MICHAEL CLEARY, Last Man Standing
Longtime fans of Connecticut funk/pop/rock institution Michael Cleary may see the title of his dreamy and otherworldly, soulful pop/rock album Last Man Standing as an ode to his longevity (30-plus years) leading his longtime Michael Cleary Band, which has performed hundreds of shows and opened for the likes of Tower of Power, Average White Band and Little Feat.
Those counting might celebrate the fact that the collection – which offers a spirited travel-minded trajectory from the lighthearted, easy grooving and hopeful “getaway” tune “Would Ya” to the resigned grave and “moving on” spirit of the acoustic title track – caps a total of 30 years of recording. Considering the richness and intricate textures of the production, those looking for 2020-centric inspiration will rave about the fact that, the whole recording process was a down-scaled “Plan B” featuring top New England musicians contributing digitally.
Yet considering the warm, uplifting romantic vibe of so many of these tunes I sense that Cleary’s family is the foundation of not only his life but the music here. It’s all right there where he lists his priorities at the top of his Bandcamp page: “job, wife, 2 kids, band, man’s eternal quest, not necessarily in that order.” Just check out the sweet, joyful reflections on the peppy “Wheel in Motion,” the hypnotic psychedelic blues-pop-folk of “Just a Wave” and and titles like “Loving You Just Might” “Truest Love” and “Turn To Love.”
Cleary may vary the tempo, modulate his voice from gently restrained to more urgent and emotional, but his true heart shines through. He taps into the “man’s eternal quest” vibe a bit on two other key tracks: “World on Fire,” whose soft-spoken lyrical acoustic and atmosphere laden vibe underlies its dark, desperate lyrics and intense need to escape; and the harder driving pop/rocker “Road You’re on Now,” a harmony laden anthem of self-acceptance.
Along those lines, the generally laid back (but spiked with gritty electric guitar bursts) “I Don’t Mind Dying” takes us to place where we can find peace as we face the inevitable. The rumbling drums and tense acoustic guitars driving “The Burden” underscore what evolves as another philosophical master class, with Cleary letting us know “We can run, we can move, but the burden’s on all of us to improve. . .we’ll go far, as far as we can, but we’ll still hold our fate in the palm of our hands .. .the rest of your life can be hard/Ain’t got the best of us yet.” That’s timeless wisdom no matter what era we’re living in.