Every once in awhile I find an album that I must listen to over and over, and each time, I hear nuances I've not noticed before. Michael McNevin's Secondhand Story is such an album. It is this kind of multi-layered complicity that makes Michael McNevin one of the up-and-coming singer songwriters to watch! This is the kind of album that can be enjoyed casually, or listened to intently. Even the first time through you will love the astonishing lyrics and musical presentation.
This is one of the finest albums I've heard this year. It is hard to believe that an album this good was self-produced! So many times we see singer-songwriters displaying their guitar-and-vocals craft on an album, but stopping just short of true brilliance. Secondhand Story goes much beyond that basic approach, featuring not only incredible singing, songwriting and guitar playing, but artful creations melding dobro, mandolin, harmonica, percussion and yes, even folk trombone.
Michael's lyrics on Secondhand Story are insightful, intensely personal, and carry unmatched credibility. It is clear, as I play the album over and over again, that these are not songs about abstract events; these are songs about Michael McNevin's life. All of the lyrics, save "Thanks for Asking" (which was co-written by Michael and Danny McNevin), are authored by Michael. Michael's clear-ringing tenor voice is a pleasure to listen to. "Jersey Jail" and "Twenty Five and Out of Room" feature soothing harmony by Rob Laurens and Hugh Blumenfeld, respectively.
This album also features some of the best instrumental work I've heard in a long time.
Piano-like guitar arrangements and smooth fingerpicking (all Michael's), and an extremely versatile cast of musicians combine for a truly memorable album. Instrumental highlights include the folk trombone (Rory McLeod) and very, very nice dobro (Smith Curry) on "The Pride of Niles Centerville", soothing mandolin (by Steve Kritzer) on "Morning Pearl", and really nice percussion (Bill Henderson) on "November Fourth".
Although there is really not much filler material on this great album, there are tracks that I keep going back to over and over again. "Jersey Jail", one of my two personal favorites, includes great vocal harmonies, a nice combination of dobro and harmonica, and 60's-style outrage at the unjust imprisonment for an .80-cent crime! My other favorite is "The Pride of Niles-Centerville". Every contemporary folk singer needs a song about America's favorite sport. Delivered from the eyes of a young boy, this is one of the best I've heard. Michael delivers the lyrics with the true vocal authenticity of an anguished 12-year-old who has let the ball slip through his legs at the climactic moment in the game. Other truly memorable cuts include "Morning Pearl" and "Secondhand Story".
If you've gotten the idea that I like this album, you're right! I can't say enough superlatives about this album! Countless times I would attempt to play the album as background music, only to catch myself stopping whatever I was doing to listen more closely. I also had several people ask about the album as I listened to it. If you've never heard Michael McNevin, I promise that you will be impressed. Whether you want to add to your collection of singer-songwriters or give this genre a try for the first time, you can't go wrong with Secondhand Story. If you buy just one singer-songwriter album this year, this is it!