“Home” opens Brendan McMahon’s fourth release, About Joe, in slightly audacious fashion. The mass of backing vocals beginning the song with a choral arrangement is a bit of musical sleight of hand before the song shifts into a straight forward singer/acoustic guitar mold. This is brief, however; “Home” soon expands into a widescreen number with great melodic virtues and lyrical content that locks tightly into the musical mood. There’s some melodically appealing lead electric guitar woven into the piece, but it never obscures the song’s other elements and McMahon’s songwriting penchant for keeping a myriad of components well orchestrated separates him from many of his peers. The EP’s second track and longest, by far, is “Gentleman Joe” and showcases McMahon’s stellar talent for crafting memorable characters through his lyric writing. The arrangement, however, isn’t merely a glorified vehicle for McMahon’s writing; instead, the way this song escalates from a muted beginning into About Joe’s most invigorating musical tapestry. The lead guitar takes on a more prominent role here than we heard in the opener, but never at the expense of other elements in the song’s musical attack and makes for an effective adornment.
“Fall Down” is much more ‘together’ than what the song title implies, to be sure, and the sustained pace McMahon and his collaborators maintain never seems to waver a single time. “Alive” has the passionate, engaged quality you’d expect and definitely contends for the honor of being the most rousing moment on this EP release. This is far more of a mainstream release than some of McMahon’s earlier country rock themed songwriting, but never falls squarely into a single camp. Instead, Brendan McMahon consistently mixes a number of styles into a synthesis that is uniquely his own.
The EP’s final curtain comes with the track “Doctor” and it’s the most divergent cut among the five included with About Joe. The interplay between the song’s guitar work and McMahon’s vocal is the key to making this song work, but other parts of this song push this over the top for me. It’s easily the most atmospheric moment on the release; it’s artfully threaded together and has a cohesiveness we’d expect from much more direct songs while still reaching for something entirely different. Brendan McMahon’s About Joe is an appropriate coda, of sorts, to McMahon’s first three releases and possibly heralds the next career turn that McMahon’s journey takes. Brendan McMahon deserves to be heard on the widest possible scale.
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