food for thought and heart

Live and Learn (MCA)
Mac McAnally

By Allen Howie

Mac McAnally writes the most incisive, thought-provoking lyrics, sings with an easy grace and an uncanny sense of phrasing and plays just about every instrument as though he invented it. Each of his albums have become an eagerly-awaited event and his newest, Live and Learn, doesn't disappoint.

first heard on the radio when "Minimum Love" was getting airplay, his voice falls somewhere between James Taylor and Randy Travis and his songs share that same living-room familiarity. What sets him apart is the effortless eloquence of his writing and his ability to show both sides of a story.

But don't get the idea that McAnally only writes about the sadder side of life. He also has an enviable knack for pointing out the golden moments that the rest of us walk past every day without noticing.

The album starts with "Only passing Through," a gentle reminder that our time here is fleeting and that we can make too much of the difference between us and the things to which we become so attached. In the gentle sway of "Weight of the World," the singer doesn't bemoan his circumstances, but exults in the love that has relieved him of his burdens, gently nudging each of us to do the same, noting that "All the weight on your shoulders makes for a short lonely man."

"All These Years" finds the singer's wife with another man, but instead of pointing an accusing finger, the song reflects sadly on the circumstances that have brought them to this place. In the end, one partner's indifference and the other's infidelity move them unexpectedly closer together as they realize what they have at stake... "all these years." In "The Trouble with Diamonds," a soon-to-be-out-of-business jeweler cautions the singer and his lady about the dangers inherent in staking too much on a ring (and not enough on love).

The album's title track finds two people in the midst of a divorce, sadly trying to figure out what went wrong. Again, McAnally plays the subtle side, showing heartache and longing rather than anger and bitterness. In "Still Life," a widower sits numbly on his porch day after day, unable to let go and move on, as McAnally observes that "most folks don't even remember which one of them died." Meanwhile, the old mechanic/philosopher in "Socrates" offers not answers, but questions: "Do you know what you are capable of knowing?/Do your hands, son, ever touch the soil?/ And do you love all that you are capable of lovin' ?/Do you want me to check that oil?"

The lively "Junk Cars" tells the tale of a man who dreams of how all his old cars will look when he's finished with them, while he never quite gets around to completing his work, surrounded instead by rusting hulks.

The album's closing song, "Somewhere Nice Forever," may also be its most touching moment, as the singer, saying farewell to a grandmother taken by leukemia, finds solace in the promise of a heavenly home where her pain is gone and where he will one day join her. The simple strength of his faith in the face of death provides a genuinely moving conclusion to an album that will engage your mind while it warms your heart.