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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.

Album Review: The Ducky Boys – “Chasing The Ghost”

The Ducky Boys “Chasing the Ghost” marks the band’s first full-length release in six years (and their first release on their own State Line Records).

As a thirty-something who grew up in (and still lives in) the Boston suburbs, I feel like I grew up with the Ducky Boys as they were cutting their teeth in a scene that included bands like the Pinkerton Thugs, the Bruisers, Kicked In The Head, Bid D & The Kids Table, Drexel, Blod For Blood, etc.  Their green vinyl split 7-inch with the Mike McColgan-era Dropkicks remains one of the highlights of my personal collection.

Time has treated some of those 1990s Boston punk bands better than others. The Dropkick Murphys have changed their sound (and their lineup) and catapulted in to the mainstream, the McColgan-led Street Dogs have developed a solid fanbase of their own with their tried-and-true street punk recipe.

The Ducky Boys have occupied the next rung down on the ladder in terms of commercial success. They disappeared altogether for some time, but in “Chasing The Ghost,” they’ve now put out three solid street-punk albums of their own in the last decade and seem to have no intentions of giving up the proverbial ghost any time soon.

Social Distortion-esque rock-inspired street punk is what the Ducky Boys do best. “Chasing The Ghost” kicks of with “New Chapter,” an instant callback to those sweaty, mid-90s rec center shows. “Nobody’s Home” follows with a little less street swagger but the same “fuck you and the world” attitude. “Goodbye & Good Luck” and “The Sweetest Girl” are a little more mid-tempo but are tight, well-crafted songs in their own right.

Frontman “Mahk” Lind certainly wears his heart on his sleeve. Much of the material on “Chasing The Ghost” finds Lind looking in the mirror as he weaves his personal triumphs and tragedies in and out of his storytelling. He alternates between offering up his personal, dark experiences, insight on where he finds his own strength (which sounds mostly like his significant other), and attempting to give those who may have once been in his shoes a little hope that things get better in the future. Lind’s lyrics and gravelly, at times shaky voice work better with the material that covers his own dark experiences, but you’ve got to give him credit for trying to branch out and reflect a little positivity.

The main problem with “Chasing The Ghost” is that it feels long. Seventeen songs is a lot, especially when a fair number of them hover at or above the three-minute mark. There aren’t really any songs in particular that weigh down the album, but there is an awful lot of “sameness.” “I Guess I’m Broken” and “Getting Better,” which appear in that order in the first third of the album, are shaped cut from the same mold and lack any real hook or distinct bridge to separate them. “Angel Like You” is sweet in its sentiment, but the chorus gets a little too repetitive, making the song feel longer than it is.

“Medicine” is a bit more of a Johnny Cash-style roadhouse rambler of a song.  Album closer “There’s Always Another Way” is a little too down-tempo, and suffers as a result. A stripped-down acoustic accompaniment would have suited the lyrics better and provided additional depth to the hopeful message.

“Chasing the Ghost” is a good album; it certainly brought back some fun memories to listen to, and its stronger moments rank up their with the finer moments on “Dark Days” or on the debut Sinners & Saints album. A “less is more” approach, however, may have ultimately done volumes toward making “Chasing The Ghost” a truly solid release.

3.25/5 stars

New Music: “Black Man” off Bryan McPherson’s upcoming album “American Boy/American Girl”

Boston folk rock native turned Californian, Bryan McPherson, has just released a song from his upcoming album, “American Boy / American Girl”.

The song is entitled “Black Man”, and was featured on the Boston-based music podcast Mutiny On The Microphone.

You can listen to the song here. The song is right smack in the middle of a 45 minute podcast, so if you don’t want to listen to some other amazing artists such as Obi Fernandez (Westbound Train), The Explosion, or In Like Lions, you can fast forward to 29:30 to hear “Black Man”. The podcast also features a very rare Mighty Mighty Bosstones song, “Together”.

“American Boy/American Girl” will be released on April 17th through State Line Records. To hear more from the upcoming album, head to State Line Record’s Bandcamp page.