West Side Stories

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West Side Stories

when a well-loved and respected luminary like Bob Harris lauds The Westies and compares Michael McDermott’s writing, gravity and timbre of delivery to those of Bruce Springsteen, who am I to argue, especially since that is the immediate impression of West Side Stories?

McDermott has led a fairly troubled life, we are told, and of his songs, he says, "I write what I know and what I know, much of the time, is ugly". But from that ugliness has come the often-brittle beauty of West Side Stories, based on the activities of a ruthless Irish mob of the 1960s and 70s.

He is supported sympathetically throughout by a band who never intrude overtly and among whom is Heather Horton, McDermott’s wife, whose harmonies and fiddle particularly enhance The Westies’ sound.

Comparisons may be made too with wise story tellers like Tom Russell, as McDermott’s narratives document personal incidents and emotions but with resonances that are universal.

On ‘Say It...’ Horton duets with McDermott in a tale where the hesitancy of both parties committing to a relationship is summed up by the refrain 'If you say it first I'll believe it...it'll wash all my troubles away' with Horton articulating lines from the female viewpoint in coping with a troubled, anxious man.

When a relationship goes wrong, in ‘Death’, the almost-inevitable conclusion sees the protagonist atop the gallows after a desperate life of crime in 'a downward spiral’ following the break-up and where ‘I once could see but now I'm blind'.

There is an almost-ever present theme of fatalistic destiny and a current of the supernatural. The restrained urgency of ‘Trains’ tells of dreams that sound nightmarish, as a taut and pounding dynamic arrangement features sympathetic and moody Horton fiddle, and in ‘Devil’, the supernatural Gothic blues imagery of graves, rings of fire, bloody moons and deathly ropes are chilling as the singer bemoans his predictable and expected demise after selling his soul.

I will not be the only reviewer, I am sure, who will be keeping tabs on The Westies on the strength of this riveting performance.


Date added: Apr 08, 2015

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