AFTER STUMBLING into a thirty year career inspired by the music his parents raised him on, he now has hard-earned life lessons and wisdom to share. In a life that has taken him around the world, singing it out night after night, belting it to the rafters and proving his worth, he has come home and made his most reflective and thoughtful recording to date.
With sensitively chosen material and poetry as jumping off points, John McDermott’s upcoming recording “As The Sky Gives The Ocean” takes you on a journey through all of the moods that he inhabits so well.
Whether juxtaposing Yeats’ poem “When You Are Old” against a jazzy watercolour backdrop or the gospel-informed “Not For Us” which recounts a desperate late-night phone call for meaning, McDermott delivers a rich satisfying voice of a trusted friend and sensitive champion of the unappreciated in life. The orchestral reverie of the title track delivers the bittersweet amber vision of treasuring departed parents and finding their presence in regular life. “Around the Corner” by poet Charles Hanson Towne, a meditation on friendship, reveals a John Prine-like delivery and “May You Be” written by producer Mark Lalama showcases an insightful prayer and a wish for the ones we love.
Inspired by Glen Campbell’s farewell album “Adios” from 2017, John got in touch with Mark Lalama and said he wanted to make a “last record”. On the first trial session, they started with two songs which were prayer-like and Mark could immediately hear John singing these in a more personal and intimate way. Lalama pushed John to dig deeper for emotion. After 2 hours of working on the vocal, John came into the control room and revealed, “I’ve never let anyone tell me how to sing a song before”. Inspired and happy with the results, this set the bar for the rest of the project. It has been more collaborative than other recordings for John and he has given producer Lalama full creative reign to flesh out the feeling of the music.
While recording a Father’s Day special with John during the 2020 lockdown, Lalama was playing an original instrumental at the piano. McDermott asked for the title as they were going to use it for the special and without thinking too much, Lalama named it “A Father’s Tune”. It had always gnawed at Lalama that he had never written lyrics to it and suddenly it made sense. He quickly set lyrics to it and the song effortlessly became a standout on this recording. Lalama, having known and worked with McDermott for several years, has become well aware of John’s penchant for acts of service to community and his core beliefs of bettering the world.
As they went along, the song choices, according to Lalama, started to reflect these qualities. After all the years of being able to wow with the sheer power of voice in anthems, hymns and huge spaces, it seemed a fitting time to take a chance on the wise and reflective side of John’s abilities. Vulnerability is a strength. It became the litmus test for the record where emotional resonance with John came first and as a result, quieter conversational tones were selected and ultimately allowed more emotion to come through.
Another story exemplifies the character of John McDermott that pervades this recording. The duo recently travelled to New York to play a funeral for a member of the FBI. It was a large affair at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan with many celebrated and decorated attendees. As expected, John presented humble and beautiful musical reflection at the service with the trust afforded to him in the moment. Afterwards, they attended McSorley’s Bar with some of John’s closest friends. Though full of raucous 20 to 30-year olds trying their hand at the two kinds of beer they serve (light and dark!), the room was quieted, a dedication to the departed briefly made and John was encouraged to sing “Danny Boy” in honour of the man they had buried that same day. You could actually hear a pin drop as John began to softly and wistfully sing the song. For the second verse, John moved to a stronger more assured tenor voice that he is known for and the song climaxed with the whole room hanging on every syllable and breath. And it was done. The room erupted in a scene that fully restored faith in humanity and for a sweet delicious moment the music held and consoled everyone and ultimately freed them from their day to day burdens. John smiled, replaced his ball cap on his head and slipped back into the barroom environment comfortable and content that he is doing what he can for the world with his voice.