I’m not a reviewer. You’ve heard me say so before, right here. I suspect that if I were asked to write a review, the person asking might be reluctant to ask me to do so again, because I might be heavy handed because the role of a reviewer is not one that I relish. I do know, however, what I like, and as I grow older and increasingly curmudgeonly, that list seems to be getting shorter and shorter.
I have been a fan of Scott McQuaig for many years, having shared the same stage with him as a co-performer, and having shared the stage with him while we performed together. I always liked what I heard, never being disappointed with it – always wanting to hear more. Scott is a crooner. His smooth country voice is soft, expressive, and pulls the listener in during a ballad as if he were telling the story for us and us alone. Scott doesn’t seem to sing for the crowd; he sings for me.
One more than one occasion, I have been moved by his songwriting. This is not an easy admission because, as a songwriter, the songs I hear from Scott are always songs I wish I had written myself. Of course, I think that’s a compliment. I suppose it’s about the highest compliment any songwriter can pay to another one.
Which songs on “I’m Still Falling” do I like the best? That’s a tough question. I would be easier to pick out the ones I don’t, but easier doesn’t mean easy. Those songs that speak to me the least are merely a matter of one style of song over another, and those songs that fit my style get preference. There is not a single song I don’t like, but man, oh man, there are some that speak to me, as if born right out of my own experience, my own pain, my own soul.
The first two cuts, THE LEAST I CAN DO and FIND YOURSELF ANOTHER FOOL are straight ahead modern country tunes. When I first heard Scott’s 32ND STREET many years ago, during a show we both were billed on, I said to him, “Man, what a song.” 32nd STREET was never my street, but another street was, and one can substitute “Hard Times Road” for 32nd STREET, it would make no difference. That song tells my story. It tells your story. It tells everyone’s story. It is a song written and sung by every boy growing up in the South coming to grips with the changes in his own life. This is the magic of music.
The title cut, I’M STILL FALLING is a sweet ballad. I’ve got it cranked up on my studio monitors, listening to the soft punch of the mix, John Elmore’s guitar, the rock solid percussion of David Zettler, and the poignant harmonica played by Steve Smithson, who, more than any other harpist knows when to play, when not to play, and when to make one note wring a tear from a glass eye. And Tommy Ethridge never fails on the bass. Of all the songs on this record, this one is flat out my favorite. It is a smooth country serenade that every woman would like to hear outside her window on a moonlit night. It is just the song to move her to say, “yes.” This song should be #1 on Billboard’s Country Music charts right now, but Nashville seems misguided these days. Music lovers are losers, everywhere, having traded the TV version of karaoke for the real thing. Music is not what TV music judges say it is, regardless of their popularity, fame, or musical tastes. The real McCoy is the real McCoy. I won’t allow myself to have less than that. I won’t listen to it. This . . . this is worth listening to, again and again.
ONE DROP OF WATER is a classic country honky-tonk song; a two-stepper that should have everyone smiling as they dance. If you like country music reminiscent of Buck Owens and Faron Young, this is it. If you call yourself a country music fan and either don’t know who Buck Owens and Faron Young are, or worse, don’t LIKE them, then, for your own sake, please hit the back button and stop reading this right now.
I CAN’T FEEL A THING has as much pain as any song I’ve ever heard. Scott played before me one night on the syndicated radio and TV show, “The Sucarnochee Revue,” and I stood in the wings hearing Scott do this song. I was literally moved to tears. Here is the story of a man lost in the wilderness and can’t find his way. Maybe he foolishly abandoned someone he loves, or maybe the one he loves abandoned him after he took for granted the thing he loved the most. But his pain is unmistakable, it is pain morphing into numbness. This is accentuated by Scott’s poignant work with the slide on his Stratocaster, yielding those human vocalizations that sometimes an instrument can express when words fall short.
REMIND ME TO TELL YOU SOMETHING and FIRST SECOND GLANCE are modern country toe tappers that make you feel good. All the pain of the previous song is swept away in light-hearted melody in a couple of good time songs.
SNAKE IN MY KITCHEN, co-written with my former band-mate and long-time friend, harpist Steve Smithson, is a full fledged blues tune and breaks up the country vibe on this album. Though specific credits are unfortunately not mentioned, I strongly suspect we are hearing some guitar work from the remarkable Tom Rovinsky on this cut, as well as more of Scott’s slide work. As usual, Steve’s harmonica playing is impeccable – Is that Charlie Musselwhite, Paul Butterfield, or Steve Smithson? Now, I love the blues, but, it’s Charlie Patton, Son House, Skip James, Bukka White, Blind Willie Johnson, and the Mississippi Sheiks that I like. Modern electric blues escapes me, mostly. But sometimes it grabs me, just like Mississippi Fred McDowell grabs me and won’t let go, but keeps my undivided attention for the duration of the song, making me nostalgic for it the minute it is over. Congratulations, boys, SNAKE IN MY KITCHEN put me right there.
1862, also co-written with Smithson is the story of nearly every native Southerner’s great or great-great grandfather. My own great-grandfather fought with Company C of the 2nd Mississippi Cavalry, served most of the war with General Nathan B. Forrest and Lieutenant General Richard Taylor (the son of President Zachary Taylor). If you are from Mississippi, it is hard to escape this heritage, and it is not glorified here, but bespeaks of the hard times of war. While none of the people of the same generation as Scott and me knew any Civil War veterans, our parents and grandparents certainly did. The stories they heard were not stories of glory, but they were stories of courage, valor and sacrifice…and hard times.
WHEN A TRAIN WHISTLE BLOWS THE BLUES calls out to everyone who ever heard the distant sound of a train whistle and longed board it and go somewhere, anywhere, and leave troubles far behind.
WORKING ON A REAL GOOD THING is what we all hope to be working on. This Southern Rock song of the type which passes as country nowadays should be right at the top of today’s country charts. McQuaig and Smithson have penned a good one here. It starts out jamming and ends jamming. This should bring every honky-tonk crowd right off its butts and onto its feet to shouts and hand waving as the people dance, not with each other, AS COUPLES, but just dance with abandon WITH each other as a single dancing entity. I do love a Southern Rock jam, and the rhythm section in this song is jammin’, I say. Do you HEAR ME?.
I enjoyed every cut, am inclined to the ballads, particularly the ¾ time I CAN’T FEEL A THING, but it’s hard for a ¾ time song to get much attention these days. That says nothing about the song, but speaks volumes about the people who purchase music.
There is a secret track, if you’ll be patient. It is what it is, and will stir the hardest heart to tears with a simple rendition of a classic melody, some say, arguably, the most beautiful one ever written. You’ll have to can decide for yourself. I did. It is.
All songs are ©2012 Frost Bridge Music/ASCAP. The CD was recorded and mastered in Meridian, Mississippi at Point Recording by the very capable and talented Clay Barnes.
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This non-review was unsolicited and had it been, would most likely not be here. And, by the way, I paid $15.00 for my copy of this CD and consider it money well spent. That, itself, should speak volumes. Best wishes Scott, and all you Tomcats!