Fiery, Folk-playing, Irish-American blue-collar Boston native Bryan McPherson is back aided by a ‘Molly’ and a ‘Murphy’ among others with a new album and bejaysus if it’s not one of his best ones yet!
I’ve often wondered at the word ‘fan’. As a longtime Leyton Orient supporter we don’t get many ‘fans’ down Brisbane Road. Over the years when we have had the odd moment of success some have drifted by before decamping to follow more media friendly teams that they can brag about on Facebook. See I think of ‘fan’ as opposed to ‘supporter’ as a rather trivial term for someone who isn’t really invested in what they follow. In that sense I don’t like to think of myself as a Bryan McPherson fan I think I’m more of a Bryan McPherson supporter! So with that in mind I’m a keen supporter of whatever he gets up. It’s been two years since Kings Corner was released and for Bryan believe me that’s quite a gap. A simple search for Bryan on this site will throw up reviews and articles reaching into double figures, a number reserved only for the likes of scene stalwarts like The Pogues or the Dropkick Murphys.
It doesn’t seem like two years that must be said as Bryan is one of those performers who keeps his audience, his supporters, close by him. Throughout the lockdowns Bryan was a regular face on our screens with his live streams and videos so it never seems he’s too far away and always there ready to connect with us. Perhaps it’s his Working Class background that keeps him so grounded, especially when all I ever see is huge amounts of praise and adulation for him! His ability to sing everything with passion imbued with a raw sense of emotion is second to none. An interesting anecdote here is (she’ll not be happy I told anyone) on hearing this album for the first time alone in the car my Mrs cried. She couldn’t put her finger on why but just a few snatched lines of lyrics and the mere sound of his voice seemed to be enough for the tears to flow.
Unusually for Bryan he has roped in some friends to aid on the recording of How To Draw Everything. Use to just voice, harmonica, acoustic guitar this album feels more fleshed out compared to much of his previous work with the ex- Dropkicks and current Walker Roader Marc Orrell on mandolin, Dustbowl Revival’s drummer Josh Heffernan, violinist Chris Murphy, who has worked with everyone from the Waterboys to Mike Watt, and Grammy Award-winning record producer and original guitarist for Flogging Molly, and also a Walker Roader, Ted Hutt on bass and percussion. Quite the roll call I’m sure readers, here especially, will agree. The album opens with ‘2 Birds’ which was also the first single/video released. With a rare opportunity to film outside his Mam and Dads house it’s a great video. Simple and effective and fits the song perfectly. I always get the impression that Bryan prefers the ‘home’ setting to set ups like this but he throws himself into and even manages to not look uncomfortable!
(Director of Photography: Eric Wagner * Production Assistant: Joe Bennett)
“There’s something about the sky that makes me grateful to be alive.”
A beautiful song with an unbelievably catchy chorus Bryan wraps so much round a simple tune. Lyrically there’s plenty to unwrap with Bryan triumphing over the demons in his life and coming out the other side. ‘Alameda St’ keeps it upbeat and tells of his move from Boston to Los Angeles and trying to figure out what to do with your life, and what lies deep in your heart. ‘Sweet Kari’ is more trad McPherson with a soft whisper cracking over a gentle folk song telling of moving on from lost love. The video here is from one of Bryan’s many live streams and is included here just for reference as like the video for ‘American Dream’ below many aspects of the song changed from these recordings to what eventually would appear on the album.
The harmonica is one of my favourite instruments and I think it’s a shame it doesn’t get used more in Celtic-Punk. It’s most definitely a folk instrument as you don’t need a music lesson to learn, making it the most working-class of all musical instruments! Here it gets an airing for both the upbeat and the gentler songs with ‘Hello, So Long And Goodbye’ a perfect example of the former. Catchy and tuneful but then the whole album is. How To Draw Everything has several anthems and ‘Lightning Lullaby’ is one such with several lines jumping out at you. “A bridge in England where everyone falls” and “going on tour with my depressing songs just like my Grandma use to sing to me” are just two as Bryan sings of the power of music in bringing people together. These are divided times and while each side thinks it’s because of the other their is always hope they are both wrong to think so. All the tracks here are written by Bryan except for ‘Shooting Star’ next up, where he was joined by Josiah Mazzaschi. A gentle beautiful song followed by another in ‘Troubled Times’. Bryan McPherson isn’t scared of an epic. My favourite of his songs is ‘I see A Flag’ check out the video from London where he performed to a small but adoring crowd back in 2015. Who would open their set with a eight minute song? Bryan McPherson that’s who. ‘American Dream’ is more than double that and it’s telling that it was several plays before I realised it’s length so gripping was it. Written in 2020 as tensions across the USA were greater than many even ever remember their was a need to remind ourselves that
“good outweighs the bad no matter how imperfect the country is, and there is power in recognizing our similarities.”
Chronicling his years on the road, playing and visiting every corner of the USA, meeting good and kind people everywhere he went. People with many differing views and experiences but still with the time to bond with this travelling musician living out of his car. A song full of optimism and a song I hope that looks to the future.
We are heading towards the end and ‘Home’ and on an album so strong while it is hard to pick this is my standout track. The word ‘beautiful’ has been overused in this review I’m sure you get my drift. ‘Bedroom Eyes’ is an optimistic love song and it’s just like Bryan to make some beautiful (groan..) out of something that on the face of is tragic.
“where I come from we grow up too tough”
After the first few plays I had insisted this was one of Bryan’s best albums but now while all the eleven songs are sitting at the top of my phones ‘most played’ list I would go so far as to say this is his best work to date. Each song is crafted with so much love and attention. This is what writing ‘musician’ on your passport really means. The album ends with the title song ‘How To Draw Everything’ and another standout track among the many. An amazing end to an amazing album.
How To Draw Everything was recorded at Kingsize Soundlabs in Los Angeles, California and produced expertly by Ted Hutt and engineered by Ryan Mall. Bryan’s journey from his raw debut Fourteen Stories, released in 2007 (I recommend checking out his back catalogue at the Bandcamp link below) has been a roller coaster of emotions with us being allowed into every aspect of his life and his thoughts. With age does come understanding, As he puts it
“From the perspective of age comes a spiritual death of what was, and in its place, a re-discovering of peace, country, and self are found. Hope finally outweighs despair and can be reclaimed, like a child wondering at the seeds of a dandelion. Hope was there all along.”
It may be a peculiar to put it but I support Bryan McPherson.
(Stream/ download Buy How To Draw Everything on the Bandcamp player below)
Buy How To Draw Everything Stream/Download/Vinyl/CD
All Bryan’s previous studio releases are available via Bandcamp plus many interesting live concerts and tracks, many available for free download and all available to stream. You can also support Bryan by buying some merchandise including a brand new How To Draw Everything t-shirt.