Those looking for material for a tragic novel could do worse than borrow from the biography of Tim McNary: raised in a cheerless Chicago evangelical home, a bout of homelessness, two band breakups, depression, and the theft of his van and all of his equipment…. At the very least you could get some good country music out of that. And he has—his forthcoming EP Above the Trees resulted from a move to Nashville and catharsis with guitar and pen. His voice has been compared to that of Damien Rice and that's a pretty good analogy in that both are capable of high-level drama and low-level pain. The vocals also evoke Richard Shindell's mix of reedy and guttural tones. My favorite track is "The Other Man," a song about the proverbial third wheel in a doomed triad: You've got another man… and I don't give a damn/I'm the one loving you now. Now if that's not a country song, I don't know what is. In style, though, McNary is more on the acoustic end of things, with flights into theatrical and robust arrangements. The EP releases April 8, but you can sample tracks now at Noisetrade.
All I can tell you about Dillingham is that it's an acoustic rock band based in Charlottesville, Virginia. The lead singer, Tucker MacDonald, sounds as if he might be English. Apparently the entire for-sale output is three tracks available for download. I liked all three. "Chicago" has the sad feel of a man pouring out his sorrows at a 2 am café as an accordion squeezes out the pain. "Night Run" is a different thing altogether—a metronome-like beat, some acoustic guitar playing over it, and vocals on, in-between, and behind the beat. The lyrics aren't really the point; it's more like being washed in sound. "Ships" features very strong vocals from a very fine singer, whoever he might be. Go to your favorite download site, sample these, and see if one makes you want to shell out a buck. It's worth it. Now enough with the mystery. Who are these folks?
"Smoke and Sparks" from the new record lives up to its title. The circular strumming of the guitar is robust and his Young-like voice is dotted with colors and mannerisms that are like Springsteen in a country mode. I'm hopeful there will more of this.
Young," is to open slow and mournful then segue to some crunchy power chords. This song has a bit of rock opera drama to it—as does "Stand Up, Fall Down"–but others spin differently. "No Ordinary Night" is a Van Morrison-like song with its jazzy horns and soulful grooves, yet the punfully named "Saxy" uses the same horns to deliver the power jazz/progressive rock of bands like Jon Hiseman's Colosseum. And then there's the heavy metal-meets-country "Departure (Yours)," whose very title lets us know a happy ending is unlikely. This one is another pay-what-you-wantdownload and its five tracks are well worth a few bucks.
"The Asp and theAlbatross," which has fine backing electric instrumentation, and the backwoodsy "Number One with a Bullet," a dark song done as if it were a two-step. Each has its appeal as alt.country living up to its label. There aren't many bands with such unusual vocals, so you can be excused if you think Freakwater is best imbibed in small sips, not big gulps. They're worth a taste test, though.