It’s time to get more comfortable with the 21st Century. How’s that for an oblique lede? What I mean by that is that I have to get more comfortable with receiving great music electronically. See, I love to get the albums I review as easy-to-hold honest-to-goodness CDs or records that I can put in (or on) a machine and play them.
There’s just something even more ethereal when I open an email from a trusted source, and the entire album is available to me for a couple of clicks. It’s a world that still confuses me. It’s not that I hate computers, but I certainly don’t trust this brave new world. Thank you Aldous Huxley.
It may be difficult to admit and understand, but I’m a blogger/reviewer that still does most of his work on one of five typewriters scattered around my house. Or on one of the many notepads that are in every single room in my house. If I get up to go to the kitchen, I never wonder what it is I wanted because it’s written on a sticky note that’s still in my hand.
But I guess I need to learn to embrace the new, even if it’s just to keep my kids from laughing at the old man.
All this stems from me receiving a copy of Eric McFadden’s brilliant album, Pain By Numbers, from a very reliable source. One of the people who keep me in quality music in any form, and I just had to get over my reluctance to sample it.
About two or three notes in I was over that reluctance, just by the sheer power of the performance of McFadden, who is signed to Tab Benoit’s Whiskey Bayou label. His playing is definitely his own style, but you can hear the same kind of power that Benoit brings to the table.
McFadden starts off the album with the very atmospheric and dark While You Were Gone. The guitar is fuzzy, underlying the pure emotion of the vocals and the rhythm section plays in a powerful, no nonsense way. It’s raw, exciting, and promises a lot for this album.
He follows up with Love Come Rescue Me, a song with a much lighter approach. Here, he’s filled with hope and the keys and chorus make the song soar. It’s striking in its contrast with the previous number and immediately highlights McFadden’s versatility.
The next track, Long Gone, has a dark patina as McFadden opens up his emotions. I like this song a lot and it has the feel of the swamp riding along the edges. Very cool, with a couple of surprise guitar licks on the break. It’s a unique quality and seems perfectly at home with his style.
The Girl Has Changed comes out of the gate rocking and tells the story of an old friend who has definitely moved in a different direction. It’s open as to what has been the catalyst for the change – could be drugs, fame, or any number of things. Strong lyrics and a solid approach. The guitar break truly soars and if you like your blues with a rock approach, this one is for you!
The next song opens with a light sound, but don’t be fooled. Skeleton Key quickly moves into a hard rocking, hard driving number that pushes forward with a great deal of power. Then, just when you think it’s hit the end, more soft noises followed by low growled vocals under a strong guitar run. Cool song…
McFadden then strips down the sound for I Never Listened Too Good. This is a solid Delta-style number that is powerful with just the barest essentials. It’s raw, truthful and the kind of song that makes you sit up and listen harder because it is so close to the heart of the blues. My favorite so far and one I would love to share on Time For The Blues.
He follows up with another emotional track, So Hard To Leave, that gets back to his electric sound. Putting these two songs together creates a strong connection and McFadden racks up another song that will tear at your soul.
You would expect a title like If I Die Today to be a morbid maudlin heart-tugger. What you get is a solid rocker that drives hard and takes no prisoners. This is another of the best songs on the album, but with its different lyrics really could not have been unleashed any earlier. Love this one!
He slows the tempo down for the follow up song, Fool Your Heart. The lyrics are kind of pop – a different approach from the previous few songs, but pleasant in their own way. McFadden is not a one-trick pony. We’ve all heard those artists who start off in one style on an album and all the songs sound the same. Eric McFadden is not one of those artists. Sure, there is an artistic consistency, but he approaches almost every song with a new look. He’s given us hard rock, soft ballads, and even with this song, he drives us with a powerful guitar. While I probably wouldn’t play this number on Time For The Blues, it is going on my walk around playlist and should stay there a long time.
He winner of the strangest title on the album award goes to The Jesus Gonna See You Naked. It’s a gospel flavored rocker that delivers on several fronts. The lyrics are strong and the pulsing guitar drives the song. Can’t ignore the harmonizing voices. For those who believe, we know that when we stand before the Almighty, everything is known and we can’t hide any of our thoughts or sins. Unusual song, but very moving.
The last couple of songs on the album are up next, starting with Don't You Want To Live. McFadden uses the fuzz and distortion that he used on the opening track, and his lyrics here are rushed and delivered with little pause, they spill out of his mouth all at once and take on a chanting style. More power, and definitely a walk on the dark side. Shakespeare may have said, “To Be Or Not To Be,” but then again, Shakespeare never had access to a soaring electric guitar to punctuate his thoughts…
The album ends on Cactus Juice, a little flamenco style opening slides into a beautiful jazz combo feel that would be at home on just about any intimate bandstand. McFadden has great feel and tone in his fingers and the drums add a steady rhythm. It’s a lovely instrumental that is most assuredly going onto my private playlist. What a nice surprise to close out a great album.
I gladly admit that I was not award of Eric McFadden prior to receiving this album, but after listening to it, I will never be able to say that again. I am thrilled by his musicianship and he has assembled a group of great players to help him achieve a remarkable sound. I highly recommend Pain By Numbers, and you can find out much more about him at his website: https://www.ericmcfadden.com/.
Now, if you will excuse me, I’m going to try to figure out how to download these songs so I can share them with you.