When it comes to the sections of our lives, Jared McCloud will tell you that, at least at first, the pieces don’t fit easily. McCloud got his puzzle-solving start in the hard rock/heavy metal arena, learning to mix and position bridges, choruses and crunchy verses before breaking from that camp and heading into a completely different method of musical communication.
Jared McCloud understood that to find destiny he’d have to develop a unique perspective for his songwriting message. He quickly discarded past preconceptions and assimilated into the musical solitude of the solo artist, embracing the application of a staunch persistence and a tough, woodshedding effort to move him into high visibility lanes.
McCloud down-shifted those directional gears in 2008, removing himself from a trend-littered music scene to concentrate on what would become 2009’s Romance Of The Atlantic. This was the launching pad that fired him out and into the targeted heart of national radio and endorsement deals galore. With the help of college-based fans and bigger dollar tours, McCloud began to ingest the road and find his voice as a bona-fide songwriter.
2011 saw the released of Painful Words Of Loving Grace. This was the record that saw McCloud roll up the shade of privacy, inviting listeners in to experience the detailed journal of his family’s personal present and past. Produced by Jason Rubal (Dresden Dolls), Painful Words Of Loving Grace was the vehicle that sped McCloud into the songwriting world as a serious contender.
His record is titled To Live And Die In Your Arms, and it demonstrates the emotional maturity that McCloud has addressed head on with this latest effort.
Produced by Dave Pittenger, To Live And Die In Your Arms is the record that led to McCloud being signed by Noble Steed Music. The record tells the all-too-familiar tale of a tumultuous marriage and the crushing end game of divorce. Pittenger has worked with McCloud on past projects and has developed a savvy means of bringing out the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to McCloud’s personal stories. His signature understanding of simplicity and dynamic construction are welcome guidelines as I explore the tracks from this evolutionary journey.
“King Of New England” rolls out with acoustic, full-toned picking as McCloud extols the regrettable solitude of the man left with hard memories and reactive angst. The pre-chorus kick drum hails the build as McCloud sounds off with the contention-laden line, “I could hold my head up high so high, once upon another time, I would have my dreams as yours and mine, now they’re only here to remember by. And the saddest part of all of this, is the sap you left, well he still exists, it seems like an awful thing to be a lonely king.” Single note electrics walk up the fret board before crashing into echo-fueled octaves and keyboard overtones. Drum work of Joe Barrick stomps and pulses underneath this 3:34 of dark and canorous pop rock goodness.
“A Cautionary Tale” features Phil Spector-sized choruses, clanging acoustics and some tasty violin (hell, it could be a synthesizer) work. “A Cautionary Tale” has the feel of a traditional, Irish square dance past. Utilizing visionary examples of a lover scorned, McCloud belts out the contemptuous line, “Spent all my money on an old pipe dream, got a broken heart and a wedding ring.” The song bounces gently without overloading into full rock territory and leaves the listener humming the catchy melody days after the initial listen.
“Where The Devil Don’t Tread” is a boot stomping, backcountry rocker in the dusty vein of Drive By Truckers and Soggy Bottom Mountain Boys from O Brother, Where Art Thou? McCloud touches crossover territory with this country-rocking romp into the devil’s own no-fly zone. Guitars spit down and dirty blues riffs as McCloud regales us with broken dreams and shattered pictures that hung in a house that holds the poison of yesterday.
The band grinds slow, wringing every inch of desolation out of their renegade sound as McCloud rips raw and lonely visions of abandonment across the piece. Barrick’s drums once again command the tone as they pound four on the floor heaviness across the primitive spectrum of this haunting hoedown.
“Pieces” is another foray into the results of a love gone real wrong. McCloud waxes poetic as he explains, “I love you to pieces, but sometimes the pieces don’t fit.” This song reminds me of Soul Asylum and Matthew Sweet with its repetitive and addictive choruses. Jared’s use of unique melody saves “Pieces” from shattering into generic oblivion. Pittenger’s instrumental assist is also a highlight and between his production smarts and McCloud’s effortless ability to shift into perfect vocal ranges put “Pieces” into a solid category of radio-friendly interaction.
“Hail Mary” takes up “Where The Devil Don’t Tread” left off. Featuring a swampy, voodoo vibe that would make North Carolina’s Delta Rae sit up and take notice, McCloud plunges into his judgment day battle like a man possessed. Big old bass drums thump against deep, Southern traditional work song chanting. An ominous rhythmic pulse sucks the listener into the core of McCloud’s last-ditch message of the importance of leaving a legacy through word. Hand claps of Kaydee Joyce issue sharp reports against McCloud’s fearless lyrical message, “Don’t you think for just one second that judgment day’s gonna bother me, I’ve been judged every day of this life so far.” He says, “If this is the last song I sing, I swear it’s gonna mean something.” And he’s right on the money with that statement. “Hail Mary” is by far one of the best compositions I’ve heard all year.
McCloud finished this EP off with the Americana country twang of “Flicker.” This is a ballad that avoids the pitfalls of dramatic posture and extended solo attention. McCloud embraces his relationship woes as he throws every ounce of emotional concentration into building his explanatory soundscape. This is the song that I identified with immediately. “Flicker” addresses the introspective conflict of self-imposed sanctions and the people that drift out of our lives. This is a song of exasperation aimed at people that promise the world and give you the bill, it’s always the same. McCloud says it best with the line, “From dreams that died, or turned into lies, to things that nobody knows. From friends who’ve worn welcome and drift away like snow. From set ups and let downs, false starts and knockouts, to things that nobody knows.”
To Live And Die In Your Arms is a dark, well-written ode to dealing with life’s realities. Through his willingness to let go of the past and keep moving in his present interaction, McCloud processes spent emotions through exorcism of his subject matter on this disc, and the end result is liberating.
I’m sure he could have avoided revealing the experiences that led to this project, or colored them in some commercially acceptable light, but To Live And Die In Your Arms shows Jared McCloud accepting fate and moving into his next creation-fueled phase without hesitation, and that’s a winning and open combination for this rising composer.
For more information on Jared McCloud and his fascinating new record, To Live And Die In Your Arms, head over to jaredmccloud.com.