reviewed by Elysse Cloma
Cape Breton, Nova Scotia singer-songwriter Mike McKenna Jr. has released his first EP Travelin Man while living in the mountains of Shandong, China. Although his wanderlust has led him to Asia, his musical stylings are proudly North American.
Teaming up with Japanese multi-instrumentalist Kento Kataoka, Grammy-winning American bassist Mark Haynes of Sounds of Blackness, and Australian drummer Shane Barrett, McKenna’s sound uses the North American folk tradition to narrate deeply personal tales.
Mike McKenna Jr. is someone who was raised on folk music, highly influenced by iconic North American artists such as Stan Rogers, Neil Young, James Taylor, and Jackson Browne. Opening track “Travelin Man” is a definite nod to James Taylor’s hammer-on and pull-off style of playing the acoustic guitar, revisiting the sounds of Taylor’s 1970s album “Sweet Baby James”. It’s a gentle, relaxed folk song that’s loaded with classic North American images of being “on the road”, such as crossing the desert “like tumbleweed”, “squattin on Indian land”, and hearing “tales of Mexico nights”.
Travelin Man is a renewal of old sounds and images, but it’s nowhere near being redundant. Although McKenna’s EP sounds as though it could have been played at The Troubadour in the 1970s, it still has a modern flare and uses relevant themes. Standout track “Die In The West” is an emotional narrative about leaving home to work on the oil rigs, a story which likely resonates with many Canadians today. On “Die In The West”, McKenna’s voice is both powerful and gentle, gritty like Stan Rogers, and emotional like Conor Oberst. With Travelin Man, McKenna has accomplished the feat of mixing old and new, by making what’s relevant sound timeless.
Top Tracks: “Die In The West”
Rating: Proud Hoot (Really good)