Seeing Chicago singer songwriter Michael McDermott in Kilkenny brought home the reason he has received such accolades as those given to him by best selling author Stephen King who proclaimed him “one of the best songwriters in the world and possibly the greatest undiscovered rock ’n’ roll talent of the last 20 years." The rock ’n’ roll aspect of his career was still in evidence by his overall stance and attitude, even though he was accompanied only by his own guitar, harmonica and piano, on all of which he proves himself an effective instrumentalist. He played three times in Kilkenny firstly in Ryans, then a short set in Rollercoaster Records and finally, the next day, in Cleere’s. Both of the venue gigs were sold out and he garnered a strong reaction from the audience who were both laughing and crying in response to his songs and stories.
McDermott performed songs from Orphans his current album including Tell Tale Heart, Full Moon Goodbye as well as choices from his previous releases including the badman tale of Getaway Car, Folksinger, Butterfly and Shadow In The Window all from the excellent Willow Springs (2016). The latter song is a heartfelt song about his relationship with his own “Irish through and through” father that is both part exhortation and exorcism. Out From Under (2018) album he included Knocked Down and the moving song detailing certain human conditions The World Will Break Your Heart. Most of these songs come from a very real, very hard place where McDermott documents his existence as an alcoholic and drug addict. Something that he has now put behind him although he knows full well that that particular set of demons have always to be kept at bay.
There is a quality to McDermott’s voice that is impassioned, pained and perfect in both the live and recorded setting. At this point all his appearances have been in a solo capacity but those in the know are aware that when he appears with his band he can take it up another notch or two. Another aspect of McDermott’s live show is the telling of the situations behind the songs swell as two very amusing tales of his meeting at an in the round songwriter session with Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary. One best heard in person and not spoiled by revealing here. There was also a recounting of a recent attempt from McDermott to help a fellow addict in a desperate time that ends with a laugh and shows that McDermott has not lost his sense of humour or humanity.
Michael McDermott deserves to gain better recognition for his talent and music. These shows in Kilkenny point to the fact that the tide may be turning for him from his first Dublin dates to a handful of listeners to these small but sold out shows. Check him out at the earliest opportunity as I doubt you will be disappointed.
Review by Stephen Rapid Photography by Kaethe Burt O’Dea