Local music mainstay Ted McCloskey recently released his ninth studio record, “Last Flower Standing.”
While it does not feature a title track, flowers are a theme throughout most of the album. Songs like “A Flower in Madrid” discuss the beauty of McCloskey’s object of affection, while “Violet Wilde” is an upbeat, fun instrumental. Throughout the evolution of the record (and there most definitely is growth from the first track to the last), McCloskey takes listeners on a personal and storied journey through the troubadour’s life.
Mixing elements of jazz, folk, rock and seemingly any genre you may hear him “covering” at local waterholes, “Last Flower Standing” marks yet another forward move for the longtime musician. The songwriting has continued to grow on this new record; McCloskey seems much less concerned with making hooks or refrains and rather seems to only be writing from the heart.
The opening track, “How Many More,” sets a tone for the new record. The mid-tempo song seems to be one way on the surface, but beneath lies the crucial emotion emanating from this longtime musician. McCloskey wonders how many more drinks he’ll need “till you’re out of my head.” The song sees McCloskey as a man trying to fill the void of a forlorn love with substance abuse and cigarettes. McCloskey begs to know how much more time he’ll have to suffer, even though most listeners will just take away the euphoric slide guitar solo in the middle of the track. While the song lacks traditional elements (like a chorus, for example), it excels at immediately pulling in the listener and setting the stage for the rest of the record.
“Weightless” (track 9) is a standout endeavor from the musician. Instantly, the song invokes a vulnerable feeling of solitude, while still offering an optimistic look into the singer-songwriter’s psyche. Set over an interesting chord progression that runs from standard to minor/diminished, the song offers an honest and stripped down approach from McCloskey. The hook line, “If I’ve been weightless, remind me it’s only a dream” is a telling sound bite from the singer, discussing the general depression and anxiety that can bog down existence. McCloskey shoots right from the hip, dropping all pretense and pretext to ultimately convey a simple message: life sucks sometimes.
Another interesting standout track is “Black, White and Dorian Gray,” a reference to Oscar Wilde’s fictional character who remains young while his portrait ages. The song mixes McCloskey’s upbeat almost rockabilly flair with haunting background vocals and those jazzy chords that he sure loves. The State College staple puts his spin on a song that by other artists may be a skippable track, but for McCloskey the honesty and passion ring through and true. Whether it’s McCloskey’s own image of himself aging set against the timelessness of his music and motif, or maybe just a pop culture reference that he thought sounded pretty cool, “Black, White and Dorian Gray” is one of those tracks you’ll find yourself humming the hook from the next day.
Stepping up with a minor blues flair, “Bigger Bombs” is this album’s energetic high point, as well as a poignant statement from McCloskey discussing that he may not be the easiest person with whom to connect. Essentially, McCloskey states, “you’re gonna need bigger bombs” if you’re going to try to break down his walls/get a sneak peak into the artist’s tortured soul. While it seems boastful on the surface, the song is a thinly veiled mask meant to antagonize McCloskey’s topic of conversation (possibly a lover or some other close relation attempting to break through) into giving up trying to get to know the real artist underneath. The musician undoubtedly speaks from the heart, even when it appears otherwise.
I could break down every track, but the simple fact of the matter is this record is solid. McCloskey is no new hand at making great records. I had the pleasure of reviewing McCloskey’s last release, 2014’s “Sea Foam Green.” Just like last time, McCloskey has delivered poignant and personal tunes loaded with melody that are guaranteed to stick with listeners long after they’ve put the CD back in its sleeve. While I’m not sure it scratches the personal preference itch that “Sea Foam Green” did for me, I can’t help but highly recommend “Last Flower Standing.”
Catch Ted McCloskey and the Hi-Fis all over State College, including regular gigs at the Phyrst, Bar Bleu and Happy Valley Brewery. McCloskey’s rough and tumble exterior gives way to humble and quiet moments throughout a diverse and highly digestible record. While this is McCloskey’s newest record, it surely will not be his last. The album is available on Spotify, iTunes, CDBaby and can be purchased at live shows.
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