Brendan McMahon’s latest release, a five song EP entitled About Joe, is his fourth studio recording since his first solo outing in 2013 and his meteoric development as a songwriter and solo performer. McMahon’s personal style of songwriting discovers a new peak with this release thanks to his continuing refinement of the cinematic imagery powering his songwriting. About Joe is an intensely human collection; Brendan McMahon doesn’t write about life as he would have it, but rather life as he sees it, and the eclectic mix of musical ingredients filling these performances realizes those intentions more vividly than ever before. About Joe may be a short musical experience with only five tracks, but it’s every bit as immersive as a full length release and one of the more substantive studio recordings I’ve heard yet in 2018.
“Home” begins the EP with the somewhat surprising choice of a choir vocal arrangement. McMahon mixes acoustic guitar, singer/songwriter oriented fare with an airy pop rock arrangement. Instead, there’s a guiding principle behind this release to keep things lean and focused – illustrated, in this song’s case, by the artfully deployed lead guitar making its presence felt at scattered points throughout the song. “Gentlemen Joe”, the EP’s nominal “title song”, is likewise the EP’s lengthiest track, but never tries the listener’s patience. Instead, it’s the highlight of the release as McMahon stretches his songwriting and arranging talents out to nearly seven minutes of character delineation that demonstrates, vividly, why McMahon is a cut above typical singer/songwriter work in the 21st century. The song has a strong grasp on dynamics, as well, without ever seeming inordinately plotted and laid out for listeners – instead, even extended work like this has surprising naturalness and even a smattering of “live” feeling percolating through the performance.
“Fall Down” is another of the more successful numbers on this EP. The guitar work is particularly fitting for this tune. McMahon, likewise, seems inspired by the striding musical arrangement and delivers one of his best vocals for this EP release. The concluding number on About Joe, “Doctor”, is cut from distinctly different cloth than the preceding tunes. Instead, “Doctor” achieves its excellence from accumulation rather than laying out all its cards at once and the way McMahon unifies the song’s various strands into a coherent whole makes it one of the more memorable listening experiences on the release and an ideal closer.
by Mathew Carlisle
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