I don’t look forward to anything, not even my morning coffee. Expectations of the worst sort. Bitter. Expensive. Slightly off cream. Slightly off soy milk. Frequently, no matter which direction things turn in, it’s best to have low expectations. I know people who tell me to have no expectations. In their eyes, I’m practically a wide-eyed novice in the school of advanced cynicism.
All that, and here I am with a music file I’ve been sent. I set the bar low, even though my abs won’t let me limbo. If only I lived by the ocean, I think. I could swim out to sea. But here, in the city, there is music. Then, with a deep breath, I press play because what else can you do when the train stops? Get on.
The first few seconds expand, contract, breathe.
The really good part about being a cynic is when you are surprised, and taken aback, and even unable to explain a bit – it’s like a shock to the system. The ice-cold pool you dive into on a hot day, the ice-cold beer you drink when the planet is on fire. The kind word, the calm hand on your shoulder. A seat on the train. Coffee that doesn’t suck. Think of all that as a pyramid of Maslow’s hierarchy of whatever, that he apparently stole from the Native Americans (look it up) and then reach up.
So let me introduce you to Sandy McLelland. He just played some festivals. He is now going to be playing a lot of places. His new album, Cross the Line, has just been released and it’s a beauty.
Oh yes. The songs remind me of the Small Faces. Rod Stewart when his voice was a phenomenon, not a disco pick up. Eric Clapton and the deep strange blood of the South in Duane Allman when Derek and the Dominos found everything good about heat and dense trees and pickup trucks. Back then, the UK could take the blues and make it different, make us whole. Even Depeche Mode could infuse electronica with the steady beat of the blues and find what wasn’t explained.
Sandy seems to have imbibed this, just at the moment when politics is splitting us apart. It hardly seems possible, with everything going on, that some soft touch on this musical pulse would be so pleasurable.
The first song reminds me it’s the harmonies, the vibration, that get through to you. Cross the Line and its steady beat, country rock with no nonsense. Again – everything that makes music from over the pond – now that I’m on the wrong side – more direct, mixing with the simple smoothness of a good song. The guitar playing on this is first rate, crisp, rich, full.
The next song, Already Gone, is the same, but has jumped a decade. Think Glenn Frey and the Eagles. The days when daytime drinking and dreaming about better times wasn’t replaced by updating your freelance CV and contemplating branding. On the other hand, it’s not a throwback. Not a copy, just an echo. Like standing out in the night and hearing all the sounds, every unseen story. Did I mention I love pedal steel? You should too. The production on this song is surprisingly thick and forceful. Almost too close, but in a pleasant way, like when someone you like leans close and tells you a secret.
Dear god, another song, and I’m still not disappointed. Before the Sun Goes Down. I want a cocktail on the beach, while I watch the sun sink below the horizon and rethink all my choices. There’s the pedal steel again. This song has the backbone, but on this one I want a bit more production. Because this is a banger. Come on. Song of the summer. Mutt Lange would turn this into a blockbuster. No matter. We can sit together and enjoy this. But this deserves to be a radio star. Eh. Who cares. We’ve got the sunset and something nice to cook for dinner.
All in the Name of Love, makes me remember the old days, when Steve Winwood and Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood took Americana and made it better.
We’re all used to being sold a package now, as Kristeva said, we’re overwhelmed with images, used to putting up with what we are given from the big names. It’s wonderful to be reminded that a big budget doesn’t do everything. God knows there’s a lot of music writing out there designed to back up how lack of talent mixed with big bucks production should be on your stream, in your ears, in your wallet. Either you write to explore, or you write to sell. Maybe it’s the same with music.
Anyway. Sandy’s music is like walking into the local and finding the most beautiful person you’ve ever seen is actually behind the bar. And everyone is happy. They smiled at you, and suddenly you have a reason to live. It’s one of those moments. His music is one of those moments.
Ok, the next song. Because It’s You.
Look. If you like the Eagles. If you miss Glenn Frey. If you want that country California, with a bit of British clarity. All right. I hate comparisons, but people like them. But is this special. Really. Go listen. Heads up to everybody looking to book something for their venue for the winter. Make us all happy. Book him. This is really flawless, special stuff. It makes you want to hug people and drink beer, cry a bit on the last tube home, grab a tissue before you put the car into gear. Clear winner for bar owners, people who take the tube, people that drive, people in love, people looking for love. Is that everyone? I think so.
A River of Tears. Another perfectly sad song. With guitar and harmonies. The vocal on this is reaching for something that you want to watch unfold, unravel. There’s such a perfect interweaving of parts here, a thick honey syrup of country soul.
Reasons to Believe. Another soulful tune with the vocal balancing so delicate on the straight-ahead guitar rock, rhythm and harmony. Nice nice nice.
Updated review: (like those restaurant ones) I am still humming this to myself. And wondering if there is a place where I can go for a burger and a basket of fries. And then drive away into the endless sunset, heart and stomach full. I think what I’m trying to say here is radio friendly, life friendly.
To Prove a Love. Could you do this as a duet with the Foo Fighters? Thank you. It’s really something when things seem so simple but tight, effortless. Why can I see this on a big stage? Maybe Taylor Hawkins should sing this one when they do the duet. Harmonies again. A song waiting to be heard, covered, on the back of an album with a coffee cup mark, a cigarette burn, faded ink from being left in the sun on the back porch.
So – Sandy McLelland. Look for him. He is playing regularly at places hopefully near you. Here’s all the links – go. Get there first.
Update – The album is in the Top Ten on the iTunes Country Chart. Check out the video.