Review: Mike McCarroll “Honky Tonk Dreams”
Mike McCarroll “Honky Tonk Dreams”
Mike McCarroll was indoctrinated into music at an early age, dancing around the kitchen with his mom to Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog” and “All Shook Up” as a toddler. It wasn’t until enlisting in the army during the Vietnam War that McCarroll picked up a guitar and began to have a sense he could create music. In the 1960’s and 70’s it was rock n roll that lit McCarroll’s lamp. By the late 1970’s McCarroll had made the jump to southern rock, and in the 1980’s was reborn of country music. The birth of the alternative country movement awoke something in McCarroll that had been there all along. He began to write country/rock tunes for his own enjoyment, and by 2008 he had released his debut album, the critically acclaimed At The Crossroads. McCarroll returned in 2010 with Honky Tonk Dreams, refining his outlaw country sound and putting appealing distance between himself and the commercial country pack.
Honky Tonk Dreams opens with “Cash Crop,” a low key southern country-rock tune that explores the difficulties faced by small time farmers and the lengths they must at times go through to survive. The farm’s new lifeblood grows in line between the rows of corn. McCarroll sounds like a cross between Paul Gross (Due South, Men With Brooms) and Garth Brooks on “The Devil In The Mirror” while exploring the dark, unknown side of human nature. “Honky Tonk Dream” finds McCarroll channeling the spirit of Jerry Reed in a good-time tune that looks forward to the weekend as a way to get through the week. “I Had It All” is a song of heartbreak, lamenting a love lost and the fact that he let her slip away.
“If The Devil Brought You Roses” is a stellar mix of country, rock and blues. McCarroll, in character as a less-than-ideal man, asks for another chance, or at least one more roll in the hay. This mid-tempo creation is as catchy as anything you’ll hear on country radio, but the level of personality and commitment in the performance offered here is striking. This song will stick with you. “It’s All About You” is a kiss off, country style. The title takes on a double meaning in a tongue-in-cheek turn that’s highly entertaining and fun. “Merle Haggard Jack Daniels & Me” is all about drinking, classic country music, and the sort of brotherly commiseration that can only occur at your neighborhood bar.
McCarroll stands up for Indie artists everywhere on “Pop-Style Cookie-Cutter Formula,” informing pop/country music executives what they can do with the songs they want him to play. The honky-tonk arrangement is laced with the rebellious feel of early rock n roll. “Southern Pride” is an ode to southern rock and some of its greatest purveyors. McCarroll takes another shot at the music industry here, lamenting labels’ determination to essentially ignore a market for which there is still significant interest. Along the way McCarroll references some of his own influences, including The Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Charlie Daniels Band, and the Atlantic Rhythm Section. “Waitin’” is a bit of light-hearted, mid-tempo country fun. “Waitin’ On The Whiskey To Work” takes a slightly darker turn about drowning your sorrows. This isn’t a light drinking tune; it’s a serious, all hands on deck get drunk and forget song. “What You Gonna Do” finds McCarroll back in the honky-tonk, leaning dangerously close to early rock n roll with a musical blend of Garth Brooks, Hank Jr. and Jerry Lee Lewis. This is a potential country hit, being the most commercial tune on the album without the air of trying to be.
Mike McCarroll takes a lifetime of musical influences and channels it through his own quintessence to create a sound that is simultaneously modern and classic. Picking up the mantle from gentlemen such as Hank Williams Jr. and Garth Brooks, Mike McCarroll does his own thing, his way. He has a way of blending intelligent lyrics, the irreverent spirit of rock and roll and first class musicianship into songs that are eminently listenable and call you back again and again. McCarroll’s attitude toward the pop/country ways of Nashville virtually assures that Honky Tonk Dreams probably won’t get the airplay or national attention it deserves, but is a fine example of the sort of great music that happens on the fringes of Nashville once the bills have been paid. Honky Tonk Dreams is one of the finest country albums to surface in 2010.
Review by Wildy Haskell
Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)