Ohio’s Arlo Mckinley was on the brink of giving up on music when he caught the attention of one John Prine. The legendary singer-songwriter and his son Jody signed him up to their label Oh Boy Records on the strength of his soulful, gospel voice and beautiful songs of hard living. Mckinley’s is a story of better late than never, as accident and circumstance almost conspired to convince him that his time would never come. Luckily, aged forty years young we are now presented with ‘Die Midwestern’.
We can all find a bitter image that reflects back at us from these ten tracks. The honest soul searching contained within them is what appealed to Prine and, reading between the lyrical lines, what delayed the breakthrough of Mckinlay so long. ‘Bag Of Pills’ was the song which first came to JP’s attention and it bristles with a cold hunger for better days. The title track settles into familiar foot-shuffling turf with some first-rate country arrangements from a star-studded band including Ken Coomer (Uncle Tupelo, Wilco), Rick Steff (Hank Williams Jr.) and Reba Russell (Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison), but the song remains the same lyrically – dark but dismissive of the false sentiment of Nashville, “I thought that we would set this city on fire, but if we stick around we’ll surely expire”, getting older, friendship, striving and ultimately leaving. Country music is alive and well and living in Ohio – but coming to a town near you.