Brian McGee: Take It or Leave It
There's a famous Aesop fable in which the moral is appearances can be deceiving.
This moral applies to Brian McGee and the cover of his recent release, The Taking or the Leaving. McGee appears on the cover nonchalantly leaning over a bathroom sink, with sleeves rolled up, his face lacking the effort to muster even a half-smile. On the outside, one may perceive him as a stick-in-the-mud, but inside, McGee proves to be more like a wild, mighty tree on the rise.
As a teenager in Pennsylvania, Brian McGee wanted nothing more than to be a punk rocker. McGee grew up and out of that phase, though not entirely abandoning it. In his adult years, McGee eventually landed in Asheville, N.C., absorbing southern culture and noise.
He released his first album, the country-styled Brian McGee & The Hollow Speed, in 2008. On his second album, The Taking or the Leaving, McGee trades in the banjos and fiddles, opting for middle ground between his punk roots and those of the Appalachians.
On The Taking or the Leaving, McGee qualifies as a backwoods Bruce Springsteen. McGee has an imperfect voice that at times is heart-wrenching, but is also capable of entering madman mode.
McGee is more rockabilly than Bruce, but has the same chameleon ability to change from track to track. The Taking or the Leaving also exemplifies a song-writing skill not far behind the Boss.
The Taking or the Leaving is an examination of love, death and the desire to get away from the trials of life. In "Let's Bleed," McGee sings "I'll tell you everything I've ever done" and that "If 21 was like 30, I'd have been a better man." It's McGee's admission he's a wizened man who embraces his thicker skin.
McGee is no grumpy old man on The Taking or the Leaving, rollicking on "Fire" and "Hold Sway." He's is still young enough to get away with a giddy song about a short-lived relationship evolving from a "First Kiss" in a record store, but simultaneously at an age where it's impossible to deny his number will one day be called.
McGee contemplates mortality through a dying woman in the "The Great Unknown." What could be a morose song is revealed to be a beautiful examination of the end of life. McGee's character is flickering light, in her sickness gaining glimpses of what lies ahead of her demise. She returns from the darkness telling her loved ones, "Maybe next time you should go, out with me, wild and free, into the great unknown." McGee speculates the afterlife is possibly "better than riding a Ferris wheel or watching children grow."
McGee's songwriting features a maturity many younger acts lack, but, of course, some of that comes from additional years and experiences. A greater appreciation of The Taking and the Leaving will come from those who have loved and lost a few times.
Returning to the album cover of The Taking or the Leaving, after giving it a listen, one can conclude Brian McGee purposely displays his ugly mug as a way of saying, "This is me; Take it or leave it." He gets up in the morning and brushes his teeth in the mirror just like anyone else. McGee has arrived at a place in life where he's comfortable with his reflection, and that's all that really matters.
Brian McGee is online at BrianMcGeeMusic.com. McGee is touring the East Coast through mid-November.