SKIN BACK ALLEY - Album review: M.Lockwood Porter | 27

SKIN BACK ALLEY - Album review: M.Lockwood Porter | 27

Artist: M. Lockwood Porter
Album: 27
Our Verdict: 4/5
Release date: Out now
Find it at: Bandcamp
Review by: Graeme Blackwell

“27 is a mature, full and confident sounding beaut of an album… Songwriters of his calibre are all too rare.”

There’s a beautiful loose quality that permeates the music of 27, the new album from Oklahoman born singer and songwriter M.Lockwood Porter. Described by the artist himself as an LP that is essentially “half break-up record, half quarter-life crisis”, it delivers the kind of beguiling roots rock so beloved of those with a penchant for all things Americana. From the gentle plucked opening of “I Know You’re Gonna Leave Me” onward, 27 at once feels like it is about to fall apart, yet manages to beat a thrilling path forward through the aural and emotional landscape before it.

Porter wears his influences proudly on his sleeve, creating his own music sure, but always acknowledging the tradition which it handsomely continues. 27 walks an always engaging line somewhere between the caterwauling guitar blasts of Ryan Adams at his most sonically scabrous, the heartrending coming-of-age lyrics and hair-raising melodies of Paul Westerberg, and the warmth and depth of Jeff Tweedy, occasionally throwing in some of Wilco’s more adventurous musical tendencies too.

Porter turned 27 himself this year, that curious age at which so many musicians have shuffled off this mortal plane. It’s an idea that drives much of the lyrical exploration and documentation presented here, most notable on “Chris Bell”, Porter’s tribute to Big Star’s guitarist and vocalist who died in a car accident at the same age. “I know that Paul Westerberg, he sang a song for you, but it occurred to me that someone should sing one for Chris Bell too / Kurt Cobain and Hendrix didn’t make it to 28, but they don’t sell his t-shirts at the head shops in the The Haight.” The song is a gem, and one that ably demonstrates Porter’s way with memorable words, set against the kind of accompaniment that Neil Young at his most pastoral would be proud of.

Indeed it would be possible to argue that there is also something of Crazy Horse about the group that Porter has assembled for this record. The band’s flexibility is never less than impressive as they weave their proudly American musical tapestry. At times they’re delivering uptempo rollicking guitar rock (a la aforementioned opener “I Know You’re Gonna’ Leave Me” or “Secrets”), and then they’ve pulled everything back to deliver haunting and spacious arrangements of pedal steel and piano (in the likes of “Restless” or “There To Here”.)

It’s not all maudlin heartbreak and melancholy, though. “You Only Talk About Your Band” may be the most blistering piece of rock n’ roll humour you’ll hear all year; a wry, pedal-to-the-metal piece about the kind of person you don’t want to get stuck in a corner with at that album launch party. It’s perfectly fitting musical backdrop is the kind of raw and rootsy rock that stood John Fogerty and CCR in such good stead.

It would be all too easy at this juncture to see the musical reference points noted here as being indicative of someone regurgitating the sonics and styles that have gone before with scant regard for originality. But that would be disingenuous and churlish. M.Lockwood Porter is clearly working in long-established American musical traditions, but 27 is far from some kind of one-dimensional roots pastiche. You can’t craft songs that are as enchanting as this if you don’t have a care and skill all of your own.

Much like Springsteen’s The River or Manassas’ eponymous debut before it, 27 navigates a well-worn path across genres and styles that are disparate, and yet somehow coalesce beautifully; as if by wandering and weaving from left to right, Porter and Co. have created a pin-point, heartfelt centre at the core of this record.

Just two albums in to a what is starting to feel like a hugely promising career, Porter’s 27 is a mature, full and confident sounding beaut of an album. Songwriters of his calibre are all too rare. Seek him out and look after him whilst you can. As the man himself says, turning Neil Young’s legendary lyric on it’s head and laying down his own law of longevity: “It’s not better to burn out than to fade away.”

27 is out now and available via M.Lockwood Porter’s bandcamp page. Find out more about the man and his music at his official website.

You can listen to 27 via the Bandcamp stream below:

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