Let's say you need a frills shelf for your keepsakes or a bedside table for the guest room. You can stop by the local big box store or order one on the internet and have it delivered the next day in a box that you can assemble. You might even find one that looks like it was an old antique or handcrafted, improperly weathered, or roughly hewn.
But there is a difference between such an item and digging up something truly unique, made with love and care, that you can buy from the artisan himself in a local bazaar or discover in a dusty antique shop on a farm to market it on the street in the midwest. 100 Ikea shelves (some assembly required) will never match the value and character of any of those treasure finds with a story to tell.
Like these unique pieces, Noel McKay's songs are carefully crafted with their dovetail joints and beveled edges, and proudly engraved with a maker's mark. They are popular and presented to the world with no commercial concern, and more because of the memories they carry or are about to pass on.
Guy Clark recognized this eye for craftsmanship and detail in Noel McKay when he first heard Noel perform with his brother Hollin in The McKay Brothers around 1993. Noel and Guy soon became friends and built a guitar together. Unique. Then they set about writing some songs. One called "El Coyote" landed on Guy's last album, My Favorite Picture of You. Another called "Flying and Falling" landed on this, Noel McKay's newest album, Blue Blue Blue. The guitar that Noel and Guy built together was used when recording this album. The memories are burned in directly.
Yes, Noel McKay is more than just Mr. Brennen Leigh and a Christmas baby. While he was more than happy to surrender the limelight to his significant other for parts of his career, anyone who paid attention knew that Noel Brennen is Leigh's secret weapon and an essential contributor to their duo projects.
Blue Blue Blue is filled with songs about people you'd likely encounter while driving cross-country on two-lane highways through small towns, including some of the places named "50 Loneiest Places in the Nation" in the opening song you of all of them clever ideas of a Roger Miller melody.
Only a skilled word smith could turn something as mundane as "Get A Bag of Ice" into something that brings such rich memories into focus, or write a song about songwriting that actually works as well as the hilarious "You Oughta." Write a Song ". About the."
Noel McKay's songs take you on a journey back in time and far away, but take you to a place that feels incredibly familiar. They're wormholes for a simpler time and place than anything was conceived before high definition, like the old men snorting their eyes like old men in “When This Town Was Cool” or the Peterbilt jockey in “Open All Night ”or the poor soul who cares for a broken heart in“ Blue, Blue, Blue ”. It's not exactly Nashville, Texas, or California. It's Route 66 Country – classical and composed, with a little sparse but abundant music.
Despite the time and environment that set you back, these songs can still feel relevant. “Sleeping in My Car” could be about Noel McKay's own experiences with semi-homelessness as a struggling musician in Austin in the late 1990s. But with so many young adults these days either choosing or being forced to sleep in their vehicle because of making silly decisions or chasing after their dreams, it is as relevant as ever.
Some artists approach music like they're weeding out widgets on a required schedule – just like the updated version of this Ikea shelf, now in a nightingale hue. But Noel McKay takes the time to get it right by basing himself on the masters of the old days. He knows that this is a quality, not quantity, business. Otherwise your works could end up in the trash sooner or later, like so many housewares made from chipboard.
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