This Ain’t Your Granddaddy’s Folk Album: A Review of the Latest Work by Micah McCaw
Not only does he tour the country playing his own solo work, but locally-based Micah McCaw also tours as a member of bands named Seaons (see-ons) and everett as well. His music is described as guitar driven progressive rock. I agree with that, but let me add his music fuses together a unique blend of soul depth, indie folk soundscape, and cerebral matter.
McCaw’s voice sounds like frontman Nick Hexum’s from the band 311; a slightly nerdy quality to it, but aesthetically pleasing nonetheless. And, he has quite a vocal range, which is especially heard in an earlier release, “Blemishes.” In this emotionally vulnerable song, his voice occasionally slips effortlessly into a smooth falsetto and then soon after sets back down into his usual vocal register again. The current singles, though, are much more edgy and confident; McCaw must want to emphasize his ability to have versatility in his work.
His next album, “Imbalances,” is scheduled for release early 2020 (January 10)—and, with a sneak preview, the Messenger tuned into the first singles pulled from it.
“The Dance,” the lead single, has a start-stop-start syncopation energy. Musically, the song has parts that contain an echoey guitar riff behind the main guitar line running through the song’s entirety. “The books all fell apart,” McCaw sings. “The pages smeared into the dark. The future has a flare but I never know if it’s there.”
After first hearing and reading the lyrics, I thought that the song was about struggling with uncertainty; there’s a conflicted quality to reflecting on the past and being worried about the future, and the mixed emotions about both engage in a delicate dance with each other.
But then I come to find out from the artist’s bio that “The Dance” is more about the “complexities of finding balance in a world that increasingly forces many to focus on work and status over family and health.” Whoa. I already liked the song because of his reflective voice and skillful, syncopated guitars and drums, but that insight really struck a chord with me.
The second single, “Manifest Destiny,” leads us on a guided tour of political corruption. At first, the song plods along patiently, taking its time to set the mood and carefully instruct the listener about what to watch out for when it comes to current politicians. McCaw is a teacher with a dry sense of humor here when he describes the politician as having “insatiable greed,” running a “country that’s not yours to police.” He sardonically adds, “Let’s drop some napalm so we can promote peace.” The song heads towards its conclusion with McCaw’s guitar suddenly becoming frustrated and impatient, abruptly driving this message home in a climactic frenzy.
In “Meadowlark,” the intro and outro of the song sounds like a muffled, churning piece of machinery; fittingly—or perhaps ironically—so, given what seems like McCaw’s philosophy about being alive, being present, honest, and human. McCaw sings “Brain tied in knots….the light dims slowly. You don’t realize it’s dark. If the wax builds in your ears you can’t hear the meadowlark.” Again, the lyrics seem to have many possible targets and meanings; for me, though, the social commentary seemed to be McCaw’s way of talking about people with their heads buried in the sand…or their phones.
I love when artists do something unique, and with an artistic intent that requires more than one listen to “get.” Such is the case with McCaw’s Bible series in which he takes the first Bible characters in order and personifies them, starting with Adam. He progressively adds lengths of time matching song parts that build with each character. For example, “Adam” is in one part lasting exactly one minute long. “Eve” is next and in two parts, the first being exactly one minute and the second being exactly two minutes, and so forth. The description of the three parts of “Abel,” each exactly one minute longer than the last, reads “Abel speaks of his feelings leading up to, during, and after his murder.”
McCaw is a dynamic and smart songwriter, and the sampling of singles from his forthcoming album hint at a profound offering worthy of more than one listen. He already performs in Portland, Seattle, and New York City—and we are lucky enough to have him performing at 6:30 pm on November 15, The Story in Ashland, $5, with Matt Combe, Jeremy Oliveria and Mason Storm Faulconer.