Americana, folk, alternative and punk melded into one incendiary, incisive sound!
With just a guitar and a harmonica you may well be excused for thinking that Bryan McPherson is just another run of the mill solo folk artist and the music does remind you a bit of Bob Dylan but with the intensity of Bruce Springsteen at his very best. Passionate and heartfelt and emotional and frail and powerful and uplifting Bryan’s music is sometimes a very real journey through his own personal hell and is altogether mesmerising.
We had the pleasure of seeing Bryan playing live recently at The Devonshire Arms in London. He opened up for Louise Distras and her band and despite atrocious sound problems and a well noisy bar he played a brilliantly frantic set of acoustic punk folk. Luckily for you ten minutes of it has been immortalised for life…
In the afternoon he played a small intimate show at the local punk record shop ‘All Ages Records’ and I had hoped to make it and get to say hello. Sadly problems at work were compounded by both transport trouble and the Mrs taking her time getting ready so had to miss out on that. Did get a chance to grab a quick hello after the main gig though and thought Bryan was an absolute gent.
This is Bryan’s third album after ‘Fourteen Stories’ and ‘American Boy / American Girl’, but he has also released a few EP’s and singles and ‘Wedgewood’ follows much the same pattern as his previous ones. He funded the record himself through various fundraising campaigns and the sale of pre-orders so it is completely DIY. Mind you I can’t see Bryan McPherson bending to any record label executive’s latest whim. His music and lyrics provide a roller-coaster of emotions that certainly leaves you drained by the end.
Bryan cut himself off from the outside world for four months to self-produce the album. He holed up in a small hut on a friend’s ranch in the mountains just as winter began, and found that the rugged, isolated setting immensely impacted the music. In fact the album title reflects the brand of the stove in the hut: Wedgewood. Bryan tells us in a recent interview
“Since it was freezing, I lit the wood-burning stove every day, which brought smoke, fire, and warmth into the recording process. Resultantly there’s a recurring theme of fire on the record. Wedgewood has a buildup, a climax, and a resolution – much like a fire. What happens when wood rubs against wood? It creates friction, and that friction creates fire”
The album kicks off with ‘Born on a Highway’ and its the voices of Bryan’s young nieces that starts the song off. In his own words
“It’s about the journey as a singer and travelling. It discusses where the road takes you, and what it means to be a human being”
It’s a beautifully slow ballad while the following ‘Days Of Rage’ is more of yer usual McPherson fare. A faster paced strummed guitar and lyrics taking in all sorts of American staples that ends with the hard-hitting
“There’s no freedom of speech in the land of the sheep
And if you really want the news then look to the streets
In the sidewalk and the sand, the cracks and disasters
Pawns in the hand of the propaganda of the masters
And we bleed the blood of the workers of the world
We toil and labor and hand over the pearls
In a broken system the snake will eat itself
How can I go to heaven if I’m living in hell”
‘Dark Hearts’ is a dark story of his past on the streets of Dorchester an Irish-American neighbourhood in Boston, Massachusetts. Working class life without any romanticism by someone who has lived it.
“I don’t know why I’m alive
and my friends had to die”
Sadness features heavily and the strained love song ‘Hearts In Boxcars’ is no different. Another slowish song that drifts along with the odd tinkle of a piano accompanying Bryan and his acoustic guitar. The epic ‘Song From The Moon’ (at nearly eight minutes long) is one of the albums highlights and fiddle joins in with Bryan’s voice searing.
“Try running when they come for you
They’re never taking me
And ‘you’ll only kill a man’
The idea will just live on
In an oral tradition
Of poetry and song”
‘Here We Go’ is the first song on the album that hits you square in the folk-punk jaw. The harmonica is out and Bryan rattles through a overtly political masterpiece that calls us all to arms. ‘Kelly Thomas’ that follows will simply leave you speechless. We did a piece on this song a while back when it was released and I said then that it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and it still does. Bryan rages at a system that allows the police to murder an innocent man and get away with it (read the review here and get the background on Kelly’s murder and a free download too). A simply effective song that will leave you shaken I swear.
“And Kelly Thomas lays cold in the ground
Silent nights make no sound
Not Guilty they found
In Fullerton town”
Bryan at his most revolutionary best. Kelly will never be forgotten now. ‘Bullets And Blues’ and ‘Wasted World’ continue the desolate themes. You can tell Bryan means business when the harmonica comes out. The guitar seems to be strummed that much harder and ‘Burn It Down’ is everything you would expect from the title.
Rivers of blood
Jesus Christ was the God of Sun
Are you getting high
Can you give me some
I need some bullets for my love
Let’s kill ’em all and make them bleed
Scratch their eyes so they can’t see
We are all one destiny
‘Wedgewood’ finishes with ‘Oh Darlin’. Ending fifty minutes of excellent acoustic folk music that will please everyone from yer average punk rocker to yer finger in the ear folkie. The non-stop touring has served Bryan well gaining him fans as diverse as Slash, The Dropkick Murphys (half of the original band he grew up with in Dorchester), Chuck Berry and the London Celtic Punks! Bringing originality to a sometimes tired genre and blasting it into 2015 Bryan has many years left in him and I’m sure we will be seeing a lot more of him on this side of the Atlantic in the years to come. Street life, politics, addiction, and moments of beauty, anguish, clarity, and dissent litter the alleys of McPherson’s songs. The words are as honest as they are urgent…every second counts!
“I see music as a means for change. It’s a powerful and beautiful force, and it’s my life. I’m here to remind you with Wedgewood that we’re all stronger than we know”
(you can listen to the whole album for free by pressing play on the Bandcamp box below)
Buy The Album
Rest In Peace Kelly Thomas