Far From Over
Edwin McCain's fourth album starts with the title track, a song that initially sounds like it's about a renewed love affair: "I can't believe she said that we can work it out/I thought that we were near the end...but this is far from over my friend." As it turns out, it is about a love affair, but not with a woman. "My lover's name is music," McCain eventually sings, and suddenly you realize that this upbeat rock celebration is a personal reaffirmation of the singer-songwriter's career, which got its first boost in 1995 with a Top 100 hit in "Solitude" and peaked in 1997 with the Top 10 single "I'll Be."
"Far From Over" is a strong opening that leads into 11 more mid-tempo pop rock songs, from the string-enhanced prayer of "Hearts Fall" ("God don't let me break her heart" he begs) to the guitar rave-up "Get Out of This Town."
Ten years ago, a singer-songwriter named Jude Cole had a string of radio friendly rock hits with "Baby, It's Tonight," "House Full of Reasons," "Start The Car," and "Worlds Apart." Then he seemed to drop off the earth. Edwin McCain could be Cole's reincarnation - with vocals in the same tenor and range, and heartland rock with catchy hooks but not too much distortion, Far From Over is an album filled with Cole-style adult contemporary rock hits. "The Sun Will Rise" has a touch of country guitar amid the infectious chorus ("I know the sun will rise/ just like the stars in the sky/just like every time you look at me with loving in your eyes/I know the sun will rise"), and "I've Seen A Love" riffs on a classic organ and guitar sound that Stevie Ray Vaughn might have tapped.
McCain likes to write songs about characters; "Write Me A Song" (which features friend Shawn Colvin on background vocals) is a lilting folkish track about hard luck women who ask the balladeer to write them a song that will make everyone else jealous. But he also writes personal treatises. "Letter To My Mother" is a mother's day gift that every woman would love to receive. McCain sings of the difficult feelings of an adopted son:
Mama, how do I write the words to you
you were the only one who loved me true
but there's a woman that we don't even know
she gave me life, then you gave me a home
I love you, mama, but I want to tell her too
is that her little boy still loves you.
And "Kentucky" addresses more difficult personal feelings - a former lover recalls all the childish actions he once took that ruined a relationship on the eve of the woman's wedding to another. In a regretful chorus, he sings: "I was just a boy for you, but he will be your man."
"Get Out of This Town" is McCain's "Start The Car," a crunchy, windows-down driving song. "Radio Star" keeps things rocking as well, and "One Thing Left" checks back into R&B territory again with some funky guitars, growling vocals and low-crooning sax. McCain closes the album with an inspirational Gospel-tinged hymn in "Jesus, He Loves Me."
With a dozen strong songs, a mix of Americana styles, and a Texas and Memphis-influenced roots-rock production that consistently features big background vocals, McCain has crafted a great easy-listening rock record in Far From Over. Let's hope the title is an accurate prediction of his career.
New On The Shelves
Columbia's Legacy label has just released a compilation of live performances from the first and second seasons of the PBS interview/concert show Sessions. Featuring 13 tracks, the new CD The Best of Sessions at West 54th includes live recordings from 1997-98 of Ben Folds Five ("Brick"), Sheryl Crow ("Everyday is a Winding Road"), Natalie Merchant ("Wonder"), Shawn Colvin ("Diamond In The Rough") and Elvis Costello & Burt Bacharach ("Painted From Memory"). Also included are tracks from David Byrne, John Hiatt, Ani DeFranco, Suzanne Vega, Emmylou Harris and Lou Reed.
If you'd like a bit of a Zydeco history lesson, try Terrance Simien's The Tribute Sessions, available through Aim Records. Simien is a big name in zydeco himself, and on this disc he covers various cajun styles and songs from Sidney Simien, Sam Cooke, Clifton Chenier, John Delafose, Bob Marley, Canray Fontenot, Andus "Beau Jocque" Espre and more.
Looking for a laidback folk album? I don't usually cover folk rock music in this column, but Slaid Cleaves' Broke Down, from Philo Records, has remained stubbornly near my CD player for a couple months now. The easy-strumming guitarist is reminiscient of Gordon Lightfoot on the story-song "Breakfast in Hell" and at other times of early Jackson Browne with his country-tinged songs and light vocal delivery. His songs aren't going to hit the pop charts anytime soon; this is the kind of music perfect for nodding to at a coffeehouse or a neighborhood bar.