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Tonight at Joe Squared: Morning in Glen Burnie

July 24, 2013
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8598159924_4c57f055b7Tom McBride didn’t grow up in Maryland, but his dad did, and that’s why the son’s third album is called Morning in Glen Burnie.  The title track imagines the father at the same age the son is now, a twenty-something torn between hitchhiking out west and staying home to work at Bethlehem Steel or some internet content farm. Over a hillbilly guitar strum and a rock’n’roll kick drum, McBride sings in the voice of his father: “In Baltimore at 22, I snuck a shot and beer before the Orioles game. I made a deal with Master Steel that I’d return with leather from a cowhide plain.”

McBride’s father died six years ago, but the son has struggled with a similar ambivalence about his career. Born and raised in the Boston area, he moved to Nashville to try a music career, gave it up for an office job in D.C., gave up the job to try music again in the D.C. area, moved back to Nashville, and recorded the new album with old friends in Boston. The decision to give music another shot was a good one, for the new album shows a sure command of roots music—not just Americana but also old-school soul music—with smart lyrics lending an original, personal twist to the templates. Tonight, McBride gets within shouting distance of his dad’s hometown with a show at Joe Squared.

The opening track, “But I Don’t Care,” which won the Mid-Atlantic Songwriters Association’s gold prize, describes two lovers who back off every time they get close to a promise. “Is it true,” McBride sings in his raspy tenor over a relaxed country melody, “we’d rather be lonely?” A similar relationship is sketched on the steel-guitar-fueled “Take Her Somewhere,” where the woman begs the singer to take her to a faster, bigger city, even though he knows he’ll lose her there. There’s a longing for certainty, articulated on the album’s two best songs, the R&B ballads “Julia” and “She Knows,” where McBride’s handsome voice is liberated by strong melodies and romantic commitment.

It’s not a perfect album; the music is a bit generic at times and sometimes the over-extended metaphors cloud the narrative. But the title track forms a terrific trilogy with two more songs about parents and children. The horn-powered R&B of “Do It for the Kids” describes those parents who stay together “for the kids,” only to watch their sons “move off to California and dance with all the single girls.” But on the hillbilly-noir of “Just Like You,” his mother tells him, “Don’t live so lonely…. Don’t look down when you walk with that name.”