After three albums in front of I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch in the House, Portland’s Michael Dean Damron transitioned fully to a solo career. As Mike D. he sang heavy and rough blues-edged rock that was at once rootsy and in-your-face. As Michael Dean Damron he’s reconstituted as a singer-songwriter, backed by a lower-key combo called Thee Loyal Bastards. His voice still has plenty of edge, but his songs are built for strummed guitars and shuffling rhythms, and with the backing band’s volume turned down, there’s more room for nuance in his vocals. He sings with the sort of grit you’ve heard from Willie Nile, Steve Forbert, John Hiatt, James McMurtry and others whose rock ‘n’ roll hearts are tattooed with stripes of country and blues.
This third solo album offers first-person emotions through original songs of dysfunctional relationships, broken hearts, suicidal situations, plainspoken social discontent (“same old shit, different day”), and memorable imagery (“poverty is a pistol, pointed at our heads”). Damron’s song titles retain the pungency of his earlier group’s, with “I’m a Bastard” rendered as a raw guitar-and-harmonica blues and the modern-day break-up “I Hope Your New Boyfriend Gives You A.I.D.S.” thankfully not repeating its death wish in the lyrics.
Damron shows off fine taste in covers with a haunted version of Drag the River’s “Beautiful and Damned,” a crawl through Thin Lizzy’s “Dancing in the Moonlight” that’s more Tom Waits than Van Morrison, and a folky solo of “Waiting Around to Die” that’s less aggrieved than Townes Van Zandt’s original. Whatever he sings, he digs into it, often using stripped down solo guitar arrangements to free himself from band time. The results have a live dynamic, with gentle plucking giving way to hard strumming and introspective realizations turning into shouted confessions. It isn’t pretty, but it’s not meant to be. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]