Liner Notes from Collateral:
E.L. Doctorow declared, “A novelist is a person who lives in other people's skins.”
The same may be said for songwriter Cormac McCarthy, because, as the late Bill Morrissey noted in his 1986 notes for McCarthy’s debut release, “McCarthy knows his characters well,” and Collateral is as much a collection of compelling short stories rife with Joycean epiphanies as it is a compilation of compelling, lyrical songs that reflect the depth of his understanding of the contemporary human condition, and evince his innate appreciation for the tradition that his work continues.
Like the restless souls inhabiting Woody Guthrie’s best work, McCarthy’s characters struggle to find a haven in an evermore-fractured society, fighting to retain their decency in an indecent world, and to discover hope and love in the depths of their own courage. As McCarthy has, and does, live among the people populating his songs, he writes about them with an insider’s intuition and understanding. In these beautifully honed lyrics, each as rich in detail and emotion as a short novel, the listener divines the apotheosis of the mundane—that celebration of the common heart of America reminiscent of the work of Hank Williams, Tom Waits, and Bob Dylan.
McCarthy, is, however, never imitative. There is no posturing here, no preaching to the choir, and no tedious explanations for the listener about what he or she has just heard. Instead each song is allowed to reveal itself, which is the difference between art and journalism.
But it is not word alone that propels this collection. McCarthy’s strong, rich, and resonant voice, and long under-appreciated guitar are enhanced by pitch perfect production, lush enough to add grace, yet never intrusive. In short, the musicianship is superb.
In his poem, In My Craft or Sullen Art Dylan Thomas professed that he toiled:
“Not for the towering dead…
But for the lovers, their arms
Round the griefs of the ages…”
It is for these people, and all the rest of us, for whom McCarthy has crafted these songs, and this album stands with any in recent memory. It will spend a long time in your CD player.
- Bruce Pratt