With a writerly penchant for story songs, it’s of little surprise that New Orleans-born Jim McCormick has shown a flair for writing No. 1 country smashes. Unfortunately, that’s kept him too busy to fashion albums of his own.
Over time, however, songs that didn’t find a home elsewhere began to pile up. Pretty soon, it seems, McCormick had enough for a recording under his own name. So, after something like a decade away (and charttoppers for the likes of Jason Aldean and Brantley Gilbert with “Take a Little Ride” and “You Don’t Know Her Like I Do,” respectively) — McCormick has belatedly returned with The Middle of the River, and it’s been more than worth the wait. The project is flush with sharply drawn characters placed in much less linear, more abstract situations — evidence of McCormick’s academic pursuits in creative writing before Nashville called.
Unlike those radio-ready hits (not to mention key cuts recorded by the likes of Tim McGraw, Trisha Yearwood and Luke Bryan), every moment on The Middle of the River feels ever more personal, like a confidential, free-associative moment over a beer rather than something edited and shaped in the hopes of moving product. These aren’t songs that were likely to be picked up by a major artist — though Randy Travis did, in fact, record the drinker’s lament “You Didn’t Have a Good Time.” They’re too interior, too real, to open ended. And they give The Middle of the River (issued by Threadhead Records) a jolt of emotion — more than words on page ever could for the one-time poet.
That’s McCormick’s gift as a composer, going all the way back to his bar band the Bingemen, and one made all the more profound in this unadorned, far more singer-songwriterly setting. McCormick put down these tracks at New Orleans’ Fudge Studios alongside co-producer Shane Theriot, typically in a four-piece setting and with a minimal amount of polish. The effect is to shine a tight little spotlight on narratives about growing up (“Falling in Love with Waitresses,” “Back When You Loved Me”), growing wiser (“Turning into Me,” “Too Late To Die Young”) — and, in a theme within a theme, a desire to grow closer the ones you love (“This is My Confession,” “Time Changes Everything,” “Will I Want To,” “Here in Louisiana”).
It’s a grown up record from someone who, after putting so many words into other’s mouths, has become ever more confident in knowing which of them should be coming from his own.