I am a fan of Scott McQuaig. His singing and songwriting are impeccable.
He recently released a new CD called A SONG AWAY ROM YOU. He was kind enough to send me a copy in April since the USMail apparently mishandled my invitation to his CD release party. I just listened to it today. I didn’t listen just once, but several times as I drove back home from Memphis.
I liked it on the first listen, but the more I listened, the more the music grabbed me. Music has a way of doing that, as we really listen and begin to hear. Subtle things come out. Memories and emotions are poked and prodded at an increasing intensity by lyrics that were not evident enough at first, our minds initially not making connections relevant to our own experiences. The third listen completely transcended that barrier.
I like the Bakersfield sound on this real country album. Scott knows real country. He is steeped in real country. He can get it out.
There are ten songs on this recording. McQuaig penned seven of them. From the opening, toe-tapping “Honky Tonk O’Clock” to the truly dreamy “As Long as I Am Dreaming”, and the haunting “Hiram”, there’s a lot to recommend this record.
When the pedal steel kicked in on “As Long as I am Dreaming”, it became plumb ethereal. It had just the right touch, attack, tone, reverb….everything. I liked the lyrics, particularly the whole thought that dreamers need not to settle for less; they can go for it all.
Scott included a fabulous song by our late mutual friend and band mate, Steve Smithson. “Too Weak Notice” is clever, poignant, and painful, as Smithson’s songs mostly were. A two week notice is what we owe our employer. A two week notice of the termination of a bad relationship because one is too weak to stay is a kindness that may not be deserved. Steve was a remarkable harmonica player; one of the few I have seen who consistently knew when not to play. His minimalist style was always to the point, and welcomed. He is and will continue to be sorely missed. I appreciate this song’s inclusion.
It’s hard to write a tribute song about our late musical heroes, but Scott nailed it on “Hiram”, inserting some of himself and some real pain of his own into this beautifully written and performed tribute to Hank Williams and, perhaps, his thoughts in his final moments on this earth. The best tribute songs capture our personal feelings about the loss or the memory of those influential great ones long gone and project them so that the loss is both the loser’s and ours, as we’re all infected with the human condition; they do not simply list facts in rhyme, melodic, and rhythmic form. If one can’t deliver a lonesome pain in a country song, then one needs to move on to some other line of work. I admire Scott’s talent to deliver with pen and voice.
The song list is:
- Honky Tonk O’Clock
- I’ll Take the Fall for You
- A Song Away From You
- The End of an Error
- As Long as I’m Dreaming
- It’s Such a Pretty World Today
- Too Weak Notice
- Where Does a Heart Go?
- Wide River to Cross
Well, they can’t all be my favorites. Though it starts out fine, the CD builds in intensity as it takes me on a journey. I like musical journeys, so I’m picking 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, and 10. That’s six out of ten. In the major leagues, that’s a batting average of 600. I don’t dislike any of the others…they just didn’t make my favorite list.
I’m not as familiar with “Wide River to Cross” as I reckon I should be, but I live in a sort of musical vacuum. Other than what I hear and play live, I am current-music naive. The last CD of a current/working band I purchased with the sole intent of enjoying was The Traveling Wilburys, which is an indication a rather lengthy music isolation. Some research was required here.
“Wide River to Cross” was written by Buddy and Julie Miller. It was recorded by the late Levon Helm for his Grammy winning “Dirt Farmer” album, which I recall I wanted to buy but never did. It is a powerful song, yet powerful is not a strong enough word. Transporting might be a better choice. I cued up YouTube and listened to Miller sing his own song. He delivered it with an intense poignancy. Then I listened to the soulful delivery of the much beloved Levon Helm, belting it out as he was in the final stages of a metastasized throat cancer. How could that fail to be anything other than gigantic? Prior to that, I heard Scott McQuaig sing it. There are hundreds of covers of this song on YouTube, including Miller and Helm. You won’t find Scott McQuaig singing this on YouTube, yet. I can promise you though that Scott covers it well, as I can personally testify because of the size of the lump in my throat on my first listen. The more I listened, the larger the lump. I was overwhelmed. Good songs can do that. Understanding and communicating what is in the song is a big help. Scott evoked visions of my own wide river as I traveled down the miles. There’s that lump again.
Anything that focuses us on that wide river makes us feel more alive, more understanding, more compassionate, more forgiving. If visions of you standing on the banks of your own wide river as you peer across it, unable to see clearly what is on the other side, are not soul-searching moments for you, then you are reading the wrong blog. Here’s a link that will get you out of here. outtahere
Scott’s band, The Tomcats, consisted of the following on this recording: Walt Littleton on drums and harmony vocals; my cousin, Tommy Ethridge, solidly on bass; Ted Hennington on guitar; my long-time friend Bryan Culpepper, one of the best piano players I have ever heard; and Tommy Moran on pedal steel.
Now for the druthers.
I’d rather have had a bit of a different sound in the final mix and mastering. My first few listens were as I was traveling down the highway in my old Chevy Tahoe. After 380,000 miles, I was willing to concede that my crappy speakers were even worse than I already suspected and I was right. I got home and cranked it up on two different sets of studio monitors at some substantial clean power. It sounded much, much better (of course it did!) though still having a bit of harshness in the 3500 hertz range which tends to push me back rather than pull me in. I had to reach for the master faders a time or two to pull the volume back so I could get closer. Sometimes it seems the vocals and guitar were a bit too far out front and the piano and pedal steel buried too deep, as if they were on a “too weak notice”. I know better.
These observations are subjective. Aren’t all observations clouded by our subjectivity? Different folks have different ears. It still sounds good. I think I will listen again with a bit of EQ of my own, after all, that’s why they make equalizers.
I’d have worked Moran and Culpepper like rented mules. I would have liked to have heard more from them, particularly Culpepper, who’s ivory handling capabilities are well known to me, and much admired.
And one more thing….Scott, if you ever again decide to cover a classic country tune by an influential Bakersfield-sound progenitor (Wynn Stewart), call me and I’ll come and put some Don Rich-esque harmony in there with you. It couldn’t hurt.
If you like real country music, honky-tonk-Bakersfield country music, and mournful country ballads about love gone bad, larger than life heroes passing into the ages, and songs that bring pain and through pain, healing…sung by a bona-fide songwriting crooner, then get yourself a copy of this CD. It is available through all major music outlets, or from www.scottmcquaigmusic.com.
©2018 Mississippi Chris Sharp