cd review: stuart mcnair's "I Can't See Over the Accordion"

 Stuart McNair 

Climbing a Mountain
Four out of Five Stars

With its grand arrangements and vocal work, 
this album should find its popularity rocketing 
up to the moon and back. 

It is a travesty to see that Stuart McNair 
remains an unsigned artist. This being his 
third album, I thought by now that maybe a
record company somewhere in the world 
would pay some attention to what he has to say, 
as this self-penned album consisting of fourteen 
songs sends a shiver down the spine due to 
how fantastic they are. 

Stuart isn't the only person playing on this album, 
but is joined by his distinguished band on mandolin, 
banjo, fiddle, pedal steel, and horns. It is on 
Out of Your Mind that this collaboration between 
Stuart and his band is shown at its best. Played 
at such a frenetic sound, this gloriousness is downright 
outrageous. 

Ways of Nature has a stonking Americana sound 
to it. With some delightful mandolin picking and sublime 
fiddling, this is in fact the album's opening tune and it 
leads the audience on a path of musical discovery 
to an act whose career should be closely followed. 

This album is phenomenal from start to finish, and with 
exuberant songs found throughout its entirety 
I sure hope Stuart with embark on a UK tour. To see 
songs like these performed in the flesh would be a 
gig to revel in. 

Russell HIll
Maverick Magazine, UK

Stuart McNair returns with his latest creation,

Climbing A Mountain. The gentle Country/Rock

provocateur charms with 14 songs full of Country,

Bluegrass, Zydeco, Rock and a bit of

North Carolina picking. It's the follow-up to

McNair's 2008 debut, Growing A Garden, and is

guaranteed to get your feet moving, get you

thinking and even make you laugh a little.


Climbing A Mountain opens with the upbeat

Country/Pop of Ways Of Nature, an imagining

of what the world looked like without the

influence of mankind stamped all over it.

It's a catchy melody wrapped around a bit

of populist/Green poetry that is likely to

have a lot of appeal. Somewhere In The Middle

is a classic "opposites attract" song played in a

classic-style Country arrangement. The song is

fresh enough to maybe get some play from commercial

Country radio, but would definitely play well to

folks who still remember what Country music

was all about before it became a sub-genre of

Pop music. McNair pulls out a party song in

Out Of Your Mind, perfect for the Honky-Tonk

or concert. Out Of Your Mind is the sort of song

that crowds will sing along with, likely yelling

joyously along to the chorus.



Sleeping Dog goes the Punk/Country route

with a message about ending war. It's a catchy,

upbeat tune with attitude that's a great listen

although it doesn't really say anything we

haven't all heard before.

Love And Affection tackles the human need for

more than just a place to sleep or someone to sleep next to;

it's a positive message in song but a bit repetitive

at the end. Don't Drop The Bomb might be anti-war or

just anti-nuclear war, but is a fair re-capitulation

of the sort of sentiments common in the 1980's. The song

straddles the line between Country and Roots Rock and

is very catchy but also bears on the repetitive side.

McNair takes us into the path of a tempest on

Season Of The Hurricane, and then shows us

the aftermath, New Orleans style, on Make Levees, Not War.

Both songs are strong entries, but McNair breaks into

full Zydeco mode for the latter; a highly entertaining song

that tries to make the most out of the least. On Freedom,

McNair sings a song with patriotic themes that questions

just who's in charge and what are they doing? It's an apropos

political message in a catchy musical arrangement. McNair

closes with Walking With Jesus, a mild, gospel-flavored

tune that's enjoyable but doesn't seem to fit with the rest

of the album stylistically.

Stuart McNair steps forward with a strong effort on

Climbing A Mountain. While perhaps not as much of a

standout as last year's Growing A Garden, Climbing A Mountain

will go over well with existing fans. McNair's voice is

pleasant and true as always, and his songwriting is

generally quite strong. Climbing A Mountain does

gentrify a bit as the album progresses but is still a

strong representation of the sort of music McNair is

full off. Climbing A Mountain is a solid effort

worth spending some time on.

Stuart McNair explores traditional Country music themes

and values as well as Earth-friendly topics on his latest CD,

Growing A Garden. Recorded live, in-studio with just McNair,

his guitar and harmonica, listening to Growing A Garden is

like having McNair over for a house concert. The organic feel

of the album and the honest, down-home songwriting and

performance lend a certain charm to the 18 songs presented here.


Growing A Garden opens with The Birds Were Like A Symphony,

a song of appreciation for the beauty of nature, and the way

that the Earth around us every day can surprise us when

we simply take the time to notice. McNair's voice is strong

and clear and has a rugged beauty to it. Man On a Mission

has an autobiographical element to it, explaining perhaps,

why McNair makes music. There's a great classic folk sound

here and McNair reminds me heavily of David Matheson

on this song. Somewhere In The Middle is a personal favorite,

probably the best "opposites attract" song I've heard.

I guarantee you there will be couples out there that claim

this song as their own. It's not a humorous song, per se,

but you can't help but chuckle at some of the truths unveiled here.


Don't Worry is a highly positive message set to music;

a song about change and being yourself and letting

the big things settle themselves out. It's not an invitation

to disengage from life, rather one to engage and

let the tides come and go ("One day I decided to be free/

One day I decided to be me/One day I finally took my place/

not ashamed to wear a smile on my face/and you'll be

smiling a lot when you get the word / God loves every

dog, cat, fish and bird/He walks right beside you and

you've never been apart/so don't worry, worry,

worry too much with your pretty little heart.")

Hearts Don't Lie speaks to the inner voice that we

sometimes call our heart and how it never lets people

down even when they fail to listen.


You Need To Be Danced With is destined for mix-tapes

everywhere. Don't be surprised if this song gets licensed

for Television or Movies, as it is probably one of the

most romantic love songs I've heard. As is it could be a

hit on country radio and quite possibly cross over to

pop radio as well. Grow The Garden is all about tending

the future through the actions of today, and could be

applicable to personal growth, societal growth or even

growth in a relationship. It's a beautiful song and

well delivered. Didn't Know You Then is a powerful song

about forgiveness and accepting people for who they are

and not necessarily for who they once were.

Walking With Jesus has the feel of a modern folk hymn;

more of a story song than what passes for contemporary

Praise music. The most interesting aspect of McNair's

music may be the role that faith plays in his songs.

It's obvious that faith is a large part of McNair's mindset,

and he sings about it as he feels moved in his

songwriting in much the same way that James Taylor

sings about love; it just happens to be what's on his mind.

Be sure also to check out You Make Me Smile, I'll Be Back,

Eating Me and How YOU Do It.



Stuart McNair is an honest songwriter who writes

what he knows. There's no attempt to put forth a

persona here, McNair is what he is, take it or leave it.

The image that comes across is a singer/songwriter

who is happy with his lot in life; happy with who he is,

and happy to share his stories with any who will listen.

McNair touches on elements of life, love, faith and our

communion with nature. How McNair isn't highlighting

major folk festivals across North America I don't know,

but I suspect the time will come. In simple, straight-forward

fashion, McNair has created an album that should

establish him as one of the best young talents in

folk music, bar none. Growing A Garden is a

Wildy's World Certified Desert Island Disc, and highly

recommended to anyone who will listen.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

A voice that makes you feel you are wrapped in a

warm blanket and words that make you think about

your place in this crazy world – that sums up Stuart McNair for me.

While visiting Mobile, Alabama, I went to Stuart McNair’s

annual Christmas concert at Callaghan’s Irish Social Club

on 28 December, 2008. I had ‘discovered’ him when

I was visiting here about 4 years ago and got his first album,

but wasn’t about to make the concert. This year,

I was determined to get to the concert.

 

Being a native of New Zealand and still getting used to

driving on the right side of the road, getting there

was an adventure. But with the help of Google Maps

(how did we survive without it?) I made my way the historic

downtown district of Mobile. Tucked in amongst historic

southern homes, complete with front porch rockers,

is a small corner bar – known as Callaghan’s. It is worth a visit

just for its charm and historic atmosphere. It provides home-cooked

bar meals and a great selection of beers and spirits –

all provided by a very friendly staff.

 

Stuart McNair is one of Alabama’s ‘hidden treasures’.

He plays a mix of country, folk and bluegrass –

and a prolific writer of his own material. He has produced two

CD’s so far – Building a Fire and Growing a Garden.

A third is due out in 2009.

 

He started the evening with a mix of covers and his own songs –

but as the crowd cleared of party-goers and the serious audience

remained, he launched into his own extensive repertoire.

He sang and accompanied himself on his Taylor guitar –

and was later accompanied by a friend on flute and penny whistle.

As the chatter died down, his full voice could be heard.

 

He songs look to a better world, while teaching us to be

patient and accepting of our place and journey in this world –

they talk of love and hate and forgiveness, kindness to the world

we know and yet fail to understand. He talks about the hard time

and the good. He is not afraid to include his spiritual journeys.

 

I am not a big fan of “POLITICAL” music – yet Stuart keeps it

personal while exploring the bigger issues that face all of us.

I have offered to send him some contacts for touring in

New Zealand and Australia – so keep a watch out for him and

go along if you get the chance.

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