A story is more than the core facts (truthful or fictional) related in order. Ask any writer, and you’ll quickly hear of the Gestalt of storytelling: the whole is always more than the mere sum of its parts. A good narrative is not only of interest to the one hearing of it; it is carefully packaged, polished and fleshed out, brought to vivid life through one’s medium of choice. It grows stronger with each retelling, as the insights of others hone one’s craft.
Morgan MacDonald, being a fan of storytelling, has taken these lessons to heart on his first EP, Back To The Wilderness. Recruiting producer Paul Aucoin (Jason Collett; The Sadies; Cuff The Duke) and a powerful line-up of musicians to shape his vision, the resulting quartet of tracks is a layered affair of poignant storytelling with just the right fluorishes to highlight his narrative.
Opening track “The Fences” greets the ears like an old friend, its soothing acoustic guitar melody pulling you into the melancholy sway of a contemplative look at growing old ( and apart) from our home and its shifting landscape — the price of gentrification. “The place where I’m from is not where I live/But I still drive near it, see how it is/The roads that were paved, the lands that was lost/And the prices that can’t pay the cost.”
The midnight sky is captured in the soft sadness of “More Than Just The Stars” as MacDonald unfurls the all-too-familiar experience of a lonely walk in the darkness, where the destination cannot be reached by ground or sea. This ability to evoke a world within the melodic lines and instrument choices is what sets MacDonald apart quickly from the pack. It’s so very easy to close one’s eyes to a track like this and feel the crisp air of an Autumn night and hear the faint howl of a lonesome dog blocks away that echoes one’s own heart.
The toll of everday life and the working class struggle to rise above the boxes we find ourselves in is captured in the bird’d eye perspective of the best Springsteen ballads on track “Blood Will Rust”. Hope and despair, toil and trial are all found within the rich metaphor and imagery of MacDonald’s lyrics. “Another day into the grind/To weaken his heart, to sharpen his mind…He’s working to change the hand he’s dealt/Except for the knife that’s better felt/But he won’t stop for bleeding/He lets it flow/’Cause there’s no time for healing ’til he says so.” It is all the more poignant when we’re let in on the identity of our working man.
Closing title track “Back To The Wilderness” takes us out on a discordant note, with an almost Celtic jig lending a foot stomping feel to a salute to a loved one moving on — returning to the wilderness, so to speak. A stunning tribute to a free spirit’s legacy, it lends a cyclical nature to the EP, carrying listeners from drifting from home to being called back to the land.
Armed with a notebook brimming with future songs and a keenly observant eye, it’s fair to say that Morgan MacDonald has only just set out on what promises to be an incredible musical journey.
Final Grade: A
You can learn more about Morgan MacDonald at his official site and stream Back To The Wilderness below.