St Paul’s Boulevard
Pauper Sky Records
A Brave and Varied Musical Journey Which Holds its Head Up Optimistically and Boldly
I first got wind of Michael McDermott from friends who’d seen his incendiary performances at a pre-COVID Kilkenny Roots Festival – unfortunately a pandemic got in the way of the ability to consolidate that impact, but now MM is back with “St. Paul’s Boulevard” an album thematically linked by place and character, recorded with a stellar cast including Will Kimbrough, David Grissom and Grant Tye – who for many years was a staple of Robbie Fulks’ band.
The album opens with an aural sound-city scape “Aram Cara” before leaping into the “Dancing in the Dark” paced and styled “Where the Light Gets In”.
The tempo remains pacy on “Our Little Secret” which has the soulful feel of Danny and the Champs, as does the following track “Sick of This Town” where McDermott bemoans the rotting banality of small-town America.
“The Arsonist” takes things down a notch to ballad tempo, a setting where McDermott is at his most affecting – I’ve avoided mentioning Bruce Springsteen up until this point, (he’s often a reference point in reviews of Michael McDermott) but this track conjures up the feel of epic Bruce, with its exploration of personal doubt and mix of dark and light, set against a dynamic mix of guitars and keys – heck, vocally this also verges near to Prince territory in places too.
“New Year’s Day” – one of many songs with this title, sits astride U2 and Slaid Cleaves in its sound over a tale of personal emotional symbolic rebirth. “Meet Me Halfway” takes the exploration of relationships further and tackles issues of communication over a Bon Jovi-type vocal and arrangement (but with far more incisive lyricism than 80’s hair-rock).
“The Outer Drive”, driven (sic) by drums and banjo namechecks “Wonderwall”, but that aside, it’s a song of cars, a girl and escape “with just a hint of holy”.
Classic themes are also seen on “Marlowe”, but in a literary and cultural/historical sense, where everyone from Moses to Michelangelo gets in on the act as touchstones to compare to the effect of a loved one.
Fast strummed guitar kicks in “All That We Have Lost” and it’s soon joined by kick drum and percussion for a stomping and rollocking roll-call of
“all that we have lost”
from Lincoln to Kennedy and several in between.
This observation on death is shadowed by “Dead By Dawn” with its carpe diem call to embrace a loving moment, to preserve the transient and fleeting bits of goodness that we have.
Title track “St Paul’s Boulevard” is a reflective ode to finding meaning amongst the chaos of life on the eponymous/figurative boulevard, whereas “Pack The Car” again seeks refuge in escape and its myriad possibilities before “Peace, Love and Brilliant Colours” takes an early Steve Earle swerve musically with a rallying cry for community and strength.
“Paris” closes the album out with a sentimental, romantic wish for escape that brings in strings and piano to underscore those rose-tinted, hopefully desires.
On “St Paul’s Boulevard” Michael McDermott has certainly viewed the world in widescreen and technicolour too, on a brave and varied journey which holds its head up optimistically and boldly.
Last time McDermott toured in the UK he was a solo act – here’s hoping that he can bring the band next time to do justice to these broad soundscapes.
Review by Nick Barber
Released 1st July 2022