Todd McKinney used to play right next to Jonathan Edwards in a band called Sugar Creek. After an unsuccessful album on Metromedia Records, the group split up and Edwards went solo, signing with Capricorn and having a hit with Sunshine. McKinney? Well, he bounced around and eventually went solo, too, only it has taken a bit longer for his album to appear. I am happy to say that it was well worth the wait.
McKinney wrote the thirteen songs over a six year period and may have recorded them over that period as well, but there is a cohesiveness even with the time lag. Most obviously, it lies in McKinney's voice, a smooth tenor with a slight vibrato not unlike that of John Michael Talbot. Indeed, the two leadoff tracks, Hey Lucinda and This Wintered Heart, echo the best from Talbot's two bands before going solo, Mason Proffit and the Talbot Brothers. Soft, heartfelt and with superlative harmonies, they flash back to the early days of country rock when smooth and sometimes rocking trumped hick accents and twang. That voice turns a bit McGuinn for Deep Blue, a little folk/pop tune with the slightest Roger McGuinn inflection. Very pleasant and made better by McKinney, McKinney and McKinney in three part harmony. The McGuinn inflection continues on Endless Wonders", a smooth and upbeat folk song with a Native American slant. Reverbed acoustic guitar is the bedrock of the haunting Talking In the Wind, helped along by background synthesizer and, again, vocal harmonies.
Whether Get Back On That Train, Marie (or, Tripping over Dylan)is McKinney's tribute to Dylan or not, one can't help but be impressed with the Dylanesque feel, lyrics straight out of mid-period Dylan with an electric guitar lick and accompanying harmonica reminiscent of the sound on Highway 61. Ellacoya is straight siesta music, an instrumental which would be perfect backing for a spaghetti western scene a la siesta time. Slow and lazy, it could almost put you to sleep, it is so calming. From the Petal of the Flower" returns to the Talbot Brothers sound and feel once more, the beautiful vocal melody perfect for McKinney's vibrato. Again, the ghost inflection of Roger McGuinn drives the light and shuffling Stranded, a tune which could easily have been a "ditty" but for the lyrics. Dusty Fields might well have been a hit in the early seventies, having a hook not unlike something from one of Brewer & Shipley's excellent Kama Sutra LPs.
McKinney steps way out of character on Into the Water, which sounds more like a Happy Rhodes or Essra Mohawk tune, but the effect is astonishing. Words cannot describe this one, at least not in terms of Todd McKinney. It is something else.
Buck White could easily have written Someday I'll Buy Us Texas, a hick tune with Buck White style, tongue-in-cheek.
McKinney must have saved Wayne County, Ohio for last for a reason. My guess is because it is unlike anything else on the album as well as being a perfect closer. An instrumental, it relies on synthesizers and acoustic guitars and a Hem-like arrangement. In fact, it sounds very much like something Hem might have on one of their fine albums, except they would have written it for voice, having the luxury of an incredible one in Sally Ellison. It is a beautiful and fitting end to a great collection of tunes.
One thing you know after hearing this: Todd McKinney is one hell of a songwriter. Each and every tune is handcrafted and honed and ready. No embarrassing moments here, no wasted words, no dropped lines or chords. This is McKinney as he wants to be heard. This is fine stuff.
There is some serious arranging going on here, too. Todd McKinney has an innate sense of laying instruments and voices one on the other to give his compositions depth. The result is sometimes amazing and you find yourself floating off on a sea of acoustic guitars and synthesizers, brought back only by a grounding chorus or verse.
Todd McKinney, perhaps because the tracks on the album spanned years in the writing if not the making, relied on only two other musicians in the recording of Songs from Prospect Mountain: Bob McCarthy, who laid down resonator, steel and nylon string guitars as well as mandolin and autoharp, and Dave Buzzell, who played electric guitar on two tracks. Everything else is McKinney. Everything else is pretty damn good. I guess that means that Todd McKinney is pretty damn good. Actually, no guessing to it. I know it. Damn good.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2007, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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