One half of The Westies alongside husband Michael McDermott, like him Horton also has a solo career, one which, aided and abetted by multi-instrumentalist Lex Price, she resumes here with her strongly feminist fuelled second album about women addressing the struggle of reconciling their multiple roles with the search for personal happiness which, she notes, frequently gets “placed on back burners and crammed into closets”.
A caution about falling in love with the wrong person, the breathily sung ‘Murphy’s Law’ opens the album with a dreamy, ripplingly hypnotic rhythm, the musical mood getting a little more spooked with ‘Wheelchair Man’, a disability rights song inspired by the disempowered and disenfranchised of Chicago on which she sings “I cannot stand ladders I will never get to climb corporate or just to pass the time/dreaming days to forge a golden gate/bridges only birds can navigate.”
‘Did You Feel That’ picks up the tempo for a poppier shuffle complete with a soaring radio friendly chorus only to take things back down again with the minimal, multi-tracked vocals of an almost hymnal ‘Save The Rain’, a song about her protecting daughter (Willie aka Rain) from the dangers of the world.
A Velvetsish slow walking bassline (and accompanying talk-sing musical sensibility) underpins the narcotic ‘Boomerang’, a song about her estranged adoptive father and the things you do coming back to bite you, while, addressing facing up to collective responsibility, the languorous country of ‘Flesh and Blood’ is another of the sparser mood moments.
If you’re wondering why the album’s not really mirrored the confrontational nature of the title, then welcome to ‘F.U.’, an amusing song on which, opening with the line ‘Jolene ain’t got nothing on you’, was inspired by a stalker who tried to steal her husband (”I find you backstage in stilettos and stockings and you pretend that it was me, that you came for. I give you a hug cuz I feel sorry for you/and you try to bite me/but I’m made of nickel”), but, coloured by some twangsome guitar, delivers its middle finger in a quietly warning way rather than snarling into your face.
The romantic six minute ‘Coffee Cup’ is another dreamily tranquil number, written as a response to ‘Say It’ by The Westies, it’s followed the reflective ‘Pauper Sky’, here in the original form of the song that (with an extra ‘s) appeared on the band’s last album.
It ends with the unhurried seven-minute mostly spoken narrative ‘I Wanna Die in My Sleep’, essentially a moving pledge of unconditional love and devotion to her husband accompanied by acoustic guitar and a touch of organ. It’s only right then to have a hidden bonus track, the two of them teaming up for a ramshackle acoustic cover of ‘You’re The One That I Want’. You might not want to mess with Mrs. Murphy, but you really should get to know Ms. Horton a lot better.
Don’t Mess With Mrs Murphy is out in the UK on 1st September via At The Helm Records
You may already know Heather as singer, songwriter, fiddle player and one half of The Westies (the other half of which is her husband Michael McDermott). TheWesties, received vast, critical acclaim while the urgency for Horton to get back to her own roots, remained impending after putting her career on hold upon the birth of their child, Rain in 2010.
This record signifies Horton’s own re-birth and speaks for all women toiling and wrestling with the struggles attached to their multitude of roles, including guilt, denial and depression, in the midst of their own pursuit of happiness.
Horton has said that this record not only defines her, but screams out the layers of sadness, fear and euphoria she and the majority of women have “placed on back burners and crammed into closets”; all the while believing this place in all of time, to be the most important time for aggressive, unrelenting expression.
Horton re-enlisted sonic collaborator, Lex Price, to produce, engineer and mix the collection of eleven songs (including a hidden bonus) at The Collard Green and Resistor studios in Nashville, TN.
On his tenth solo album, Chicago based singer-songwriter Michael McDermott (The Westies) has delivered one of the most honest, daring and defiant recordings of his extraordinary 25 year career.
“This is an album of reckoning I suppose,” McDermott reflects. “There was a real cacophony of change going on in my life at the time… being a new father, losing my own father, leaving the city for the country, dealing with sobriety, grief, death, mortality, shame and forgiveness. It was a veritable emotional tsunami and yet somehow I had to navigate through it all. That journey is reflected in these songs. Willow Springs is the name of the place where I took refuge and had to confront a lot of things”.
Michael McDermott’s story is the classic tale of survival, perseverance, love and redemption. The first half begins with youthful innocence, a dream-come-true recording contract, a classic debut album heralded by the media, and a downward spiral with seemingly no bottom. The second half begins with love and the woman that would become his wife, Heather Horton, their baby girl, and a collection of achingly honest songs born of new inspiration that are amongst the very best of his ten album career.
McDermott got off to a fast start when he released his first album 620 W. Surf (1991). The music media heralded him with comparisons to rock n’ roll’s godlike, “The new Springsteen…Truly singular lyrics…Like Dylan…One of his generation’s greatest talents,” they wrote. Pretty heady stuff for a 20-year old kid of Irish descent who’d barely travelled further from his Southside Chicago neighbourhood than Wrigley Field.
The music business pays attention when your introduction to the world is accompanied by the names Azoff and Koppelman. As a young A&R man, Brian Koppelman heard the buzz that was coming out of the Chicago coffeehouse scene where McDermott was making the rounds. He swooped in and signed him to Giant Records, the label that Warner Music had just bankrolled for already legendary impresario Irving Azoff.
MTV, Rolling Stone, the New York Times, chart topping radio airplay, besieging label promotion. It was all there. A new artist could not dream for anything more. Even author Stephen King, well known for his affinity to quote rock lyrics in his mega-selling novels, wrote,
“Not since I first heard Bruce Springsteen singing ‘Rosalita’ had I heard someone who excited me so much as a listener, who turned my dials so high, who just made me feel so (expletive) happy to have ears.”
And then, as fast as it started, came the skidding halt. “By the time I was 24, I was over,” the singer-songwriter says. “Really, I was kind of over.” Maybe it was the hype, or the timing was wrong. Who knows? The music biz is full of stories of songwriting singers with next-coming honours that end with broken dreams. Sometimes it just doesn’t work. McDermott acknowledges that he had something, perhaps a lot, to do with it. He was young, naïve, free spirited and believed the hype. With no idea how to reconcile his future path with his sudden dream-come-true life, and no one he trusted enough to guide him, he responded by going off the rails, living the rock n’ roll fantasy of drugs, alcohol, fast lane parties, strippers, mobsters, jail…you name it, he did it. He went out of control and scared the hell out of the people close to him.
Michael slipped so far down that Brian Koppelman, who went on to become a Hollywood screenwriter, admits that his first film, the 1998 poker cult-classic Rounders, carried a lot of his experiences with McDermott within its narrative. Matt Damon’s gambling protagonist actually shared the songwriter’s stage name (they call him “Mike” in the movie), while Edward Norton’s character, an out-of-luck ex-con with big debts to pay, carried the surname Murphy, McDermott’s actual birthright. Though they gave their hero his name, Koppelman and screenwriting partner David Levien both admitted that McDermott aligned more with the Murphy character, a notorious screw-up who just can’t seem to catch a break.
Between his own self-destruction and the recording industry shakeup that marked the mid-1990s, McDermott found himself without a contract and awash in debt and self-doubt.
“Throughout the years, I had continued to feel like I was on a mission, of sorts, singing spiritual songs”, he once said, “but never really feeling good about the other elements of my life.”
Understandably, he’s found positive inspiration in his wife and daughter and having at last become more comfortable in his own skin, scarred but smarter, McDermott is making more life-affirming choices. It’s reflected in his last two self released albums, Hit Me Back and Hey La Hey, which include some of the strongest and most profound songs that he has written.
In 2013, McDermott and Horton introduced a new band, The Westies, another slice of McDermott’s pie. More folk than rock, The Westies are a rootsy Americana band complete with steel guitar, mandolin, fiddle, and stand-up bass. The band recently released their second album Six On The Out, which is garnering acclaim here and in the US.
There’s another quote by Stephen King that suits Michael himself as well as the intended reference to his talents:
“Michael’s music, like Springsteen’s and Van Morrison’s, helped me to find a part of myself that wasn’t lost, as I had feared, but only misplaced. That’s why we love the ones who are really good at it, I think: because they give us back ourselves, all dusted and shined up, and they do it with a smile…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.”
Although fame has eluded Michael, he has the rest of the act nailed, and twenty years in to his career he isn’t lost or misplaced, he has found himself, has no fear, he’s still good at it, and is all dusted and shined up and ready for the twenty years to come.