Album Review: Bryan McPherson – “American Boy/American Girl”

Today started out like an epic cliché: grey and rainy, Monday morning, just found out that one of my favorite bands is breaking up, and there I was driving down the highway listening to Bryan McPherson’s new release, “American Boy/American Girl.” Well, this was a first. I actually had to pull my car over on 93 so that I could write down everything I was thinking about this amazing album, before the moment got lost. The raw simplicity and honesty of what I was hearing hit me so suddenly and unexpectedly; it’s something you can’t quite get over once the last song ends. The only other time I can recall having such a visceral reaction to music was when I heard The Horrible Crowes’ 2011 release, Elsie–high praise from the girl who thinks Brian Fallon is our generation’s foremost songwriter.

You can draw all kinds of comparisons between Bryan and gritty acoustic mainstays like Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, and even Tim Barry or Chuck Ragan. He definitely fits into the “badass with a guitar” genre, but there is something so unique and powerful about this album, I hesitate to box him into any category; this is music without boundaries.

Bryan certainly doesn’t equivocate, doesn’t use metaphors, and you will have no doubt where he stands or what he thinks about modern American life. His beautifully wrought songs take you to the dark places of his own life experiences, but somehow he gently guides you back out again.

If your only exposure to American Boy/American Girl came from hearing “Black Man,” which was released in advance of the album, you, like me, might have thought you’d be bashed over the head with on-the-nose politically-driven lyrics and themes. When you take “Black Man” in the context of the whole album, however, it definitely shines a light on the injustices that Bryan perceives, without sounding preachy. The goal here isn’t to get you to think a certain way, but simply to THINK. In a recent interview with Mutiny on the Microphone, Bryan said that his goal is to leave people with an impression–any impression–after listening to his music, because “so much crap out there leaves no mark.” Mission accomplished. At various moments while listening to this album, I’ve wanted to curl into a ball and rock back and forth; at other moments I wanted to jump up and fight for what we’re losing daily in this country.

The songs vary in arrangement, from the meatier “Long Lost American” with its piano introduction and more “studio” sound, to “Worker’s Song,” which is raw and stripped down to Bryan’s guitar, harmonica, and strident voice. These elements reflect the song’s theme perfectly: as the lyrics state, he’ll “bleed all day to sing a song,” and as a result he becomes a fierce, frustrated spokesman for a generation coming to terms with itself.

It’s nearly impossible to pick favorites on American Boy/American Girl, and you will gain far more from listening to this album all the way through. Over and over and over. But the songs you absolutely MUST hear are the melancholy “Long Lost American,” the slightly more melodic “Lonely Streets,” and a new version of the stunning “Down Down Marie.”

You can (and should) buy Bryan’s album from our friends at State Line Records.

Stream the album here.

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