Album Review: Anne McCue – Broken Promise Land

Play Loud, she says. It’s printed right there on the disc itself, in stressed type. Anne McCue‘s Broken Promise Land is a straight-ahead rock album from an artist more associated with other styles, but here it is nonetheless. So this reviewer is prepared to follow instructions and play the disc loud.

The title is a subtle bit of wordplay, the music isn’t all that subtle. Though a title like “Don’t Go to Texas (Without Me)” might conjure visions of c&w ballad, instead it’s a Stones-y rocker with an emphasis on melody. McCue’s tube-amp toned guitar solo shows she’s no mere acoustic troubadour who decided the profit was in rocking out. McCue’s Australian, but — surprisingly — her voice doesn’t betray too much of a down-under vibe until the listener is well into the disc.

“Ol’ Black Sky” on sounds more like its title suggests. A dusty, tumbleweeds aesthetic washes over the song. A repetitive (in the best way) guitar figure and loose, brushed drumming underpin McCue’s faraway, echoey vocal. When the guitar solo kicks in, it strikes a snaky counterpoint to that repeated guitar figure — certainly not a “rhythm” guitar in any conventional sense of the word — under it. The tune is bluesy without actually being a blues.

Perhaps too much is made of the aesthetic similarity between the old West and the wide open spaces of the Australian outback. (Certainly too much is made by writers like this one who have never actually been to Australia.) That notwithstanding, it’s safe to assume that at the very least the idea of the Australian wilderness and its similarity to parts of the American west informed the vibe that McCue conjures up on cuts like “God’s Home Number” and “Motorcycle Dream.”

“God’s Home Number” sports a spaghetti western meets spy theme aesthetic; Vibes — played by McCue herself — add extra dimension to the memorable track. It’s a strong contender for the best track on the disc.

“Motorcycle Dream” has an underwater-Stratocaster feel, and again makes subtle use of vibraphone; it’s very much of a piece with “God’s Home Number,” but those two songs present merely one of many sides of this multidimensional artist.

“Rock’n’Roll Outlaw” may have a clichéd title and a by-the-book chord progression, but McCue’s singing — leaping around the scales — and the song’s finely distorted axework make the song a fitting album closer. It’s probably a great number live as well.

The songs on Broken Promise Land were recorded with a rhythm section — Midnight Oil bassist Bones Hillman and drummer Ken Coomer (formerly of Uncle Tupelo and Wilco); that consistent rhythm section underpinning helps give the album a consistent vibe that one doesn’t get when using different studio cats on each track.

Looking at pics of McCue on her website, one might come away with the idea that McCue is a mild-mannered singer-songwriter. And while that persona is one of the tricks in McCue’s musical bag, it’s only one. The stuff on Broken Promise Land rocks, and does so in a way that would appeal to fans of pretty much any straight-ahead rootsy rock music. Her photos give a pretty good idea of who some of her heroes are: Richard Thompson, the Wilson sisters (Heart), Les Paul, Lucinda Williams, Wayne Kramer (MC5), Koko Taylor. The music on Broken Promise Land suggests that McCue understands what makes each of those artists special.

In its own way, Broken Promise Land has some sonic connections to Nick Curran‘s excellent Reform School Girls. While Curran’s métier is firmly rooted in a 50s and 60s aesthetic as opposed to McCue’s bluesier take, both artists share a predilection and facility for (if you’ll forgive the expression) balls-out rocking guitar solos and thick distortion. McCue’s approach is more four-on-the floor than manic, but that true rock feel comes through. Recommended.

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