Underrated Orphan

Singer/songwriter Michael McDermott comes out from under the radar and attempts to get to personal

Michael McDermott 

What is the essence of a sensitive singer/songwriter if it’s not to share their confessions and bare their inner souls?

It may seem like a particularly narcissistic niche, but truth be told, most people often feel better about their own predicaments when they find others who feel the same way they do. Put the emphasis on empathy. After all, many of us measure our own worth and accomplishment by comparing our fortunes to those around us.

That may be a prime reason why artists like Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, Richard Thompson and Leonard Cohen have fared so well within our collective consciousness. Each has proffered their craft through hard luck stories of love and loss, exploring deepest depths of anguish and despair while freely sharing their experience with the world. The public seems to gravitate towards these woeful tales, and then reward those that share them by praising their perception and sensitivity. And while we may envy them these artists for their wealth and adulation, we can also take comfort in the fact that their tortured souls are far more burdened than our own.

It’s especially easy to relate when the artist involved still resides below the radar and hasn’t achieved the trappings of success that otherwise add to our envy and prevent us from fully empathizing with him or her.

Michael McDermott Orphans, Paper Sky 2019

Consider Michael McDermott for example. A superb singer and songwriter whose career dates back to the early ‘90s, but who has yet to achieve any of the adulation that’s clearly his due, McDermott has released a series of revered albums that connect superficially, even if they don’t necessarily resonate emotionally. That’s not a bad thing — not at all. And it doesn’t mean that his alluring melodies can’t allow for instant engagement.

On the other hand, Orphans finds McDermott veering slightly from his usual MO. The songs are as infectious as always — the drive and determination of “Tell Tale Heart,” “Meadowlark” and “The Wrong Side of Town” are flush with a frenzy and a fury can generally prompt enough pumping fists to match any anthemic enthusiasm stirred by a Bruce Springsteen show. Likewise, the beautiful ballads “Los Angeles, A Lifetime Ago,” “Sometimes When It Rains In Memphis” and “Black Tree, Blue Sky” are taut with tenderness, undeniably emotive and instantly affecting. What’s different here is the emotional investment McDermott’s imbued in this set of songs. While he’s never necessarily distanced himself from his content, here he finds himself at the center of each selection, a commitment that gives the material reason to resonate with the listener that much more.

Of course, given the fact that the album is titled Orphans may have something to do with that change in tack. Several of the songs have to do with distance, displacement and the need to reconnect some frayed emotional bonds. It’s a theme that’s reaffirmed through the origins of the album itself; it’s spawned from compositions that never made their way to any earlier album, but still seemed to tug at their composer and demand further focus.

“These songs are orphans, in much the same way I’ve felt for the past three years,” McDermott maintains.

Indeed, emotions can be elusive, but McDermott shows the skill needed to allow a proper bond. What might have been lost is now revived, securing sentiments for anyone inclined to indulge.



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Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

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