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MP3 J-P McGill - Against The Sea

Alternative Rock, Experimental Rock, Outsider Music

15 MP3 Songs in this album (52:26) !
Related styles: ROCK: American Underground, AVANT GARDE: Avant-Americana

People who are interested in Tom Waits Leonard Cohen Shane MacGowan should consider this download.


J-P McGill is a singer-songwriter from the NYC area whose collection, "Against the Sea", crosses genres, breaks convention, and creates. It could be described as post-modern neo-industrial folk-rock (i.e. "outsider" music). It sure isn''t structurally and lyrically commercial.
"Against the Sea" is themed around the sea we all sail, i.e., the persistence of the human spirit in the face of overwhelming power. McGill carries this theme through a variety of styles in this collection, including Afro-Cuban, sea chanties, Latin, and blues. McGill sings of white whales, fast boats, pirates, resort gigolos, and walking on water - there''s a place for you on board this ship.

McGill grew up on the north side of Chicago with guitarist friends, played in a few folk venues, but became interested in the blues. McGill followed blues players who traveled from the south side of Chicago to perform in the north side clubs and coffeehouses that attracted college and young professional crowds. In the No Exit café near Loyola University, McGill met the late blues guitarist Blind Jim Brewer and traveled to Jim''s south side Chicago home to learn what he could. Since then, McGill''s musical experiences have been eclectic, ranging from traditional ceilidhs in Cape Breton to rebetiko while living in Greece. McGill has a Ph.D., which he says "has not contaminated" his songwriting and performing which are best described as outsider music .

Theme, sound, and lyrics come together in an imaginative way (listen for the mondegreens). McGill explains, "The songs here are all about people facing forces they can''t beat, but being human, they insist on trying anyway. The sea is just a metaphor for these forces". You can hear this in songs like "Moby Told Me", which is a rumbling, rocking, cautionary tale of what you lose when you finally catch your great white whale, and in "Fathers in Gloucester", a lament about sons who follow their fathers into the world''s most dangerous job. "Psycho Sub Samba" provides an upbeat tune and hooky lyrics about a crazed submarine captain who eventually goes nuclear. "Walk On Water" is a blues tune that finally explains what it is that a woman expects from her man (too much). It''s safe to say that this album will not appeal to the pop-top crowd, but if you are looking for something non-commercially refreshing, then this is for you. The fifteen tracks include ten originals by McGill plus covers of songs written by Tom Waits, Chris Farrell, Michael Smith, and Rosalie Sorrels. The songs are multi-tracked by McGill using diverse instruments, including the kalimba, resophonic guitar, shamisen, and djembe.

This way madness lies.
On the roiling surface of this infinitely amusing 15-tune collection is a disjointed, chaotic and possibly intentionally off-putting brand of harshly recorded ballads that nearly qualifies as “outsider” music. Think Oregon’s Tom Heinl but without the subversive humor (although the final cut, “The Baby Tree,” is pretty funny).
Is it a joke? Is it a test? At first blush it feels like both.
But under the surface is an astonishing set of imaginatively arranged songs that use the metaphor of the sea as an obstacle to life’s goals, but with never the same imagery twice, and with hardly any choruses, at least in the traditional manner. And never with the same instrumentation – or the same instruments – performed in the same way.
And there’s that voice. Flat to rising to sing-song; gravelly to gravellier. Certainly at some point in his music career, someone somewhere told singer-songwriter J-P McGill that he was, um, not very, er, commercial. Obviously he ignored the comments because the New York transplant-by-way-of-Chicago has honed his gifts – he plays everything from piano to kalimba to shamisen to resonator guitar – and produced this product of his passion.
Let’s get the Tom Waits comparison out of the way; clearly influenced by the remarkable Waits, McGill includes two Waits covers back to back, “Shiver Me Timbers” and “Fish and Bird,” two cuts that happen to support the aquatic theme. The odd thing is, in a disc full of odd things, he makes the uncoverable sound like his own.
There are some great images here. “Keep you sleeve out the winch if the longline goes slack, take it from me an arm never grows back,” from “Fathers in Gloucester.” “When you sink down down down the drink, ‘till you don’t wanna move and you just can’t think,” from “One Note Float” works because it’s encased in a double-beat of kalimba (by guest Joe Lowe) and reverby guitar.
“Ken and Catherine,” the one cut with a traditional blues structure, not to mention a very credible twangy slide guitar, seems out of place, but upon further review, since every other rule is broken why not the exception that proves it?
The highlight, though, is “Psycho Sub Samba,” an organized chaos of a foot-tapper about a submarine captain who loses it and, if we have it right, launches a nuclear missile.
Can you put “Against the Sea” on the CD changer during a party of Chardonnay sipping urbanites discussing the interiors of their new hybrids? No. Nor can you put it on during a beer blast with a bunch of lumberjacks, or during happy hour at any place unless Charles Bukowski is holding court.
In other words, you can’t play J-P McGill for ANYBODY unless you draw attention to the music beforehand, because this is the kind of music that needs a little anticipation and foreknowledge – you don’t want to surprise anybody with a cut like “Moby Told Me” when they might be expecting something less abrasive and disturbing. But be prepared for either a quick exit by your companion or losing them in conversation as they devote the next hour absorbing the briny froth of McGill’s water borne musings.

J-P McGill''s new release, Against the Sea, is a rarity in this day and age: it follows a specific theme. The CD cover artwork gives away its thematic connectedness right away, with its picture of wailers on a boat at sea. While there are a couple of specifically whale-centric songs, which include Moby Told Me and Tom Waits Fish and Bird, the theme is much broader than merely odes to our largest mammal. It also concerns the vast expanse and depth of the sea, which is a topic ripe with nearly infinite possibilities.
In some instances, McGill addresses oceanic lyrics with a sense of humor. In one titled Better Man (Jesus Wait) , a crusty sailor begs his savior to separate his randy sailing behavior from his more saintly land activity, come judgment day. When I meet my savior/I''m gonna ask him one last favor/Sweet Jesus when you come for me don t judge me out at sea. The comedy of this whole scenario enters in when McGill admits: Night begins with a two dollar dance and early next morning I m lookin for my pants. There s something about life out on the open sea that just gets the best of him. It turns a want-to-be righteous man into something a little bit naughty. Hopefully, Jesus a friend to fishermen, after all will understand.
McGill also has a keen eye for detail, which is best exemplified in the murder song, Cassie and Raoul . Raoul has a thing for Cassie, and wants both her love and her money. But Cassie sees through Raoul s greedy, questionable love right away. What he doesn t recognize in Cassie, is that she carried a Beretta in a pink party purse, which she eventually used to do poor Raoul in. A less skilled writer might have only mentioned a generic gun in a nondescript purse. But this isn t just any gun; it s a Beretta. And it isn t just any purse; it s a pink party purse. And you just have to love the alliteration of pink party purse, as well.
Among these fifteen various tracks are a few cover songs, also. Two, in fact, were written by Tom Waits, Shiver Me Timbers and Fish and Bird , respectively. McGill shares a storyteller s writing style with Waits, as well as a gruff singing voice. So it''s no great surprise to discover a couple of Tom s songs mixed in with the rest of these tunes. As does the opener, Moby Told Me , Waits Shiver Me Timbers also alludes to Melville''s Moby Dick when McGill sings, old Captain Ahab ain t got nothing on me. Fish and Bird , on the other hand, is a fish story of the most unusual variety; it concerns a bird who fell in love with a whale. The song comes off like a children''s story, in fact.
Much of this CD sounds Waits-ian as well. McGill s guitar work, for instance, is a little off-kilter in many places, much like Waits Swordfishtrombones sounds. There are a few mighty fine songs on this CD - if you don''t mind McGill''s crusty old sailor s voice, he has a whale of tales to tell here.

New York City-based singer/songwriter J-P McGill makes music for himself. In a refreshing and unusual turn, McGill creates music he likes without regard for what the laws of commerce or fashion might prevail upon. With roots in Chicago Blues and folk, McGill has dallied in styles from around the world, and all the chickens come home to roost on his latest album, Against The Sea. McGill uses the sea as allegory for the human condition. Part Don Quixote and part Arthur Miller, McGill''s subjects rail against their own personal constructs in a constant struggle to transcend themselves and become who they already are. It''s a classic tale of suffering as a means to finding paradise, a la Siddhartha. Throw in the coloring of Cape Breton shanties, Afro-Cuban, Latin, Blues and even a touch of Southern European flavor, and you have a dynamic package that ranges from tuneful to frightening, but never fails to be compelling.

Against The Sea opens with Moby Told Me, a disjointed bit of rock noise that is almost as charming as it is sonically disturbing. McGill has taken elements of Electronica and Lo-Fi Garage styles and melded them into something you can''t quite comfortably listen to but don''t want to look away from either. McGill keeps up the madness on Psych Sub Samba, but this time he battens down a Samba beat with a bit of folk survivalist madness. Better Man heads straight for the gutter blues, Big Rude Jake style. Listening to Against The Sea all the way through, I am thoroughly convinced that J-P McGill has a tuneful if rustic voice, but a fair amount of the time he eschews a tuneful sound for a rough, melody-wary vocal style not uncommon in folk/blues circles. The result is an anachronistic sound that purports to be more amateur and rough than it really is.

Walk On Water is a prime example of this rough, raw sound. McGill''s relationship with a distinct melody line here is tenuous at best; the arrangement strongly minimalist. What the song does have is force of personality; a primal je ne sais quoi akin to a car wreck. McGill goes a bit cabaret on The Dutchman, accompanied by a reserved piano and quiet percussion. One Note Float returns to the Electronica-gone-Garage sound we heard on the opening track, and borders on difficult listening at times. Fish And Bird is a love song that is surreal, and lends itself to the general atmosphere of the album. The difficulty is that the longer the album goes on the more difficult a listen it becomes. What was charming for a few songs can be wearing on the listener. By this point in the album I found myself questioning my initial assessment that McGill can sing musically when he wants to.

Lyrically, Against The Sea is raw; occasionally jarring. Musically McGill is very inventive, mixing styles in unusual ways that run the gamut from appealing to bizarre and disturbing. In this respect Against The Sea is a compelling listen, as you can''t be sure what''s going to come next. A decent whiskey voiced vocalist could do wonders with these songs, which lend themselves almost to a bardic style. Once in a while J-P McGill throws us a curve, like on Ken & Catherine, giving us a little roadhouse Rock N Roll and a vocal that''s spot on musically and stylistically. Even The Rosa Maria finds McGill digging into his more musical side for a great sea chantey, but it does take some listening fortitude to get there.

J-P McGill has done one of two things with Against The Sea. He''s either delivered a highly artistic and anachronistic album or he''s offered up a commercial project with little or no demographic. In fact, the two positions aren''t incompatible. The question comes down to whether the style here is intentional or just an accident of his persona as an artist. I don''t have the answer to that question, but I can tell you that there are some bright moments here as well as some dark, hard to listen to moments. There are some songs on Against The Sea that could be interpreted in wonderful and compelling ways by the right artist or personality, and there will be a niche market for this album, but it''s not widely commercial, and a lot of listeners won''t get through more than a couple of songs. In the end, J-P McGill sounds a bit like a hypothetical cross between Shane McGowan and Phoebe Buffay ... interesting and compelling.

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