Edwin McCain at the Vilar
Vail CO, Colorado
BEAVER CREEK ” Edwin McCain seems like such a nice guy. In a world full of brooding singer-songwriters and cocksure rockers, his quiet smile and choirboy soul seem to project a mellow warmth and sincerity absent in big pop music. His biggest hit, “I’ll Be,” showcases these qualities in the form of a prom ballad for the ages: I wonder just how many thousands of high-school kids won over their intended sweethearts with amateur renditions of this song. To top it all off, he’s a former Vail local.
All of this makes me feel guilty for not loving “Lost in America,” his ninth album, which comes nine years after “I’ll Be” entered the public consciousness. McCain is currently on tour in support of “Lost in America.”
“Lost in America” strays a bit from McCain’s adult-contemporary balladry and crosses into storytelling songwriting of the Springsteenian or Mellencampian variety. On songs like the title track and “Gramercy Park Hotel,” McCain aims to narrate slices of contemporary modern life from afar, but it lacks the gravitas of his confessional songwriting of old. Even worse, hokey lyrics like “she got a handful of pills to improve her mood/liposuction, big, fake boobs/she got a Mexican maid that brings the food” make the songs that much tougher to swallow.
McCain’s biggest missteps come from a new, harder-edged sound on roughly a third of the tracks. “My Mystery,” “Bitter and Twisted” and especially “Babylon” all feature louder, distorted guitars and growlier, faux-edgy singing from McCain; it sounds as if he’s trying to compete with Nickelback, et al., and the results aren’t pretty. These songs don’t play to his strengths, and why he would want to forsake his credible roots-rock singing to run with this disposable crowd is beyond this reviewer’s ken.
Unsurprisingly, the bright spot on “Lost in America” comes from “Losing Tonight,” a classic, waltzy ballad with a strong vocal take from McCain. On this number, the boy from South Carolina lets loose the country-soul croon he’s best known for, and his sheer earnestness manages to sell lines like “changing all I believe in/I’m reaching out slowly/to the distant ship she’ll be” ” which is quite an achievement.
Some artists make their name on change and innovation, but others … well, let’s just say we like them just the way they are. McCain falls into the latter category, and though he’ll likely always be best known for “I’ll Be,” “Losing Tonight” shows that he still has a monster ballad or two left in him. He’s aided and abetted by a crack band that puts in as many as 300 shows a year, but this time out, McCain will play an acoustic set with folk musician and contributor Maia Sharp, so we can look forward to some soulful classics. The newer songs might even benefit from a gentler treatment and perhaps a more personal retelling from a solo McCain. With his acoustic set, we can hope McCain and company stick to their strengths and leave the harder rockin’ to somebody else.
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