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McCarthy stretches out on 'Collateral'

Posted by Scott McLennan  March 26, 2013 12:33 PM

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Cormac McCarthy (Photo by Tricia Toms)

Miserable circumstances stoked Cormac McCarthy's latest album, "Collateral." The veteran folk singer and songwriter, like so many others, saw his savings evaporate during the economic free fall that began in 2008.

"At least I know I can't retire," McCarthy says by phone from his home in southern Maine. "That was a liberating moment."

And he laughed.

That's McCarthy's attitude across a record in which he surveys all sorts of bleak and busted landscapes and finds shreds of dignity, hope, and humor.

"I don't like when people hit me over the head with a message," he says. "I like story songs. It's nice to set a scene. I think and write with images in mind."

The father forestalling telling his boys that the car is now also home; the town bastard who gets his due; the working family falling behind with every paycheck are among the characters and vignettes found on "Collateral."

McCarthy says he pushed himself to emulate the folk styles he enjoyed as a kid.

"I liked Woody Guthrie and a lot of the blues players. I had gotten away from that type of song," he says, adding, "I tried writing out of my comfort zone. There's a bluegrass murder ballad and gritty blues. Those aren't natural for me. But you have to keep pushing the boundaries. If you don't challenge yourself you just keep making the same mistakes."

Fellow New England troubadour Bill Morrissey is another figure looming over "Collateral." Morrissey and McCarthy met during the early 1970s. McCarthy was a sophomore at Plymouth State College in N.H. and Morrissey had already flunked out of college.

"He lived in my dorm and tried to get me to flunk out. I had to maintain a 2.0 grade-point average to stay out of the draft," McCarthy recalls. "I had my hands full."

Again, that laugh

"I was very fortunate to know someone like that as a kid. We had a very active relationship and always tried to outdo each other and push each other," McCarthy says of Morrissey's influence on his own music.

Morrissey's magnificent work began to dwindle as he battled alcoholism and other health problems. He died in 2011 while on tour.

Two songs on "Collateral" directly address Morrissey. The more gentle one is "Doppelganger," a loving note to a friend. The other is "The Crossroad," a somber account of how low spots can turn inescapable.

"I felt it was my responsibility to write that. It was an extremely hard song to write," McCarthy says. "But I have to be truthful in what I writer and say."

McCarthy celebrates the release of "Collateral" with a show at Club Passim (http://www.clubpassim.org/) in Cambridge on Thursday, March 28. The concert begins at 8 p.m. and McCarthy will be joined by bassist Kent Allyn, guitarist Jason Crigler, and singer Sammie Haynes, who is McCarthy's wife. Other guests may also be dropping by, says McCarthy. And if you can't be at the concert, you can purchase access to a live stream here http://www.concertwindow.com/shows/cormac-mccarthy-cd-release.

Here's Cormac performing "Walking on Solid Ground" at a radio station in December.

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About the author

Scott McLennan is a Boston Globe music correspondent and previously wrote a music and entertainment column for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette for 15 years. After seeing the band Boston in the Boston Garden as a teenager he never looked back and eventually figured out how to be a professional fan. Scott is very good at writing in the dark. This blog is an ongoing discussion about music happening in and around Boston. Scott will be leading the trek across genres looking for new releases and hot shows as well as just checking in with the people who make Boston such a great place to listen. More »
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