Michael McDermott Propels Searing Socio-Political ‘What in the World’

Michael McDermott | What in the World | (Pauper Sky Records)
4 out of 5 stars

Videos by American Songwriter

What has singer/songwriter Michael McDermott been doing since his last release? Writing lyrics, apparently. 

Even for an artist who has never been shy about opening up his pen and crafting lots of words, Michael McDermott pushes his previous work with seven pages of tiny type text on the appropriately titled What in the World… (which we premiered and spoke to him about)… And this is before the coronavirus pandemic. He probably has cranked out another seven pages since. 

Thankfully his writing is so powerful and the images so striking that the effect is never overwhelming or trite. The opening–and closing– title track finds him in fighting form, spitting out a socio-political screed with the velocity of a machine gun. “Dark days coming for the USA,” he talk/sings with street fighting man intensity, and little did he realize how right he would be.  

There’s hard bitten righteousness to McDermott’s stories, many like “Contender” almost wincingly self-referential (“I screwed things up pretty good…I hurt the ones I loved most”), that makes the few lighter tunes ring out with passion, desire, and an understanding of life that comes with being knocked down often but always getting up again. There are references to his alcoholism and struggles with life in “Die with Me” (“One drink was easy…until it was never enough”) and how he overcame them in the gripping “No Matter What.” 

Not surprisingly it’s the love of a good woman that helped straighten things out, something he speaks about with heartfelt splendor in “Until I Found You.” It’s a clearly personal song but one that reflects the feelings of plenty of others who have persevered over individual traumas and come out the other side better off.   

McDermott’s flinty, raspy voice—a combination of Springsteen, Dave Alvin and Steve Earle– replicates his tough life as these tracks resonate with muscular potency. It also helps having a crackling band supporting him (which at times boasts three guitarists including Will Kimbrough) making McDermott’s words, stories and frustrations about current events even more visceral. He balances rockers and ballads like the established veteran he is, having released music for nearly 30 years. It’s that hardened grit and sense of urgency that makes McDermott’s music so gutsy and authoritative, even in his most vulnerable moments.

“I’ve been weak and I’ve been strong/I’ll keep fighting all along,” he sings with typical resolve. On the exhilarating and passionate What in the World….he does just that.   

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