Cameron McGill And What Army

by Dan Vierck
November 2008

Chicago's Cameron McGill

Chicago's Cameron McGill

Cameron McGill is a pop-fectionist. What should be needless to say, is that this has nothing to do with aesthetic, marketing or sales. Be it McGill solo or with his Chicago-based band What Army, the music doesn’t just take center stage, it’s the only thing meaningful thing on the stage.

McGill’s music is the new smooth voice of the Midwest. People like Bright Eyes, Devandra Banhart, Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s, Jentri Colello and Madison’s whole alt-country scene plus so many more have started or taken on this quest of giving our green plains an audible, distinct, interesting and unique musical pulse. McGill’s place in this line up is on the radio.

His efforts bounce off refurbished large theater walls better than off the dingy, half ass student muraled walls of rock clubs. His perfectionism carries though every aspect of his recordings. The melodies are impeccable and moving. The music is something natural like the wind or some waves, coming together sweetly, becoming one moving force of piano, guitar, vocals and any number of swelling strings or horns. For punch, the piano can mimic the plinking of rain into a fountain or the bass end of things can thump along like that headache after some rough miserable night. But it’s so close to the reality that you’re comforted by the echoed pain instead of turned off by the memory.

Speaking briefly in Café Montmartre’s haunted back hallway before a September show, we swam shallowly through McGill’s life in music. Things like growing up with a piano, covering Paul Simon in his first band (not the Clash or the Ramones) and his happy slew of upcoming releases.

He has played festivals and he has played in France, though he hasn’t played any festivals in France. He’s been coast to coast and has put three tours behind him in just 2008. Hold on Beauty is his third self-released record, the second with a full band. A new release, Warm Songs for Cold Shoulders will be out in March followed by re-workings of songs from his most solo oriented release, Street Ballads and Murderesques. The sad, folky story songs will be re-arranged for a string quartet. These releases are in stunning addition to the dozen EP’s McGill has produced over the years between his records.

“I took a couple piano lessons when I was a little kid” he says, fidgeting with his bandana against his disheveled hair. “I was kind of self-taught on the piano, I had to re-learn a lot of it. I didn’t keep up on the “Mary Had a Little Lamb” type of things. I got a chord book when I got a guitar sometime late in high school and I was just making up tunes with the chords as I learned them.”

Listening to the music he’s putting out now, it’s hard to imagine such an earnest beginning, that it all could’ve started with the joy in discovering G, C, and E minor.

“I fell in love with music. I’m not making a living at this by any means. I’m barely scraping by, just trying to keep being able to do this. The challenge is, can you write a better song than you just did? The big part is wanting to get better, not the promise of what it might get you.”

McGill and What Army will be back in Madison Dec 11 at the High Noon Saloon. Some people can shred their lungs, echoing the mess a human heart can be. Some people can write something so beautiful it creates a whole new feeling never experienced before. Cameron McGill bridges that gap. He is a credit to contemporary music, and will not be ignored.

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Cameron McGill And What Army
CD: Hold On Beauty Record Label: Who-Hey Records
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