Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Out now: 'Orphans' by Michael McDermott

Michael McDermott’s new album Orphans (Pauper Sky Records) explores similar terrain as its critically acclaimed predecessors Willow Springs and Out from Under, but its 12 songs have an extra power that drives the set forward. As the title suggests, this is a collection of compositions that were initially abandoned, but refused to leave McDermott’s mind.

“Some songs won’t go away,” McDermott explains. “On all of my records there’s this stack of songs that won’t make it—and they disappear for good. It wasn’t the case this time. This isn’t an outtake album. I have an album waiting to go, but these songs were too loud in my heart, they kept waking me at night. These songs are orphans, in much the same way I’ve felt in the last three years.”

While shaping and crafting these tunes that refused to be forgotten, the singer-songwriter was additionally attracted to the theme of “orphans,” having experienced a personal period of displacement while touring for his past two albums. “Since the success of Willow Springs, i’ve been on the road an awful lot,” he notes. “My parents gone--now three years--and being away from my own family left me feeling quite the ‘little boy lost’…orphaned.”

It’s a morose lens, but one that ultimately works on a universal level throughout the entire diverse tracklisting, which traverses various styles. “Tell Tale Heart,” the album’s rocking opener, harkens back to some of McDermott’s earlier work musically, with his classic lyrical approach. The song’s title comes from an Edgar Allen Poe story of the same name, deftly dropping in references such as Dorian Grey and IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands.

“Meadowlark” embraces McDermott’s aforementioned feeling of distance from and longing for home, as does the harrowing “Black Tree Blue Sky,” which contains such lyrics as: “I’ve been so out of my mind, that I woke up, in different states/Somehow checked into cheap hotels, with negotiated rates.”

“Los Angeles, A Lifetime Ago,” creates a snapshot of a period in McDermott’s life that, like his songs, he can’t expunge from his mind. “I lived in L.A. for a while, wasn’t the best time of my life,” he relates. “I slept in bushes and my drug dealer lived in a tree, made a mess of things….what else is new?”

This deeply personal degree of songwriting dances throughout the entire set, providing a theoretical “anchor” for these musical “orphans.” McDermott acknowledges his writing prowess, but “I don’t like talking about writing too much,” he cautions. “It’s sacred to me, and I feel like i’m doing it a disservice by discussing the mystery and wonder of it all. I just try and coexist with it, honor it, be humbled by it, keep my eyes down and do my work.”

The musician prides himself on “doing work,” having honed that ethic growing up on the Irish Southside of Chicago. It’s a quality he’s clung to, even throughout a tumultuous career that’s taken some twists and turns. His early success in 1991 with 620 West Surf on Warner Brothers Records catapulted him into the limelight in his early 20s--a rollercoaster ride he wasn’t quite prepared for, and that sent him on a road of self destruction. Narrowly avoiding a prison sentence, McDermott battled addiction for the next 10 years. However, with the help of his singer-songwriter sideman Heather Lynne Horton and their child, McDermott pulled himself out of the addictive cycle now been clean and sober for four years.

With his newfound lease on life, McDermott is optimistic about the future and hopes that the examination of his “orphans” on this particular album will help others find the connection we all need to thrive. “We all have addiction issues,” he states. “Consumerism, porn, food, tv, social media, tweeting, texting, sexting, twerking, working,…it’s endless. I feel a shift coming on though, that people are going to start turning inward to find freedom. Inward to start finding protection. Inward to start finding connection.”

McDermott will be touring behind Orphans throughout spring of 2019. For his most recent dates on his schedule, check

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