A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Shawn Linderman
Megan McLaughlin's debut CD Noisy World immediately evoked comparisons to Barbara Kessler and Dee Carstensen in my mind--hers is a lovely voice, sweet and clear with an underlying rich soulfulness. For a debut work, the songwriting is quite mature, and she employs a wide range of musical influences with precision. After just a few listenings, I find myself humming her tunes when I'm walking around at work, so the hooks are there too.
McLaughlin begins with Paris, a lilting tune of fond reminiscence. Between attending college in New York and settling in California, Megan spent a year busking in the subway below the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, learning and perfecting her performance skills. Native Parisian accordionist Odile Lavault gives the tune a subtle French flavor, while Eric Schoen's percussion creates the mood of pensive recall.
Still on the Run speaks of the uncertainties of goals and their rewards, in particular through consideration of whether to pursue motherhood and mortgages or something else as yet unencountered. The syncopated percussion on this tune, along with McLaughlin's voice, strongly suggest Kessler and her percussionist/ husband Phil Antoniades. Mark Lemaire, who also produced the CD, adds excellent slightly funky bass.
In Holdin' On, Megan really nails that peculiar turning point in a relationship where things seem to stagnate and you either have to tough it out or let it go. "Things seem so estranged somehow, and the man I fell in love with seems a different one than I see here now..."
A couple of tunes touch on the homeless, but not with pity or preaching. Picture of Grace is about beauty within, and Cold Night is a brutally honest exploration of personal attitudes towards those caught in the harshness of poverty and homelessness.
I think the opening metaphor of Send Down a Light is brilliant: "So this is how it feels, shot down by friendly fire, alone on my side of the bed..." Any doubts about what this tune laments?
The title track details McLaughlin's answer to stress: swimming (the water theme is prevalent on several tracks, and three of four photos in the liner notes feature Megan in or near water). Here the Carstensen-like soulfulness slices through the song like Megan through the water.
The closing, and my favorite, tune is New Year's Day, with just McLaughlin on guitar and vocals. Very clean fingerpicking alternates with strummed "beats" as she relates how newness is an attitude and any day can become the start of a new year.
While touching deeply and painfully on love and loss, the tone of Noisy World is quite positive. McLaughlin's perceptions are sharp, sometimes brilliant, and her voice and guitar are excellent. She and her supporting cast, including Keith Greeninger, Roger Feuer, Jamie Bryd, Lars Jensen and Lee Elfenbein, have crafted a lovely collection of snapshots of our lives. You are in the photo album too.
Edited by Kerry Dexter