On the surface, The Westies appear to be nothing more than a generic soft-rock band, but when examined more closely, they are much more than what meets the eye (and ear). The stories behind the band and their music are equally intriguing, and both lend a hand in creating a more extraordinary picture, in the form of their debut album West Side Stories.
The origin of the band stemmed from a chance meeting between singers Michael McDermott and Heather Horton. According to the duo’s biography, McDermott turned to Horton and stated, “I don’t know whether to kill you or marry you.” That night not only birthed a new project, it also put McDermott’s life back on track after narrowly escaping a 3-6 year prison sentence for an unrevealed crime.
The band’s moniker is derived directly from the name of an Irish-American gang founded in New York in the 1960s and their music is influenced by the tales of that very group. In fact, the first song, “Hell’s Kitchen,” refers to the neighborhood in Manhattan where the gang was formed. West Side Stories features songs that are not exact retellings of events that happened to the gang, but interpretations infused with the band members’ own personal life experiences.
Although the group’s first musical offering doesn’t feature a stereotypical upbeat rock song, that doesn’t mean the album lacks energy or passion. Michael McDermott’s vocals can easily be compared to those of Bruce Springsteen’s, while Heather Horton’s harmonies perfectly intertwine with McDermott’s rough, gritty sound. The song “Devil” has a southern soul feel and proves McDermott and Horton together are a match made in heaven. Between the two, the band exemplifies what it means to put every inch of your heart and soul into your work.
The album has a consistent sound and the songs never stray too far from their predecessors in terms of style. There is a slight country twist to the soft, acoustic sound of the band, but it isn’t overpowering, nor is it prevalent enough to consider The Westies a country act.
To some, the lack of diversification between songs might result in feelings of repetitiveness and boredom, but the songs on West Side Stories are meant to be looked at on a deeper level, one without the need for clear singles and catchy hooks. When paired with the history of the New York City gang, The Westies’ music becomes a soundtrack to multiple perspectives, proving that the art of storytelling in music is not dead and should be treasured when it actually does come around.
By Tyler Hog