Album review: Megan & The Common Threads – Stories To Tell

Megan & The Common Threads have achieved the ultimate when it comes to an EP: Stories To Tell doesn’t *seem* like an EP. In both production values and narrative arc, the six track knits together cohesively like a full release. Whether told through funky Americana pop or aching ballads, the relationship between place and identity infuses the record.

An undeniable highlight  is the belter of an opening track, London City Ghosts. Recently praised during a solo acoustic preview at at the Americana Music Association UK Songwriter’s Workshop, the song really shines as a full band production. It takes an interesting turn musically with something of a Celtic calypso cadence, but the real power is in the controlled delivery of an earworm that you won’t mind at all.

Somewhere between Megan O’Neill’s delivery and the lyrics comes a knack for storytelling, particularly in subverting expectations. This wordplay is evident in Blessing Or A Curse: “leaving home when you’re still too young/one more whiskey then you’ll be done” and again in Walls: “funny how this home’s become a house.”

Walls movingly explores the immediate shock and lasting impact of a home invasion: “those dark eyes are with me in my sleep/and when I wake they walk these streets with me/underneath my skin and in my blood/this home that I used to love so much.” The music echoes the words with drum fills ramping up the tension as the stranger breaks hearts as well as glass, and steals more than he could ever know.

While the protagonist in Walls can’t wait to leave, Devil and The Deep focuses on those who have no choice. The title is as much descriptive as it is metaphorical. The song casts us amongst refugees fleeing a war zone on a precarious boat. It’s undeniably apt give the Syrian refugee crisis of our times, though the conflict in the song is kept deliberately vague.

It’s a mature piece of songwriting; thought-provoking without being sensationalist or sanctimonious. Instead of taking sides politically, the levelling effect of desperation is emphasised. The boat is packed with both rich and poor, all with the same scant choices and chances. The refrain “spare a thought for the refugee/between the devil and the deep blue sea” crashes and repeats like waves on the hull. Similarly, the electric guitar and fiddle rise up until they dissipate into nothing. We never learn if the refugees make it to a safer place.

There is an element of ‘from the frying pan into the fire’ even when a journey does lead somewhere new, with different disappointments as in the line “wanna find a life far from this small town/city lovers left you in the dust.” Be careful what you wish for, indeed. Yet Megan O’Neill delivers these songs with such confidence that you feel she’ll adapt to anywhere and anything. By the final song, Awake Into The Light, the importance of forging relationships to forge a path shines through: “if you can’t rely on your own heart to take part/you can borrow mine to find your way/I’ll be here to tell you.”

In essence, the EP is a soundtrack for the displaced; a journey through conflict, escape, dislocation and bittersweet memories to ultimate acceptance. It’s encapsulated in the title track:

“I’m left with that was then and used to bes/
Times, good and bad and inbetween/
And even though the city don’t remember me so well/
I’ll always have my stories to tell”

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