The first time I saw Joel McKerrow perform live he was onstage alone belting out the poem Ugly Words, which features as the coda of this new long-play album, Welcome Home, with an urgency that surged and waned multiple times, from a tongue-in-cheek slyly self-knowing beginning to climactic shouting torrents of words that made it seem he might leap from the stage headlong into the audience, gather them all up and lead them on a poetic revolution through the streets. In a way, that’s exactly what he’s been doing, touring Australia, New Zealand, the States, Canada, UK and Europe, with a very eloquent pen and tongue. He’s an educator firmly coming from the place of the importance of story (if you have a moment, watch his TEDx talk about the power of story here, where he also gives a compelling performance of Ugly Words).
Joel’s voice is fascinating to listen to across an entire album, and the beauty of this collaboration is the band’s ability to draw different moods and melodies out of this voice. The urgency is ever present. Even in quiet moments there is a shivering tension as though he is so in need of getting this story through, so passionate about this message he has to impart, he can hardly hold it down to speech. It’s in the poetry too, a sense of life so full of meaning that it’s unbearable, lines like “every fibre of our being wants all to be well” ...
The Mysterious Few, being Josh Furhrmeister, Richelle Boer, Jhana Allan and Leah Scholes, are a wonderful counterpoint to this urgency, with their smooth and swinging American folk style. Dawn Comes Slow showcases this band’s folk pop chops and also the very nice production by Joshua Fuhrmeister. On tracks like Awaken and Waiting for the Storm to Break they weave a rich atmosphere around Joel’s voice and soften his style with their delicacy. Richelle Boer’s voice in particular provides a lovely contrast to the upfront nature of his storytelling. To me these are the tracks where the collaboration works best. The overwhelming nervous energy of Joel’s delivery can, sometimes, switch me off his message. In Awaken he varies his delivery, swinging with the music and alternately growling and singing his words. Working in with the band, his voice seems looser and deeper. And then Raindrops is just a divine little love poem from a father, a beautiful matching of story and song.
We Tell Stories (featured in this month’s ‘La Danza Poetica‘ podcast, coming tomorrow) is the pick for me in the way that Joel’s building urgency is paced by the rhythm, guitar and violin, building to a very solid climax in which Joel lets loose on an almost Shakespearian soliloquy about the necessity of creativity. In some ways I feel that there is more freedom to come for this voice – there are times even at the apex of these tracks that I feel him holding back – what the explosion might be, I’m not sure – is it song? Or a howl from the belly? Maybe both! Perhaps revolution!