Mark McKay,
(Toadfish, 2005)

Shimmer is Mark McKay's follow-up album to the acclaimed Live From the Memory Hotel. While this album has some of those popular songs, every track on this album was recorded in a studio. Does his studio work compare to his tried and true live recordings? Well, let's refer to another Rambles.NET review, in which I wrote the following about the live version of "Rain (Like a Hallellujah)" on McKay's previous album:

This excellent track has all the intense and focused energy of a live acoustic performance. While I'm confident a studio version would be pretty good, hearing it in a live format makes it thoroughly enjoyable.

Now I have no idea if McKay read my review, but if he did, he could and should take umbrage with "pretty good." This album has a studio version of that song, and to call it "pretty good" would be an understatement bordering on insult. While the live feel isn't in this version, all of the aforementioned intensity and focused energy certainly remains.

"Nashville" holds up equally as well under the same scrutiny. The lack of a live ambience is made up for in the consistent production quality. And quality stays consistent across the board, regardless of the song style. "Ready for the Show" is an easy quasi-pop song with a Wilco mood. "Stay Around" is more of a straight-up rock song, with McKay showing off his electric guitar-wah skills. "Mercedes" has a Bob Seger-meets-fast-blues vibe to it. Honestly, there's not a bad song on this album.

"Sweet Temptation" and "U-Eye" have Kris Delmhorst returning for backing vocals. She was worth noting on Live from the Memory Hotel and yet again, she does a great job of paradoxically standing out because she's so great in the background. She takes the high notes in "U-Eye" to counterbalance McKay's throaty baritone, while she and McKay dance in their respective higher vocal registers in "Sweet Temptation." Delmhorst has a subtle yet strong vocal style that only serves to accentuate McKay's performance. Even if it's just for two songs, she makes all the difference. Hopefully these two will collaborate on future projects.

With his ear-catching vocals and vigorous rock style, McKay continues to prove he's a consistently entertaining and engaging musician. Shimmer is another step in the right direction for a hopefully long musical stride.

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review by
C. Nathan Coyle

4 August 2007

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