Bob Dylan. Bruce Springsteen. John Mellencamp. Tom Petty. Gaslight Anthem. If you like any of them, you’ll probably find something to enjoy about Michael McDermott’’s latest album What In The World… Chiefly because the Chicago singer-songwriter is a dead-ringer for all of them at one point or another over the course of the 12 songs. Not that there’s anything wrong with wearing your musical influences on your sleeve. Thing is, it would be better if he fashioned some more original out of them a little more often. As it stands, What In The World… feels more like the sincerest form of flattery than a disc that stands on its own.
THE PRESS RELEASE: “Simply put, What in the World… is a rock ’n’ roll singer-songwriter tour de force in a career full of them. “I could have been a contender,” Michael sings, and in the heroic context of the music it comes off not so much a sigh as a celebration: a glorious middle finger to the gods who picked him as the next boy wonder three decades ago and then cut him loose to leave him wallowing by the side of the road. It’s been a hard slog since those days, and there came a time when Michael crawled inside a bottle and pulled the cork tight over his head. “I’m sure you know the story,” he says, “record deal early, some modicum of success, and then the long slow descent and destruction. Jail, rehab, fortunate enough to be alive, man.” It’s been six years now since he’s bellied up to the bar, and the clear-headed candor suffused in What in the World… is evidence of a vital artist who’s still a contender. Like Cool Hand Luke, he’s been knocked down 99 times and gotten back up a 100. And What in the World is a record by a man who knows who he is. Bloody and unbowed. What in the World… is a cavalcade of emotions and textures. Guitars ring like Tom Petty one moment, then soothe with warm fingerpicking the next. The title track is a flat-out rocker and a politically charged anthem for the election year. Michael dispenses with any delicacies and snarls about the “new world order, walls along the border, children in cages, executive order.” There might be a lot of pain being sung about, but the record never succumbs to the darkness. The characters might be buried, but they’re not dead. Michael has been kicked around enough to know that today is the day. Yesterday’s gone and tomorrow might not happen. So, in spite of the darkness, music happens, joy happens. And you can’t keep a good man down.”