Edwin McCain: Scream & Whisper

[10 November 2004]

By Will Harris

New material from the man who once described himself looking like "Meatloaf's cousin". He's trimmed down a bit since then, thankfully...

I had the opportunity to interview Edwin McCain in 2001, not long after the release of his album, Far From Over, had hit stores. He was like a proud parent when speaking of the record, as many musicians tend to be when promoting their new product, but this one was particularly special to him.

This one was going to make a statement.

“For so long in the industry, I was just doing whatever anybody told me I should do,” McCain explained to me. “‘Sure, I’ll do that! No problem! I’m your man! Whose ass do you want me to kiss today?’ Just for the sake of trying to maintain a career, y’know, but at the cost of being more honest and being myself. And this whole record is my trying to put together an antidote for all that.

“It’s either gonna be one of those things where people go, ‘Yeah, right on, that’s great,’ or, like, ‘Hey, we liked you better when you were phony!’ But it’s either gonna be one way or the other. It’s gonna be a make-or-break kind of thing, and that’s kind of what I was looking for, so, hopefully, it’ll work out.”

Yeah, it didn’t work out.

After spending six years and four albums on Atlantic Records, singer/songwriter McCain made the move to an indie label in 2003, releasing The Austin Sessions on ATC Records; the label also put out McCain’s first DVD, entitled Mile Marker: Songs and Stories from the Acoustic Highway.

Although the understandable presumption is that the move from major label to indie was one of necessity rather than design at the time it occurred, it was a transition that was inevitable. McCain’s style hasn’t changed dramatically since he released his debut, Honor Among Thieves, in 1995, even though the musical climate around him has shifted considerably. With no intentions of adjusting his art to match the whims of the ever-fickle industry, where else is a singer/songwriter like McCain going to find a home except on a label that specifically caters to his existing manner of music?

Funny thing about that, though. ATC apparently wasn’t the way to go. A check of their website indicates that McCain’s album was the last thing to have been released by the label, and that was on February 25th, 2003. Not exactly a good sign, commercially speaking.

As such, McCain picked a new three-letter combination and signed to DRT Entertainment, a label that, on the surface, doesn’t seem to be an instant fit, either; a visit to their website shows that McCain’s labelmates include Gwar and Clutch. Further investigation, however, shows that John Wesley Harding, Seven Mary Three, and Lit are also part of the DRT family ... or, in other words, fellow escapees from the major label trenches.

Scream & Whisper, McCain’s DRT debut, is, you guessed it, more of the same predominantly acoustic folk/pop/rock he’s been doing throughout his career. This isn’t a bad thing; he does it well, better than many of his peers. There’s no just particular step forward or backward.

Having to nail down the absolute best song on the album is an easy task; it’s “Shooting Stars”, a co-write with Angie Aparo, a great musician (and fabulous vocalist) in his own right. This isn’t to say that the rest of the album is bad; it’s just that, wow, this particular song absolutely roars (insofar as a McCain song can roar) with hit single potential. At just under four minutes, it’s the perfect length to get McCain radio airplay and score talk show appearances, and the chorus takes but one listen to get stuck in your head. If there’s any real competition on the disc, it’s “Say Anything”, which features vocal assistance from Maia Sharp.

McCain definitely goes out of his way to avoid making it feel as though he’s just fronting a bunch of anonymous studio musicians. Guitarist Pete Riley co-writes several songs with McCain (including the aforementioned “Shooting Stars”), one with Paul O’Brien (“Save The Rain”, an album highlight), and even gets a solo writing credit on “Day Will Never Come”.

The only obvious complaint about the album comes from the song “Couldn’t Love You More”. It seems to tread a little close in title to his past hit, “I Could Not Ask for More”, and, given that they’re both romantic ballads, it seems a little suspicious. It could easily lead one to presume that it’s a desperate bid for airplay. The irony, however, is that this album is chock full of potential singles. In addition to the aforementioned songs, there’s album opener “Coming Down” and even the slightly silly “Farewell yo Tinkerbell”, both of which would easily fit into most adult-alternative radio playlists. There’s even a cover of “Maggie May” tacked on as a bonus track, but that’d be taking the easy way out and underselling the fine originals, so hopefully DRT won’t go down that path.

Some might say that Edwin McCain makes inoffensive acoustic music, but, hey, someone’s got to do it. We can at least take comfort in the fact that he does it in a catchier, more enjoyable manner than most.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/mccainedwin-scream/