G.W. McLennan

Watershed

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The aptly titled Watershed marks a slight change of course for singer/songwriter G.W. McLennan, one of the creative forces behind the critically lauded (and commercially ignored) Go-Betweens. His first solo bow picks up where his contributions to 16 Lovers Lane left off -- with deceptively simple melodies and deceptively benign lyrics. McLennan isn't the most talented singer; his voice is a bit plain, and his range somewhat limited. He isn't the most gifted guitarist; his playing sometimes amounts to basic acoustic strums. He is, however, a truly exceptional artist who, in the spirit of Lloyd Cole, crafts moments of brilliance to fit his limitations. The tunes on this 1991 release range from rainy day ballads ("Haunted House") and countrified breakup letters ("Just Get That Straight") to political send-ups ("Sally's Revolution") and cultural commentaries ("You Can't Have Everything"). Throw in a few self-deprecating pop singles ("Haven't I Been a Fool") and a wistful starry-eyed closer ("Dream About Tomorrow") for good measure. Stylistically, McLennan wears many hats, without committing to any one. Though this approach might spell disaster for lesser artists, the veteran singer/songwriter dabbles effortlessly. The key is his knack for splicing clever hooks with perfectly turned phrases, many of which are spoken rather than sung. Nothing on Watershed forsakes the song for style -- though a few tracks would be better with less excess ("Putting the Wheels Back On"). Most also suffer from dated and increasingly stale production. With tiny highs and muffled lows, the album lacks a certain brightness present in his later recordings. Minor flaws aside, McLennan continues to earn his critical acclaim, this time as a solo artist. Watershed is a necessary pickup for any fan of the songwriting craft.

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