Six on the Out
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The Westies are quickly becoming one of my favorite rock bands. They're based in New York City, thought you can be forgiven if you guessed they're from West Texas. Six on the Out is a darker album than we heard on their debut West Side Stories and that's saying something. Songwriter, lead vocalist, and linchpin Michael McDermott has a penchant for desperation and desperadoes and they appear in abundance on Six on the Out.
Because of McDermott's Irish roots and his tendency to open morose songs with bits of mandolin or bouzouki, The Westies are said to play Celtic-flavored music. You can hear that on songs such as "The Gang's All Here," where the featured neighborhood cast of characters could be straight off an ill-tempered Irish pirate ship, but a song like "If I Had a Gun" is outlaw country dressed up by an atmospheric rock band sporting a few embellishments by fiddler Heather Horton. And as McDermott builds the ominous tension of the song, he spits out the vocals of lines like "The hunger fuels my soul/The anger fuels my heart/I'm tired of being pushed around/I can't seem to break free/If I had a gun/I might point it back at me" as if he's a whiskey-soaked Bono. Mainly, though, he reminds me of Bruce Springsteen with a huskier voice. Check him out on "Pauper's Sky" or "Santa Fe" and you'll hear the same sort of leave-it-all-on-the-stage rock and roll for which the Boss is known, which a splash of bar band insouciance thrown in.
Horton contributes a touch of optimism when she takes the lead on "Like You Used to Do," but even this little love song has sharp edges—a partner's plea to put aside the anger, the booze, and the disappointments to "love me/Like you used to do." This album is indeed a stroll down dark alleyways—quite a lot of it reminiscent in style to Springsteen's Nebraska release. This album's tales include nods to hookers, ex-cons, future cons, the contrary, and con artists. Among this cast, "Henry McCarty," McDermott's contribution to music's ever-growing Bill the Kid oeuvre, isn't even the most dangerous man in the room. To round off the album, McDermott pours all of his angst into a single song, "Sirens." It's the tragic tale of being orphaned, finding redemption, losing it in a single debauched evening, and just when its antihero thinks it can't get any worse, it does.
Maybe my description makes it sound as if this album is the aural equivalent of wallowing in the mud along Hooligan Highway. It's not. Six on the Out instead has the therapeutic feel of working out anxiety and despair on a sweaty stage instead of an antiseptic social worker's couch. It is raw, honest, and filled with energy and verve. Besides, good rock of all varieties (folk, country, electric, etc.) is supposed to move your soul. If all you want is nostrums, any old sugary pop song will do; this album's sweetness and redemption come with pricks from the razor's edge.