Chris McFarland – Given

One of my favorite musicians, Chris McFarland, has self-released a limited number of his latest album, Given, with a full release planned later on. He took care with the silk-screened covers, and even more care with the music here. The artist – who’s music falls comfortably between folk, alt-country, straightforward American rock, and edgier indie rock – has nine new songs I’ve been eagerly waiting to review for some time.
The acoustic guitar is still McFarland’s favorite instrument, and he wields both the six- and 12-string instruments extremely well, but he’s shown a penchant for the electric as well. McFarland plays most of the instruments on his albums, and he’s rounded out the songs extremely well with bass and drums, but the focus here is his strong guitar playing – which, on the more stark moments, has an amazing percussive quality – and his equally strong vocals. Known for his edgy, often bitter lyrics, McFarland has a world-weary voice that is capable of singing his deeply personal lyrics sweetly and belting them out with a kind of power most artists aren’t capable of.
Right away, there’s a bit of an edgier sound with electric guitar coming in on the chorus of the opener, “Broken Laughter.” By the end of the song, McFarland is almost belting out the words with a kind of plaintive plea that’s extremely powerful. Equally powerful is “Wavering,” which features wavering guitar lines and lyrics like “Some of what has weighed us down I just think I should drop.” Without a doubt the best song here, it features McFarland’s power but flirts with more unique guitar effects and even maracas that give it a bit of a Spanish flare. McFarland’s deeply personal lyrics on “Clipped Black Wings” shine with the lovely guitar and hints of lap steel, a quiet but powerful tune. A cello on “In Sequences” perfectly brings out the more introspective mood to this song as well.
The influences on Given are more varied than his previous efforts. There’s lap steel on the alt-country “Headstones and Names,” stark acoustic guitar that evokes Dylan and the mood of Leonard Cohen (who McFarland has been known to cover live) on “Keychains and Counterparts,” and a classic Bruce Springsteen storytelling vibe to the quiet but pretty “Chelsea Hotel.”
Given is an extremely strong album, featuring McFarland’s storytelling tales taken from his own life and a deep-seeded love of purely American rock. It has the timeless classic of the best albums by the Boss and Dylan with a more modern approach and more deeply personal themes. McFarland’s most accomplished work to date, he proves with each release to be one of the most talented singer/songwriters deserving of recognition.