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Album Review: Devon McGarry, 'The Time'

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Devon McGarry, The Time
  • Devon McGarry, The Time

(Self-released, CD, digital download)

In the spring of 2017, Burlington singer-songwriter Devon McGarry released his debut studio EP, Echo Chamber. Straightforward and undemanding of listeners, the agreeable five tunes recalled mainstream '90s alt-rock — and didn't do much to distinguish themselves beyond that. The EP offered simple, uncontroversial, rather unimaginative rock, the kind that satisfies nuclear families sprawled out on picnic blankets at free farmers market concerts.

That's not a bad thing, exactly. The point of making music is self-expression; its ultimate goal, to entertain. I can't imagine a world in which McGarry's music wouldn't find an audience.

His first full-length LP, The Time, sustains the good vibes he transmitted on Echo Chamber. In fact, all five of the EP's jams are in the mix here — though they're rearranged and cohesively spread out among seven new tunes. You'd never know which was which, because McGarry's sound hasn't advanced in the year and a half that passed between releases. It all sounds vaguely similar, with bright and breezy guitar work, basic bar-band beats, and lyrics stocked with staid truisms.

McGarry is at his most compelling when he tiptoes into gloom. "Monster" is bluesy and uneasy in its darkened minor key. Searing cymbals accentuate the ictus of guitars converging for emphasis as he ominously sings, "I'm just a monster."

The first of many '90s bands that come to mind during the brusquely strummed chords of opener "Season of Change" is Dave Matthews Band, specifically their monolithic single "Stay (Wasting Time)." While DMB's tune explodes into funked-up, horn-tastic bliss, "Season of Change" stays subdued and penned in. And that seems to be McGarry's greatest shortcoming throughout. The dude knows well how to construct a song but doesn't make it memorable or differentiate it significantly from his influences — or even his own other material.

The album's title track feels similarly nostalgic and, unfortunately, neutered. McGarry's vocal melody takes an impassioned journey, but the song's uninspiring chord progression doesn't do much to stimulate.

"Clean the World" is the album's most eyebrow-raising track. Again, the interplay between lead and rhythm guitars is clean and solid, but the song has some questionable lyrics. McGarry sings, "I traded in my girlfriend / For this acoustic guitar / Take a look at my band now / Oh we're gonna go far." It's important to remember the importance of poetic license when writing lyrics. But regarding a partner as something that can be "traded" like a baseball card is just kind of tasteless, especially in 2018. And the bravado of "we're gonna go far" is transparent overcompensation. Or maybe he just needed a rhyme.

McGarry's good-time rock could launch him to the level of someone like Chad Hollister, another Vermont-based glad-rocker. If it does, more power to him. On a shared bill, I bet they'd crush it together.

The Time is available at devonmcgarry.bandcamp.com. McGarry and his band perform on Saturday, September 15, at SideBar in Burlington.

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