Release Date: July 20, 2015
I may have a tendency of over-selling records by artists that I’m really committed to – especially when it’s something that I’ve been waiting years to hear. But in the case of Brian McSweeney’s latest release, Love Me Down, I promise you that every word of praise is well-earned.
For the uninitiated, the ever-youthful McSweeney boasts a two-decade-long, critically-acclaimed career. Unfortunately, most of that acclaim came in the first quarter of his career fronting the bands Seven Day Jesus and Matthew. For the last few years, however, McSweeney has spent most of his time behind the scenes, working as road crew for other artists and playing gigs here and there. In the last 5 years, he released an EP and several videos and clips on YouTube – just enough to whet the appetite for something more substantial.
I spoke with Brian a year and a half ago and got a fantastic play by play of the last 15 years of life for him and the promise of something great coming down the pike. He told me of how he had discovered the music of Ray Charles and then gone out and written and recorded a soul record complete with strings and horns – a far cry from the post-alternative rock he had built his career around at the turn of the millenium. The wait for this record has been unreal.. but oh, so worth it.
The album-opener “Black Diamond” sets the stage well by leaning on classic instrumentation – keys, violins, and John Mayer-esque guitar riffs give way to a verse carried simply by the drum and bass. The composition of “Turning Pages”, juxtaposing major/minor chords against one another, makes it perhaps the most reminiscent of the artist’s previous ballads. “Pillowfight” is probably the most upbeat track and calls to mind shades of Stevie Wonder, especially on its super-hooky outro tag of “Something feels like summertime/Children laughing all the time.” While it doesn’t completely drop the soul-vibe, “Wildfire” has the most singer-songwriter feel of the whole album.
In a previous conversation, Brian mentioned his move to Nashville in the aftermath of a long, unhealthy relationship. The stains of those experiences are all over this record. “She Says #1” – which boasts an intro that brings to mind The Temptations’ classic “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” – deals with the after-effects of infidelity. The almost-cinematic “Black Friday” draws the listener into the uncomfortable scene of breakup in-progress as it builds through sweeping vocals without offering a chorus to break the tension. As rough as it is to experience, it is perhaps the best track on the album.
A conversation from many years ago about making great records often comes to mind. A producer friend was discussing his desire to make “timeless” records – albums that sound like they could have come out yesterday or thirty years ago and still be relevant. I feel like that is exactly what Brian McSweeney has done here. It’s eclectic in all the right ways pulling in sounds as varied as Sam Cooke, The Beatles, and Richard Marx, yet not a single note feels out of place. Generally speaking, I prefer to hear acoustic versions of songs, but nearly all of these tracks demand full instrumentation as though that is as integral to the piece as the melody and lyrics – that to me is the sign of an album truly transcending music and becoming art.
You can stream Love Me Down on Brian’s site and Spotify, but do yourself a favor and actually purchase it.
Also, stay tuned for a new interview with Brian coming next week.