taking a listen

by Ryan Snyder

reviews of local & state music CDs

BRIAN MCGEE — The Taking Or The Leaving

When coming up with the title of his second record, The Taking Or the Leaving, you had to think Asheville rocker Brian McGee was making a statement on self-reconciliation. The punk-gonecountry McGee made a swift 180 from his Plow United roots on his self-titled debut with backing band Hollow Speed, at times sounding unsure of the change with an uneven effort. On his second release, The Taking Or The Leaving, McGee is fully in control. It blurs the line between country and punk so thoroughly that the only thing it can be called is rock n’ roll. There’s a heaping helping of Mike Ness served up with a greasy side of Dexter Romweber, all finished off with a guzzle of Springsteen Lite — most evident in the chimey “First Kiss.” He throws a knuckleball with the rushing, surf-guitar intro of “Hold Sway,” but “Here I Am” is more closely representative of the album’s balanced and melodic direction. McGee thankfully ditched the old-time ephemera of the first album by leaving out the fiddle and banjo entirely, filling those spaces with heavy doses of Hammond B3 and pedal steel. It all comes together blissfully and harmoniously in the anthemic “Let’s Bleed,” which utilizes the silky and slight croon of the Honeycutters’ Amanda Platt to stabilize the gruffness of McGee’s plaintive wail. The album has guests aplenty — Menange’s Mary Ellen Bush shows up on “First Kiss” and former everybodyfield Sam Quinn adds depth to “Fire,” which straddles the fence to pop — but every appearance is incredibly subtle and unobtrusive. Most of the songs are short, to the point and satisfying, but McGee ends it all on the expansive and gloomy dirge “When My Time Comes.” Clocking in at more than seven minutes, it’s not the most fleshed out track lyrically of them all, but he affects a disquieting mood on the listener that isn’t found elsewhere. McGee has hit upon a sound that durable and appealing across several genres, but his biggest victory here is on the production side. With the help of Honeycutter Pete James, the pair rendered an album of indelible quality. The sound is clean and uncluttered, letting every note of every instrument ring out clearly and convincingly. It’s an album that belongs in the collection of everyone who loves both the rough side of country and the sincerity of Dust Bowl songwriting, but more importantly, it’s one that might make Brian McGee a recognizable name.


Brian McGee will perform a solo set in support of American Aquarium this Thursday at the Garage.