Michael J. Sheehy – Sweet Blue Gene

Michael J. Sheehy
Sweet Blue Gene

If you remember anything from the band Dream City Film Club (a raucous and choatic rock and roll band from the mid 90s), then you probably remember Michael Sheehy as the howling frontman. However, if you are hoping and expecting Michael’s solo work to have any relation to the nature of DCFC’s work, you will be disappointed.
As the information piece sent along with Michael’s new album explains, “Sheehy has recently returned to his childhood sweetheart – The Song.” While not disrespecting his work with DCFC, Sheehy clearly states in this info bit that he is ready to get back to his roots. What his “roots” actually mean is writing a whole lotta’ songs that sound like they might come straight out of a Nick Cave discography – some effective, many not.
What Michael does do on Sweet Blue Gene is blend a smattering of acoustic and soft electric guitar, pianos, sparse strings, and minimal to no percussion to create the musical equivalant of and open prairie (an open prairie with a powerful REVERB quality, mind you).
When Michael is ON here, he can really get to you with his soft music and broad-shouldered vocals (like Elvis meets Nick Cave!). The album opens with a decent song with a softly strummed electric guitar that harks back to the 1950s. But the album really doesn’t get going until about halfway through 10 songs with the powerful and moving ballad “I Can’t Comfort You Anymore.” And as much as I realized while listening to this song that the lyrics were somewhat cheesy, the bitter sentimentality of the song is such a common one that you can’t help but get sucked in to being bitter/sad right along with him. I found this song very moving.
And Michael pulls this off again two songs later on “Daddy is a Good Man.” This details the chilling relationship between father and mother and child. In the song, “daddy” tries to explain to child why he had to leave “momma.” This song also carries a bitter feeling, and it is actually supported by a more than mellow and depressing piano (and that is it!). Songs like this make anyone feel like if they could just learn a few chords on a piano and buy some good equpiment, they could write great songs. Well, it isn’t that easy. You have to be able to express yourself too – and when Sheehy is at his best, it is when he is singing about himself and his own life personally and sharing it with us. (Hey, that sounds corny too! See what Sheehy has done to me!)
When Sheehy fails is when he tries to harken back to his old rock n’ roll days and incorporate these three chord standards into what he is doing now. You see, soft or moody songs, for the most part, need interesting changes and sways both vocally and instrumentally. Alas, there are songs on this album that just go on and on, using the same chords and having the same blasted vocal lines throughout. A good example of this is “I Shame You With My Kisses” and “Sweet Home Under White Cloud.”
Another negative on this album is the incessant use of cliche religious symbolism and metaphor. “Oh Sweet Jesus” and “Cross” are filled with them: “Everyone has their cross to bear/ but I don’t nail you to mine.” Thing is, “Cross” isn’t really a bad song; but, for those of us already sick of religious metaphors being used with the rapidity of a machine gun by every agnostic singer/songwriter, it just has to be done perfect now or I lose interest.
So, while this album has its good moments, it also has its weak points. For a first solo album, though, I would say to Michael, “good job,” and, “it’ll probably get even better next time.”