Album Review: Orphans by Michael McDermott

“These songs were too loud in my heart, they kept waking me at night. These songs are orphans, in much the same way I’ve felt in the last three years” – Michael McDermott

“Michael McDermott is one of the best songwriters in the world and possibly the greatest undiscovered rock ‘n’ roll talent of the last 20 years.”

Stephen King

We start with a strong Gin Blossoms style pop rock sound. The secrets of a Tell Tale Heart have a Springsteen vibe too: “it’s like the weight of the world is a promise.”

The Last Thing I Ever Do keeps up the promise of heartland rock sounds but with a Shakespeare-tinged heartbreak narrative. The story shifts to the third person as Katy enters stage left and shares her woes: “she says these men are all the same/they play with love like a parlour game/and I’m a moth drawn to the flame/and it’s gone within a minute.” Both the narrator and Katy are determined to persevere and overcome. He yearns for a lost love but recognises the scars he’s been left with.

The references to iconic figures continue – Michaelangelo (artist not Turtle) and ::checks notes:: Miss Browning, presumably his old Maths teacher. It’s about counting his blessings; as everything else in his life disintegrates, the Ne’er Do Well still has love.

The harmonica is cracked out as a weary traveler speaks up. Again, distant love is the only light: “It’s a minefield of darkened forces and unfamiliar beds that sets me off on uncharted courses/it’s a long way from home.”

Sometimes It Rains in Memphis really puts the breaks on Bryan Adams style, musing about a drunken, tempestuous relationship that’s now over: “We were just to dumb to know these were the best days of our lives…we didn’t know how far wed’d fall.”

Giving Up The Ghost is more upbeat with piano and rich E Street bombast, but still haunted by the past: “sometimes betrayal is the form of a kiss/and fear is a jail when you’re feeling like this/fear is a jail when you’re feeling like this/ There’s a time to retreat, a time to advance So give me one last chance.”

Black Tree, Blue Sky is vocally based and that’s just as well as there’s quite a story to tell: “I’ve been so out of my mind that I woke up in different states/Somehow checked into cheap motels with negotiated rates/Sometimes there was blood/broken glass, broken mirrors.”

Photo Credit: Tony Piccirillo

Another Springsteenian tale lightens the atmosphere: “Come on baby/will you ride with me downtown?/let’s get crazy/drink our troubles down/you always save me.”

A Full Moon Goodbye ramps up the pathos: “Your heart was a stone, I wasn’t meant to keep Your love is a prayer, that I will never repeat.” Again, blood, alcohol and regret litter the memories that haunt the present.

The protagonist is drawn back to Richmond when he finds out the brother that used to buy him beer has sold the family’s summer home. He bathes in memories of youthful reverie and his father who recalled his Southern roots after moonshine. Thoughts turn to an old love and their shared summers, all set to a compelling Southern rock sound.

Next, McDermott takes us West to Santa Monica as we hear about Los Angeles A Long Time Ago in mounrnful vignettes like Polly’s: “You know, this time tomorrow I’ll be married to a guy from a fly over State.” The past tense hints that something went wrong, and it’s sadly common for a musician: “We got so tired of hanging around just waiting on our big break, which never came.”

“I lived in L.A. for a while, wasn’t the best time of my life. I slept in bushes and my drug dealer lived in a tree, made a mess of things”

Michael McDermott

What If Today Were My Last is a final reflective piece on an album that is haunted by a past of lost loves, old homes and no homes. Now sober and a family man, McDermott is no longer lost, but his orphaned songs stand as testament to a life in transition.