[6 September 2011]
OK, I admit it. I used to be a Hootie and the Blowfish fan. Who doesn’t enjoy cranking up a soft rock hit on a hot summer afternoon? There is something about four chords, light distortion, and a good pop hook. Southern singer-songwriter Edwin McCain has always been that kind of meat and potatoes musician. Mostly skirting the mainstream, he has carved out a consistent career as a pop-rock troubadour with a knack for wedding songs. A steady touring schedule and some successful mid-tempo hits keep his crew in demand as a better-than-average bar band.
I dare say that all of us have been exposed (even if unwillingly) to McCain’s wedding hit “I’ll Be” or have sung along to the lyrics, “These are the moments / I thank God that I’m alive / And these are the moments / I’ll remember all my life”, from “I Could Not Ask For More”. America, let’s not forget that before there was Lee DeWyze or David Cook, of American Idol fame, there was Edwin McCain. A working man’s pop-rock talent with sultry whiskey vocals to boot. And more power to him.
Mercy Bound is McCain’s 10th album and his first to be released on 429 Records. This time around marks a full-length collaboration with fellow singer-songwriter, Maia Sharp. The joint effort has resulted in a nice album that works on several levels. The lyrics are a good match for the music and possess an overall story-like quality that does justice to the collaboration. But Mercy Bound also lacks the emotional directness and singable hooks of other McCain penned tunes.
He is at his best when his voice is at its most soulful, like when it is accompanied by Warren Haynes’ guitar on the stripped down track “The Lucky One”. Most of the tracks on Mercy Bound also lack memorable pop hooks that take the listener to new places musically. The first track, “The Boy Who Cried Love”, is being pitched as the radio single, but a track like “Boom” is both musically and emotionally more interesting. Another solid hook can be found on the laid-back “Better Story to Tell”; and “Uncharted” is a duet that showcases some of the strengths of the shared songwriting. The remainder of the tracks never launch beyond the mediocrity that may be a comfort for long time fans.
In spite of the weakness of the songwriting, McCain’s longtime band mates are still in fine form. Craig Shields, Larry Chaney, Markeya Sherard and Jason Pomar are, no doubt, the ingredients that make McCain’s live show tick. The production on Mercy Bound is not as polished as other McCain releases, but that does not hamper the music. The band is tight and the live take feel compensates for the mediocre arrangements.
My guess is that a younger Edwin McCain might have had a chance at winning American Idol. He embodies the kind of Southern charm and sensitivity that makes the ladies swoon. But Mercy Bound is, well… predictable. Like your favorite bar band, Edwin McCain will be there every Friday night and that is quite alright with me.