Over the past couple years Michele McGuire has sparked what I assume will be a long and successful career. Her 2012 record Mid-Western was a surprising piece of modern country music full of pop and jazz touchstones. She’s also surrounded herself with some fine musicians to fill out her live show, which seems to get better every time I see her.
On her new EP, Off The Wagon, McGuire doesn’t try to mix genres, opting instead to make a full-on no messin’ around country record. The record comes off as more focused, and plays to her strengths. The voice cracks and yelps come and go in fits of vulnerability and strength, displaying the feelings of her characters and her own as a performer.
The title track, which is also the lead single, plays a bit like a real-life version of Lurleen Lumpkin’s “Bag Me A Homer.” It’s a song of drunken late-night trysts and youthful indiscretion. “I ain’t tryin’ to wreck your life, and I ain’t tryin’ to be your wife. Nothin to do in this old town, let’s twist the top and drink it down.” A toe-tappin’ number to be sure, the song is a fun start to the EP. I really like the catches in McGuire’s voice in the chorus as she reaches for the high end on her “No no no'”s.
I’ve been digging the song “Got It All” for a while now. I First heard it back in July when I saw McGuire opening for Caitlin Rose at Schubas. Here McGuire delivers a timeless banjo and violin-filled jaunt through young love. “Smiled at me and I fell right in, hit the town for a night of sin. I never imagined the first boy I meet I’d fall right in.” The songs acts as a kind of antithesis to “Off The Wagon,” but doesn’t feel out of place. Rather it shines a light on the short period of euphoric perfection that blossoms in every new relationship.
When listening to “He’ll Be There” I noticed a resemblance, however minute, to Wilco’s “How To Fight Loneliness.” I’m sure it was unplanned, and maybe I’m the only person who will ever notice it, but it added to my enjoyment of what is already a very well-written song. I’m guessing it’s Ryan Anderson’s pedal steel that’s forcing my brain to make that connection, and while it never really explodes on it’s own, it provides a foundation for the rest of the song to build on.
Even at only five songs, Off The Wagon is an impressive collection of tunes. McGuire’s matured as a songwriter over the past couple years, and this is easily her best work to date. You can catch her live at The Hideout next Friday, February 21st, with Martin Van Ruin and The Whiskey Gentry as part of Harmonica Dunn’s Dunn Dunn Fest (click here for tickets). You’ll have to wait until February 25th to hear the full recording, but if you pre-order now you’ll get a download of “Off The Wagon” immediately.