(Copied from Positively Entertainment & Dining website)
CD Review: McFadden Project, 'First 60 Years'
Review by Ardis Hedrick / Volume 35 Number 13
First 60 Years is the title of this soon-to-be-released CD by McFadden Project. Musically, it’s predominantly the kind of classic rock that never ages, covering topics that never change—Love, War, Peace and Joy. It contains a variety of styles: rock, country-rock and a touch of blues, mixing an upbeat sound with some important, timeless messages. The CD shows the care and love put into crafting the songs, with many years of developing, nurturing and perfecting the sound put into this project. The result is a thought and emotion invoking compilation.
The McFadden Project is led by Don McFadden, who also wrote all the songs. He covers the Hammond B3 organ and grand piano, as well as the acoustic guitar, harmonica, lead and background vocals. The rest of the band is comprised of: Phil Smith, lead and rhythm guitars, percussion and vocals; Tom Easlon, bass and acoustic bass, vocals; Mark Wills, percussion and vocals; Dean Fairly, keyboards.
The first cut on the CD is Down to One, an up-tempo number but with a serious message. It’s essentially a happy-sounding track; quirky, ironic, self-deprecating, set to a reggae/calypso beat. McFadden’s voice is well-suited to the style. It carries a message that is the same today as it was 40 years ago: the senselessness of war and the need to end it.
The second song Stumptown Holiday has an '80s, Huey Lewis and the News, I Wanna New Drug kind of feel. This one will be the most fun for anyone who grew up in Portland, whether it be during the '60s, '70s, '80s... you get the idea. It’s a musical romp through the history of Portland's prime venues: The Crystal Ball (before the old Ballroom was bought, "remodeled" and turned into a McMenamin's), the Headless Horseman and the Roseland Theater. It’s those years seen from today's perspective and also a send-up of Downtown PDX, another thing that hasn’t really changed in all that time.
Back to New York is a poignant ballad counter-pointed with blunt lyrics about John Lennon's murder and "crucification," or his martyrdom. Sounding a lot like The Band, the tune features a stellar harmonica performance and back-up by the Angel's Choir and Celestial Symphony. This holds the first hint of John Lennon's obvious influence on McFadden's music and his reverence for the man.
Light of the Night is a sweet lullaby about the moon. A dramatic piano solo opens it. The song Radical is not what you'd think. Remember when things were "rad?" or maybe you won't want to admit it. It's actually a nice little tribute to a "radical" kind of girl. It features a fine solo on piano, backed by soaring and floating guitar licks. Think Cake’s fun song Short Skirt/Long Jacket.
At the start, the song Best Days seemed too hippy-dippy for modern tastes, but it won me over with it’s slightly psychedelic sound. It’s the longest cut on the CD and turns out to be a showcase for all the instrumentation and vocals to really shine. The song is built in layers; guitar, organ or piano, drums and vocals all in sync, delivering straight-on Rock'n'Roll guitar solos. The lyrics also quote John Lennon, saying how your life passes before you while you are busy making other plans. They urge listeners to embrace wherever they may be in the process of life, to always see it as the best days of your life.
The next track, Orion, is the true psychedelic number of the bunch. Still, the soaring, ecstatic rock guitar lead is winning. Pretty Blue Eyes is a love song in it’s own way. It employs a country-rock style that was so popular here in the late 1970s. The down-to-earth harmonica stylings, chunky Hammond B3 organ leads and gruff vocals reminded this writer of Bob Dylan, circa Planet Waves or Self-Portrait. Dylan has had an obvious influence on Don McFadden, too. The organ here grounds the guitar leads and fills out the sound.
The Water Song is a ballad that opens with a plaintive piano solo. The song gives Dr. Phil-caliber advice on dismissing things from your life that don’t work. Letter to the White House isn’t as daunting as it sounds, with it’s message of hope and a killer guitar lead you could get lost in.
Away delivers one of the strongest messages on the album (about the futility of war), as well as another nod to John Lennon. It also has the best hook on the disc, and sounds mellow as honey. The Hammond B3 organ once again dances with the guitars. A tinkling of piano keys and a killer harmonica riff kick-off Wicked Witch of the South. Soon the entire band joins in for a five-minute rave-up, both with instruments and vocals. It’s a high-energy number featuring truly spectacular guitar work. A person could almost see the crowd dancing and loving this tune—yee-haw!
Our Blues mixes standard blues licks with a soft-rock sensibility. It’s a song about unrequited love, a much-covered topic since long before the birth of the blues. The lead singer’s gravelly voice, harp and keys are the stars here. It’s fun! Coincidentally (or not), the song runs 4:20, and might best be enjoyed at that time of day.
Rounding off the disc is Keep in Touch, a fine little ballad with a dreamy tune and stunning acoustic guitar work. Reminiscent of Dylan’s superlative Lay Lady Lay from Nashville Skyline and the late ‘70s when country-rock bands ruled the clubs (at least those that still hosted live music and weren’t playing disco at the time!). It’s a lovely coda to the album and carries the message that we need a connection to both humanity and to God: The refrain sings “I’m in touch with man; I keep in touch with God.” It’s about how inspiration and spirituality can be freeing.
This writer highly recommends listening to the album on a Windows Media Player with the visualizations randomizing a kaleidoscope of color, just like the sounds on the disc. PE&D also suggests you take the last song’s advice, and keep in touch with the McFadden Project.
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