Album Review: Moors & McCumber – Pandemonium
Moors & McCumber are seasoned veteran songwriters. From the outset of their latest album Pandemonium, it is evident that these talented songwriters have been at it for a while. The maturity in their voices, the ease of their songs, and the overall feeling is experienced country music.
The opener “Crack a Smile” puts me immediately in mind of Tim McGraw’s “Watch the Wind Blow By.” It’s got that same kind of relaxed country instrumentation with sliding, chill guitars. Even the vocal harmonies feel like sitting out on the beach. The theme of the song about an understated reaction, just cracking a smile, is itself the mark of a mature, unsettled but confident man.
“You Take Me Somewhere” is a song for hopeless romantics. Visions of sunrises and running away in love comes across with happy levity. The band admirably keeps the lyrics on the right side of cheesy, conjuring up images of nostalgia and dreams all at once. “I’m going nowhere with a push and a pull. You take me somewhere when there’s nowhere to go.” I can picture a couple who has been together for a long time really liking this; it’s about having that spark even “when there’s nowhere to go.” The acapella bridge, by the way, is a really nice touch.
The third track “Everything” has a bit more of an alt country or even straight up rock feeling to it. Something about it reminds me more of the Jimmy Buffett flavor of “country” music. That said, the song has a nice, fantasy ethos to it. The following “No Way to Live” really highlights the vocal power of Moors and McCumber. The harmonies are strong, stealing the show from an otherwise chill rock sound. The repetitive “that ain’t no way to live left to my own devices” brings to mind all sorts of addictions and personal failures. It’s an easy going, “been there” song.
“Take Me Away” introduces some new strings. While the mandolin popped up earlier in the album, it’s featured prominently here along with a cello. The alternative sort of “chamber rock” feel is a welcome sound shift in the middle of the album. It also works nicely to create the urgency needed for the song. It seems to be a track about the struggle of making it in music, talking about how the “song in my head” can be an obsession – and not having much – and being behind on bills. It could just be about being down on your luck generally, but it sounds an awful lot like all of the musicians I know.
“Bend or Be Broken” is almost enough on its own to make this into an “experimental Americana” album. The song’s structure bobs and weaves like it’s from a Ben Folds record. But then it makes its way up to a sort of broadway-esque piece of audio joy. It’s followed by an equally adventurous song in “Buried in the Earth.” Although the sounds are very different, it’s exciting to hear such a variety of styles from a band that, at first blush, might seem like a conventional Americana sound. Instead, this track has shades of historical imagery layered over a repetitious, almost eerie string part. It’s a valuable reflection on the cost of war beyond the battlefield.
“Best of Intentions” is more light hearted, with a piano part that brings levity to an album that has some pretty (emotionally) heavy parts. There’s an introspective reflection at the heart of this one. “Hanging on with the best of intentions…” Later in the record “All Great Tragedy” is the most “folk” on the album. It begins with something akin to Simon and Garfunkel. “As in all great tragedy no one really knows their part til they’re fighting back at storylines that rip across your heart…” It’s a wonderful reflection on the complexities of human relationships. In some ways it seems like a chastisement of someone else. Yikes. Glad I’m not THAT guy.
The album ends with the eponymous “Pandemonium.” It’s yet another new style for the band. Featuring exquisite full vocals and an intriguing organ part, the whole thing comes together for a flavor that might just be Moors and McCumber at their best. After that brilliant opening, the track eases back into a chill alt rock sound that almost feels like something from the early 2000s. In any event, it’s a nice way to end a solid album.
If you’re usually thinking of Americana as some kind of jangly folk music or the David Rawlings Machine, this is probably not the album for you. But if, instead, you like a wide range of country and rock stylings with an overall chill feeling, you’ll find a lot to like on this Moors and McCumber album. That opening vocal tag on “Pandemonium” is worth the price of admission.