Scruff of the neck, hard living, gutsy folk Americana – that’s ‘West Side Stories’ from The Westies - an intriguing darkness to lure and seduce the unwary. A ‘collective of musicians that rotate in and out depending on availability’ around the nucleus of Michael McDermott and Heather Horton. The music holds, the lyrics envelope and you’re there with them, once this album has you in its grip it will not let go. Part of the attraction comes from McDermott’s rough-edged, moody vocals - breathing the smoke of a thousand bars and washed with smooth whiskey - juxtaposed with deeply-felt longing, touches of tragedy and unabashed emotion delivered by Horton’s voice. Add absorbing layers of hauntingly delivered instrumentation and the flexed muscle of ‘West Side Stories’ punches hard and fast.
Listen to the harsh recognition of fruitless dreams and understanding regret in ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ “… tonight it’s Hell’s Kitchen or heaven’s door”, the gritty reality of ‘Trains’ or McDermott and Horton’s duet of supplication that makes ‘Say It…’ you’re listening to lyrics cut from the soul. The haunting fiddle and sensuous drums on ‘Death’ lead into lingering guitars and evocatively woven harmonies in ‘Devil’ while the bleak narrative of ‘Bars’ – “… sometimes you need the darkness in order to ever see the light” takes the necessary time it needs to tells its hard tale.
The original ‘Westies’ were Hell’s Kitchen’s most notorious Irish-American gang of undeniable notoriety, with ‘West Side Stories’ The Westies carve out a potentially less violent but equally powerful presence with stark stories of striving, failing, falling, overcoming and surviving. There’s rumour and truth, and that eternal search for freedom of a sort that comes through experience.
On ‘West Side Stories’ The Westies are Michael McDermott (acoustic guitar, vocals) Heather Horton (fiddle, vocals) Joe Pisapia (electric guitar) Ian Fitchuk (drums, piano) John Deaderick (additional piano) with Lex Price and Daniel Tashian (electric guitar on ‘Devil’) plus Fred Eltingham (drums on ‘Devil’).
To experience ‘West Side Stories’ go here: westiesmusic.com
Reviewer: Tim Carroll