Album Review – Joey McGee’s ‘Terlingua Taproot’

​Author: Leon Blair

Who? – Joey McGee, native of New Orleans and Texas based.
Album Release Date / Producer? – January 8th, 2017 / Steve Carr & Joey McGee
Genre? – Americana, Country, Folk, Rock, Bluegrass

Opinion On The Artist’s Discography Overall Up To This Point? – Well, from what I found in my research, Joey has two projects that came prior to this – 2012’s great Fades To Sun as well as 2010’s Love Is The Way both of which earn favorable receptions for me.

Where Might Other People Know This Act From? – To be honest, I’m not quite sure. This album is apparently Joey’s way of breaking into Americana, so you probably haven’t heard the name before. I actually only knew this was out due to reader, Robert notifying us in a comments section.

Is There Any Sort Of Event Surrounding the Making Of This Album? – Per Joey, “the spark of inspiration for Terlingua Taproot stems from conversations I had with a friend – a brassy artist-rancher type – who owns a place on the outskirts of Austin named Terlingua. He challenged some of my writing (something like “this sucks” was said), and that became the splash of cold water I needed at the time. We should all be so blessed to have such an honest friend!”

Can You Give A Brief Overview Of This New Project? – If Terlingua Taproot is Joey McGee’s attempt at breaking into Americana, I’d say he did a fine job. There are definitely moments where certain elements could be smoothed out, but overall I find Terlingua Taproot to be an interesting album – one that explores many different sounds in a way that feels cohesive and also exemplifies what a great songwriter McGee is.

What Are The High Points / Praiseworthy Elements Of The Project? – Perhaps the best element of this album is Joey McGee’s lyricism. He’s good at telling stories and painting pictures in the listeners’ minds. He’s also pulling no punches in the framing on many of these tracks, especially when many songs deal with screwing up in life, having regrets, blaming yourself, and most importantly, moving on from it all with a newfound perspective. At this point in my life I can certainly relate to those sentiments, and God knows I’m a sucker for an album that tries to explore some underlying thematic arc.

The best part of it all is that you get the sense that this is all coming from someplace real such as on the opening track, “Honeybee”, a track where he recounts how his father was. He was reckless as a teen due to growing up in the Depression era, but settled down and gained a new perspective on life when he had Joey. It’s that coming of age that inspires Joey as an artist sure, but more importantly as a person. The touches of harmonica do add a lot, and it’s a great start to the album.

I also liked Joey’s willingness to try out different sounds on this album, as the album ranges from songs that lean towards all sorts of genres such as Rock, Country, Folk, and even Bluegrass. What’s even more amazing is that he makes it all seem so cohesive, never letting any song really stick out in the wrong way but also never letting anything run together. Again, I believe the reason why is the strong thematic arc that anchors this album. You get the more folk-rock inspired highlight “Across The Jordan” which uses the famous river (that normally defines the journey that the Israelites made from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land) as a symbol for a journey through life. Joey passes down his life advice to his son, and while we’ve had these types of songs done before, this song sticks out for being well crafted and incorporating a great analogy to the drive the message across. Again, much like “Honeybee”, it shows what a poignant writer Joey is.

On the note of different sounds on this album, a couple more that stuck out to me were the country inspired “Ain’t Meant To Fly”, the outright bluegrass song, “Dark Night Of The Soul”, and the U2 cover of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”. They all connect to the album thematically, but they all stick out for other various reasons. “Fly” sticks out for featuring some great pedal steel as well as showcasing some more honest, mature framing in the writing. The narrator knows that his love with his lover is dying, and instead of complaining about it or pointing fingers, he simply acknowledges that they both have to move on since not everything is made to last. “Dark Night” honestly just stands out for sounding great, seriously, Joey pulls of the Bluegrass sound well, and I hope to see a couple more songs like this in the future. The last track caught me by surprise though. It differs a lot from U2’s version, starting out with some soft acoustics before building up the track with some light drums and electric guitars to really drive the intensity home and add a warmness to it overall.

What Are The Low Points / Nitpicks Of The Project? – If I’m being completely honest, I won’t say I’m a huge fan of Joey McGee as a singer, and that sort of permeates a lot of the album. Now, before we move on, let me stress that not being overly fond of an artist’s vocals are always someone else’s problems (in this case, mine) rather than the artist in question. To be fair as well, I will also say that as an emotive presence, Joey is absolutely fantastic, and that sense of emotion really adds a lot to the songs, namely the ones I listed above.

Other than that, most of my criticisms really extend more towards little things than continuous problems. “It’s Alright” is a song that sort of drags on the whole point of not having a lot but still being happy, and despite me liking “Not The Best” from a lyrical standpoint, I can’t help but feel the song is being played as a little too uptempo and lighthearted to really drive the point across. I mean, his mother had it tough raising her children, and his brother has got everything he doesn’t, and heck, Joey constantly beats himself up for not living up to those expectations before exclaiming, “hey, I’ve got these songs, and hopefully they touch one of you”. Again, good foundation and again, good writing, just in the wrong mood. The same thing can be said for “Stuck (In The Middle)”.

I will also say that despite me really enjoying the song, “Across The Jordan” a heck of a lot (definitely an album highlight), especially with the darker, more moody guitars and feel overall, I was disappointed to see some of that darkness ebb away during the verses of the song, trading in those more darker tones for a more straightforward acoustic leaning style. The song is supposed to be a conversation between father and his son, sure, but it’s a tale of life and its many uncertainties. It’s not supposed to make sense all the time, there will be rough waters so to speak. Heck, in many ways it reminds me of the entire concept of Sturgill Simpson’s A Sailor’s Guide To Earth wrapped up into a single song (that’s a compliment). Again though, just a minor gripe.

Closing Thoughts? – Overall I really enjoyed Joey McGee’s Terlingua Taproot a lot. If this is the direction that Joey wants to take his music, I think he did a fine job and really stuck the landing more than he didn’t. Again, not everything does stick the landing, but overall this is definitely an album worth your time from an artist I should have explored before. Mr. McGee, I know you don’t think of yourself as much on “Not The Best”, but after hearing this album I think you need to give yourself a lot more credit.

Can You Summarize Who Might Like This Album?– Honestly I think this album could find an audience with many people. As I said, it touches on a lot of different sounds, so if you enjoy Country, Rock, Folk, or Bluegrass, this is definitely worth checking out.

Are There Any Albums This Reminds You Of? – I really can’t think of anything at the moment. I keep trying, but this is a unique album, and I will say Joey has a distinctive style so it’s a good thing I’m drawing a blank.

Best Song(s)? – “Honeybee”, “Across The Jordan”, “Dark Night Of The Soul”, “Ain’t Meant To Fly”, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”
Worst (Or Weakest) Song(s)? – “Stuck (In The Middle)”

Grade: B+


10 thoughts on “Album Review – Joey McGee’s ‘Terlingua Taproot’

  1. I really like the way he brings the different sonic influences into play. I’m glad you covered this. I think there could be a real Americana audience for this guy, if folks ever hear him in the first place.

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      1. Another bit for your album release schedule is technically a re-release: Steeldrivers’ first studio album from 2008 is being released on vinyl for the first time 2/10/17. This has gotten very little press.

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    1. Thanks for the kind words John! I agree, Joey is definitely unique. Even his cover of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” is different (and honestly in my opinion, better) than the original.

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  2. Leon thank you for reviewing this; I really appreciate your feedback and critique. Peace to you man! Robert and John, thank you for your kind words. Peace to y’all!

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    1. Thank you ! I found your music by dumb luck by checking the new releases on CDBaby. I like your new music so well that I looked back at some of your earlier work, and included “Alien Jive” on my current all-genre playlist on Spotify.

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