The Westies – Six on the Out (2016)

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It’s February and Christmas has come early! One of the best gifts I got last year was the Westies’ debut album, West Side Stories. In fact, the album, with its stark mix of evocative storytelling, heartfelt vocals and haunting instrumentation, made my Best of 2015 list.

Six on the Out, the Westies’ follow up, revisits many of those elements and manages to hit a few new heights. The band, comprised primarily of singer-songwriter Michael McDermott and multi-instrumentalist Heather Horton, effectively occupy the singer songwriter, American and folk/rock worlds all at once.

“If I had a Gun,” the first track on Six on the Out, paints a vivid yet stark picture of pain and sorrow. McDermott’s vocals are expressive and forceful. The Westies’ arrangements are poignant, and move the song forward with authority. “Pauper’s Sky” picks up the pace. The song flies along with the authority of a full-sized pick-up rolling down the country road with the windows open. Lyrically, the song covers the familiar territory of a rural young angst. Yet the Westies do it a joyful fashion.

“Parolee” slows down the pace with an acoustic guitar treatment of the story of a recently released criminal. Heather Horton’s harmony vocals are particularly effective, conveying the sense of loss. “Everything Is All I Want for You” is a rollicking and fun love song with the Westies assuming the role of an old-timey boy/girl duet. This boy meets girl story is festive and uplifting with its jangling guitars and junkyard drumming. “Santa Fe” is just as satisfying. The song’s straight-ahead rock rhythm and prominent lead vocal McDermott builds into a toe tapping ditty of desire and need.

“This I Know” takes a different tact, but is no less effective. The drummer’s delicate bush work on the snare builds in concert with Michael McDermott’s vocals. The optimism of the lyrics is belied by the feeling of separation. Once Horton’s voice joins for the second bridge, the listener isn’t sure if he should believe the protagonist’s promises or even root for him. Perhaps both are a good idea.

By the time, I reached “Sirens” — the closer for Six on the Out — I realized I was again drawn into the dark yet hopeful world of the Westies. “Sirens” doesn’t let up the intensity one bit, but that’s O.K. Six on the Out was not intended to be a light listen, just a very good one. On this, the Westies have once again succeeded.

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