Michael McDermott: Willow Springs

Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 10.44.15 AM

Videos by American Songwriter

Michael McDermott
Willow Springs
(Pauper Sky)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

You won’t have to visit veteran singer-songwriter Michael McDermott’s home in the titular town to know he has a pretty substantial collection of Dylan, Mellencamp and Springsteen CDs. On his 10th album in a 25-year career, the recently clean and sober McDermott pays tribute to those influences, and others, by wrapping this entire folk-rock (emphasis on the former) release around those sources.

There’s nothing wrong with that of course; half the artists in his field have similar musical references, and McDermott has strong enough melodic and especially lyrical talents to carve out a distinctive niche, especially as this album moves into its second half.

McDermott has a lot to say, and uses these songs to say it. His plentiful, often colorful words enliven these topics, whether it’s about starting over with a new love (“Let a Little Light In”), reflecting on old personal demons, now hopefully behind him (“Half Empty Kind of Guy”) or spinning a tale of a loser on the run from the law in the very Springsteen-ish — right down to its title — “Getaway Car.” Occasionally he gets caught up in his own artful alliteration for alliteration’s sake in the title track where he talks his way through “Pimps and pushers, presidents/ the paupers preach of tenements” like he’s aiming to prove he can one-up Dylan at his own game.

There isn’t much comic relief, but McDermott displays dry humor on the sly “Folksinger” where he uses his own occupation (“I don’t want to be a folksinger anymore/ think I’ll write me a big hit song and be loved and adored/ I’ll have handlers and groupies and hell you know what that’s for”) as a metaphor for soldiers, Christians and gravediggers who may also question their professions. Some tunes like the seven-minute “Shadow in the Window,” a story song likely about the recent death of his father, are touching, ruminative and almost painfully introspective.

The crisp, predominantly acoustic instrumentation enhanced by such well-known industry names as Will Kimbrough (Willie Sugarcapps) and keyboardist John Deaderick (Don Henley) along with McDermott’s own production emphasizes his voice and words, perhaps to the detriment of melodies that often seem like vessels to contain them. That said, McDermott’s obvious love of craft, and refusal to either sell out or commercialize his rootsy sound after all these years is commendable. And even if he’s not pushing the boundaries of his genre, this album makes you appreciate his talents and root for him to succeed in an industry that hasn’t shown much love for his output in the past quarter century of trying.

Maria Muldaur: Sweet Harmony/Southern Winds/Open Your Eyes