Tentatively scheduled for a March release, John McDonough’s acoustic LP, Second Chances, is a complete work. It’s hallmarked by phenomenal musicianship and deeply thoughtful, lyrics that are enhanced by uncommon candor. McDonough has a strong background, having come from a city known for its excellent and celebrated music scene; Austin, TX. Now residing in Chicago, IL, John flexes his experience and raw talent, on Second Chances, which is a ten song album, of reworks from two of his previous records. According to McDonough, he had long pined to record an entirely acoustic LP, and the recent Pandemic seemed like an ideal time to focus his efforts.
John has a distinct style and approach to his Music, that is partially characterized by his powerful and idiosyncratic vocals. He has an unmistakable quality to his voice, that makes this particular record all the more memorable. From his opening line to the final, on any given song, John charges straight ahead, like a motorized chariot. His passion for his work, bleeds from the stereo like a gaping wound, yearning for a tourniquet. There is a sense of urgency on Second Chances, that is rare to find on exclusively acoustic works.
In light contrast, “Your Love Sets Me Free” is one of the more tender, ballad type pieces on the LP. In your eyes, I’m young and alive/you promise me our time’s yet to arrive/I just want to be in your arms/to watch every sunrise. The intensely layered depth of romance in that line, is silencing and invigorating all at once. When love is hard to define, we can look to those moments of assurance and certainty, that we can only believe when it comes from someone our heart’s trust. This is just one of many emotionally cathartic moments on Second Chances.
“Tonight’s The Night” is a slightly more charged performance. Opening with dueling guitars, McDonough and Lead Player, Kris Farrow, possess great interplay. McDonough’s lyrics aren’t always delivered in a linear fashion, so there’s a collage of imagery, as he speed walks through the verses. There’s beauty in this shattered glass, he sings, which is sourced to a nondescript female character. There are so many examples of metaphorical tokens of philosophy, and observational idioms, sprinkled throughout the record, that multiple revisits are mandatory.
The quality of production on Second Chances, is as good as you will hear outside of projects with a six figure studio budget. Every instrument is superbly mixed, and the entire ensemble corroborates, so fluidly, that it creates a singular sound. On the aforementioned “Your Love Sets Me Free,” a violin is used to a gorgeously dramatic effect. It’s the subtle inclusion of strings and keys, that enhances McDonough’s performances, and give the entire listening experience a heightened nuance. The backing vocals provided by Cody Rathmell are flattering for McDonough, by mimicking his tone, flawlessly.
Second Chances is can’t miss, for fans of acoustic/Singer/Songwriter genres, that have an extra dose of energy. The cadence and pacing of the album, is near perfection, as there is no wasted motion. You will emerge from the experience like you just took the Haunted Mansion ride at Disney; exhilarated, and eager to do it again. John McDonough has overachieved on this LP, and should feel a sense of satisfaction, in reaching his initial objective. Second Chances may not be necessary, if some of us are just given half of one.
by Mark Ryan