Episode 141: Bryan McPherson
Air date: 8.12.2015
Singer Bryan McPherson has a tattoo of the unmistakable silhouette of United States of America on his right arm - the contiguous 48 states, at least. This may seem a strange idiosyncrasy for an artist who is largely considered a protest singer. Truly, McPherson pulls no punches when pointing out the darker side of his homeland, and given the dynamic, folk-punk delivery of his songs about the labor movement, race relations, income inequality, women’s rights, gay rights and other causes of the oppressed and marginalized, it is nearly impossible to not be moved by his message. His agile and shouted tenor, uptempo guitar playing and frenetic harmonica accompaniment are reminiscent of an amped up Woody Guthrie - or maybe Dylan on speed - and McPherson is fearless about taking his message to the people, logging thousands of miles playing solo shows from coast to coast and sleeping in his van along the way. If there is a salient criticism of modern activism it is that it lacks heart and focus, but Bryan McPherson has both of these things in spades - because it’s when he slows down his tempos, dials down his rage and delivers stark, first-person songs about love and the loss of loved ones that his strong, vulnerable and indelible heart shines through. McPherson’s new album, Wedgewood, was recorded in a rustic studio near an abandoned gold mine in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains - a long way from his hometown of Boston. The collection of songs was named for the brand of wood burning stove that he tended to stay warm, and the theme of fire imparts the music with a palpable feeling of searing change. Bryan McPherson may be a slightly anachronistic protest singer in the Internet Age, but he is offering no vague indictments of those in power, he’s as real as they come. A keen eye will reveal that there are no state lines or red or blue ink to divide the country on McPherson’s tattoo, and that’s an apt reminder for all of those singing and fighting for a better world.