Classic Americana Albums: The Westies “West Side Stories”

Pauper Sky Records 2015

Michael McDermott was first signed to a major label in 1991. A number of albums followed, the label dropped him and, in his own words “Those days are now just a wash of dreams of characters, of drunken and drug-fuelled nights wandering all over town looking for an angry fix driven by love, lust, longing, or connection.”

McDermott still releases music on his own Pauper Sky Records label and has just published a memoir that outlines that near-fatal life journey through alcohol and cocaine addiction, self-destruction, guns, financial ruin and the music that became his salvation.

Hidden in plain sight amongst this rock and roll detritus are two albums by The Westies released in quick succession: 2015’s ‘West Side Stories’ and, a year later ‘Six on The Out’. Michael McDermott’s voice is a ringer for Springsteen at his downbeat best and, in this guise, he taps into that angst of urban struggle in songs of loss and regret and the sheer bloody hard work of surviving against the odds. The songs are sparse and haunting and include songs titled ‘Hell’s Kitchen’, ‘Death’ and ‘Devil’.

McDermott’s wife Heather Horton is credited with having a major role to play in bringing her man back from the brink of oblivion and her input on these tracks is considerable. Her ethereal harmonies and fiddle playing are a hugely significant contributor to the overall sound of the album. Both voices blended together drip with authenticity, the emotion bleeding out of every line.

On a couple of tracks ‘Say it…’ and ‘Still…’ the couple bounce verses off each other in the manner of My Darling Clementine while other tracks, with their lyrical intimacies of the struggles of everyday life in all its minutiae bring to mind another fabulous partnership, Boone and Vlautin of The Delines.

After the second album in 2016 McDermott reverted to solo releases which continue to this day, and it is hard to find much conversation about potential future Westies releases. If these two albums are all we are going to get from The Westies, then we should savour two wonderful pieces of work. If ‘West Side Stories’ has the edge for this reviewer perhaps it is just because that first album was such an attention grabber, and that the opening track of that album is a classic in its own right. ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ transports us to the Manhattan most of us are only familiar with through the screen “Yeah it’s Darwinian, and it reeks of sex and of sin, each night is like a battle in a war, For tonight, it’s Hell’s Kitchen or Heaven’s door.”

About Peter Churchill 145 Articles
Lover of intelligent singer-songwriters; a little bit country; a little bit folk; a little bit Americana. Devotee of the 'small is beautiful' school of thought when it comes to music venues.

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