"Happy Face" is the first CD from award-winning songwriter, Kim McLean, since the return to her birth name in 2004. Her previous projects can be found under the name Kim Patton-Johnston, a name that appears on over 200 songs recorded by people like Tim McGraw, Shana Morrison, Lee Ann Womack, Trisha Yearwood, The Martins,...even Gospel legend, Vestal Goodman! So many years spent in the shadows writing her own life into the hauntingly beautiful, and groove-catchy tunes, left her grateful, yet incomplete in her call to music. Through many years of being a successful songwriter behind the scenes, one phrase echoed in her heart..."why aren't you singing these?".
So, she has reclaimed her birthname, and her "life in song" with the release of "Happy Face", a collection of uplifting personal songs of a woman content with life. Yes, Kim McLean has plenty of experience writing radio 'hits', something usually indicted by the critical music elite who love to pass judgement on anything deemed "commercial". However, a song deeply written from the heart, composed of true stories of one's own experience, should not be discriminated against because they are memorable enough to sing for the rest of the day upon first listen. Should they?
"Angels and Eagles", a mother's song of parting to a child is a beautful duet with another mountain songbird, Dolly Parton. "Cryin' Days" is a singable alt-country rocker that won Kim a spot on the first South Park Music Festival Stage and compilation disc. "Happy Face", the title cut is a gothic-country weaving of a woman seeking something better, co-written with Big N Rich's "Big Kenny" Alphin.
Perhaps Kim McLean's favorite song on the entire CD is "Life In A Frame", about finally getting to a place in life where nothing matters more than the moment one finds true happiness in living the life given. "Forever Everyday", is a song written about her son's "past life revelation". "Unapologetic" is getting tons of airplay and recognition by European radio audiences and continues a theme of "journey-arrival". "Born Again Today" gives you an honest glimpse of the "one-day-at-a-time" spiritual renewal of a human life.
Feminists may deem "Song of Eve" a gentle anthem, but it's more of a lullaby of today's woman to their next generation. "All About Us" rocks with a Dr. John-esque loosey goosey rhythm with a full horn section to boot!
"Mary Alice Jones" finds salvation behind prison walls, the Samaritan praying for the righteous who lack faith. "Same River Twice" is a philosophical classic, that leaves you in the lotus position, and feeling as if you've been on a magic carpet ride in someone else's dreams. "I'm Goin' Home" is the only song on the album written by someone else. It's an original tune written by her best friend, Devon O'Day, and sung in tribute to Daisy Mae Sutphin, Kim McLean's mountain woman Jesus-teachin' spiritual guru, who flew to heaven before completion of the CD. Daisy Mae's picture is hidden in various places in the CD booklet, so her blessing travels with each one as it goes into the hands of new listeners throughout the world.
Welcome to Kim McLean's happy life, in "Happy Face", a CD full of deliberate "intentionality", a diamond with many facets, made more brilliant by its imperfection. Kim McLean is a REAL songwriter, and this is HER real life.
Review - Wires & Wood/Taylor Guitars Magazine
Kim McLean’s new CD, Happy Face, is a major milestone on McLean’s journey to develop her own artistic vision. The North Carolina native and now Nashville-based singer and instrumentalist is a seasoned writer whose songs have been recorded by Tim McGraw, Shana Morrison, Trisha Yearwood, and the Judds, among others. She has made a reputation as a writer and producer for other artists, but her own sound has continued to evolve over the course of several albums, one prior solo effort, and a return to her maiden name (she previously recorded under Kim Patton-Johnston).
The new CD finds McLean in a groove, with a strong batch of songs, lovely vocals, competent guitar chops, and the expert backing of players (Eddie Bayers, John Willis, Dave Hungate, Russ Pahl) who have been with her long enough to share the same skin. The empathy shows, and it’s a tight musical ride from the first track, “Cryin’ Days,” co-penned with Mark Narmore, which stays with you as much for the upbeat sonics as the simple, cut-to-the chase lyrics (“I had a bad idea but I dropped it. Let there be no more Cryin’ Days.”).
The remainder of the CD has a sprinkling of soft, country/pop stories (including harmonies with Dolly Parton on “Angels and Eagles”), and some harder-edged rockers laced with electric and acoustic guitars, fiddle, and the occasional woodwind, flute, and horn. The vocals and instrumentation maintain interest on every cut and never bury the inspiration, aided by engineer George Tutco, who kept the tracks open and alive.
McLean is opening up to a broader audience by gently crossing musical boundaries on this album. She talks about having a “twang factor” (she hails from North Carolina and has written a lot of country music), but her writing exhibits the diversity of her admitted influences, including rockabilly, gospel, Rufus Wainwright, Sting, and Bonnie Raitt. McLean’s spiritualism also weaves through this CD, but the songs are grounded in her life, as exemplified by “Life in a Frame”, McLean’s personal favorite.
Although McLean was a piano composition major, guitar has become her primary instrument; her main studio and live guitars are two of her five Taylors, which McLean played on every track of the album.
— Julie Bergman