Brian McGee - Ruin Creek (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Brian McGee

Ruin Creek (2014)

Square of Opposition

The guys in Plow United have been dropping hits left and right lately, even if they haven't always been under the PU moniker. While bassist Joel Tannenbaum has kept plenty busy with the punky Ex Friends, guitarist/vocalist Brian McGee has returned to his beloved folk music with Ruin Creek. His third solo release, Ruin Creek finds McGee stripping down to just vox and guitar, although he does get assistance from the Bouncing Souls' Pete Steinkopf (who also produces), among others.

Compared to 2010's The Taking or The Leaving, Ruin Creek has more of a bare, live feel. There's not much in the way of a band, aside from Steinkopf's occasional percussive flourishes. The vocals get plenty raw (perhaps too raw on "A Little Space" and the title track), and there's even a gutsy a cappella song entitled "Are You Gonna Wait For Someone to Die–," so I hope you like feeling down.

Taking bordered on country. While Ruin Creek hews more to the punk singer/songwriter convention of Dave Hause or Austin Lucas, there's still a bluegrass/country vibe throughout, The galloping guitar rhythms certainly drive that notion. McGee's duets with Mary Ellen Davis, "It's Alright" and "Hand in Hand" recall the partnership between Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris.

Lyrically, Ruin Creek explores getting older but still feeling unsettled. There's a line that strikes through every song, in which McGee examines his decisions, finds only failure, and then uproots himself over and over. It all culminates in the closing track, "Final Vow." Over cascades of electric and acoustic guitar, McGee nearly settles for his hometown before realizing "I'm leaving now/ This is my final vow / There will be no more returning." Ruin Creek is the musical equivalent of Two–Lane Blacktop, of Wendy and Lucy, of any story about characters that don't fit in without romanticizing that kind of a life. Were it not for the warm production or McGee's determined delivery, I could see how this might be downer.