed for simpler times of bonfires, the girl next door, garage bands, American pie, cruising, and summertime in general.

The closing “Headlights Glow” is a stripped-down and hard look at the narrator’s past decisions and future dreams as he drives down I-95. It’s something we can all relate to: forge ahead into the unknown darkness or retreat to the familiar and safe. “In my headlights glow, I don’t know which way to go./I wonder if I should drive home. But hey, this is my life.”

An impressive debut, Declan McGarry’s strengths are in his powerful yet relaxed voice, covering familiar territory with passion. This album is like a cool breeze on a sweltering summer afternoon. Enjoy it.

The CD release party will be at Nashville’s 12th & Porter on May 25 at 7pm.

About the author

Jim Simpson is a music critic and award-winning fiction writer. A native of the wilds of Florida's Gulf Coast, he now resides on the scruffy outskirts of Atlanta, Georgia. His musical taste spans all genres: Bluegrass, Americana, Classic Country, Alt-Country, Western Swing, Blues, Classical, Rock 'n' Roll, Punk, Reggae, Klezmer, and British Isles Folk (to name but a few). He once sang Happy Birthday (with about 10,000 other people) to Joni Mitchell, and has seen such legends as Miles Davis, The Incredible Jimmy Smith, Rockpile, Iggy Pop, David Bowie, R.E.M., Blue Rodeo, King Sunny Ade, Elvis Costello and Bob Dylan live in concert. Jim is also managing editor for Awaiting the Flood, as well as a book and music reviewer for Hellbomb and Atlanta Music Guide. He occasionally contributes essays to the international writers collective TheNervousBreakdown.com, and has been at work on his first novel for longer than he originally planned. It should be in bookstores some time before his death.

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