Greg MacPherson – Mr. Invitation
Release Date: March 30, 2010
Record Label: Smallman Records/Warner Music
The wilderness of Canada is cold, sparse, and sprawling. Greg MacPherson knows it. He’s lived in 7 of the 10 provinces, and Mr. Invitation creates the aural travelogue of a hitchhiker with a guitar who wants you to vicariously feel the isolation, the serenity, and the urgency of that landscape. The singer/songwriter’s fifth effort is the guitar-driven soundtrack to a road-trip across it.
The press packet for Greg MacPherson’s Mr. Invitation threw out legendary names in the songwriting community, like Johnny Cash, Tom Waits, and Bob Dylan. There’s certainly no denying that MacPherson is worthy to count such giants among his progenitors. However, the stylistic disparity between those three illustrates perfectly the crisis of identity this album suffers from. MacPherson’s mixture is hard to compartment into a single genre. While he very well may have intended it that way, the album suffers from pulling the listener in too many directions, and pulling from too many influences. While Mr. Invitation is a compelling effort, it struggles in creating a unique identity for MacPherson. Invitation tends to distract from itself by showcasing the inspiration it draws from others. I couldn’t help but hear Chris Isaak in the vocal tremolos throughout, Shawn Mullins in the monotone title track, and Counting Crows in “Outside Edge”. In a musical scene saturated with erstwhile Jakob Dylan-esque compatriots, MacPherson’s uniqueness tends to get lost amidst the fog of comparisons. The saving grace here - if you’re going to draw comparisons, you could do a hell of a lot worse than songwriters with Dylan as their surname.
That being said, MacPherson’s voice and composition are highlights that help to ameliorate the effects of the aforementioned identity crisis. MacPherson’s voice has a trembling croon to it that lends urgency to most of the tracks. I found the album most engaging when I focused on the subtle songwriting touches that can too easily be overlooked in an era of overproduced, slapdash production. The staccato guitar noodlings on “First Class” and the expansive percussion echoings of “Broken Dreams” are evocative of a songwriter who knows how strike a fragile balance within the instrumentation. To those listeners who may only be able to take much of such a...unique… voice, I’d suggest honing in on the lyrics themselves. Notebooks full of introspective, honest, abstract storytelling were likely purged in the making of this album, and very effectively. MacPherson weaves abstract themes with stories of places he’s been, girls who’ve been there, and things he doesn’t give a damn about.
One drawback to my enjoyment of the album was the top-heaviness of the track listing. The first three songs swing out of the speakers with promising jangly guitar-pop, only to lead you through next seven tracks of more down-beat, often hypnotic, plodding outings. The meanderings of songs like “West End” can become tedious when laid end-to-end. However, the effectiveness of those meanderings can’t be understated, as MacPherson joins the ranks of a precious few bands (i.e. The Cape May) who can somehow make misery enjoyable to listen to.
MacPherson’s poetic musings are certainly worthy of whichever genre you choose to put him in, since he does no favors in helping the listener classify him easily. You’d probably sooner hear MacPherson on your local country/smooth listening station than you would on college/alternative waves. Regardless, MacPherson is poised perfectly to break through to a more alternative crowd. Mountain-man minimalism seems to have latched itself onto the psyche of the indie generation, so Mr. Invitation himself might just be a shoo-in.
The Winnipeg-native songwriter's latest effort reminds us of some songwriters we know well - while presenting us a songwriter we wish we knew better.