"Who is Michael McDermott? You've got a lot of albums by him on your Ipod."
I get this question a lot for several groups/artists, and McDermott is near the top of that list.
Who is Michael McDermott? If you know him at all, it's probably because of this song:
McDermott released 620 W. Surf, his critically acclaimed debut album in 1991 on Giant Records. McDermott found himself tagged as that particular moment's next big thing, an artist that could be "the next Springsteen." This label has been known to sink many rising young stars, although every once in a while, you'll have someone like the Gaslight Anthem that manage to slip past the hype and prove that they actually have the goods.
I consider Surf and its followup Gethsemane to be essential listening, and once you've ventured that far, you might as well stick around for Mcdermott's self-titled album that followed those two albums in 1996. Make it that far, and chances are that you're like me, and you own the entire McDermott catalog.
Like Springsteen, McDermott is prolific, recording 10 songs for every one song that he releases, introducing a new cast of characters with each one, often woven together with plenty of lyrical self-examination. McDermott's life since 1991 has seen its share of turbulent ups and downs, culminating in the release of Noise from Words, which was potentially McDermott's darkest release to date.
After Noise, the title of McDermott's new album Hey La Hey seemed almost cheery, which makes a lot of sense, if you know McDermott's current backstory. The demons have been sent packing, and best of all, McDermott got married to singer/songwriter Heather Horton earlier this year, in May. All's well that hopefully seems to be ending well, and that comes through loud and clear on Hey La Hey.
Mcdermott spoke to the Chicago Tribune recently about the new album:
"Sometimes you just have to find your bottom," says McDermott from Nashville, where he lives part-time with his wife, singer-songwriter Heather Horton. (The two still maintain a residence in Chicago.) "Fortunately, I came walking out the other side and met an amazing woman. I'm in a different place now than I was a year ago."
Although it's not completely lyrically upbeat, there is an overly happy vibe that runs throughout Hey La Hey, and there's a new spring to be found in McDermott's musical step in every song. You can tell it's going to be a good ride from the beginning of album-opener "So Am I," with acoustic guitar, harmonica, and a vocal from McDermott that finds him instantly in great voice. Horton backs McDermott vocally throughout the album, and even takes a lead vocal two tracks in on "Hard to Break," and although it's an interesting move to veer away from McDermott on the second track, it's a great tune that fits right in on the album. "The Great American Novel" and "The Year That It All Went Wrong" are signature tracks from McDermott that seem destined to become fan favorites, and while we're on the subject, "I Wanna Know Why" is one of the best opening singles I've heard from McDermott in a while, a total winner that made me instantly want to hear the rest of the album.
And perhaps it will do the same for you - check it out here:
Here are a few more tracks to help convince you to investigate the rest of McDermott's great catalog:
Hey La Hey is available digitally now, and hits stores on Tuesday (8/11.)
photo credit for B/W McDermott photo: Niva Bringas