Edwin McCain's new album, Scream and Whisper, catches him on a second honeymoon. It's a group of songs that arrived while he was falling in love with music all over again, and thus finds him renewing his vows with his life's passion.
If not lyrically, that's what this album is all about spiritually for McCain. His first proper studio release since the end of a long tenure at Lava/Atlantic Records, Scream and Whisper was created at a time when the Greenville, South Carolina, singer/songwriter was at a crossroads both personally and professionally.
Over 10 years with Lava, McCain tasted life at the top, racking up platinum and gold albums on the backs of such popular singles as "Solitude" and "I'll Be." As he experienced life as a hit maker, McCain also eventually saw his spirit and enthusiasm for making records ground up in the gears of the big time music biz.
As he became more and more disappointed with how little the business at that level actually had to do with music itself-songs, and art-he began to go through the motions a little, letting others sort of dictate his career path for him. Jaded, he found solace in booze. But after a few eye-opening, soul-shaking moments he sobered up, wised up, and realized that he was mistreating this gift he's been given.
In its positivism and more so in its spirit, Scream and Whisper documents that awakening, that realization. It finds McCain and his longtime band mates playing with perhaps more conviction than they've displayed in years. I approach the rest of my musical life like it belongs to no one but me and my guys, the guys that committed 10 years of their lives to me," McCain says.
And Scream and Whisper belongs to those guys more than perhaps any of McCain's previous five albums. In addition to tracks penned solely by McCain, the new album includes songs written or co-written by guitarist Larry Chaney and new guitarist Pete Riley (formerly of Treehouse). As a result, the album is a real affirmation of how much of a true band he and his brothers in arms have become, McCain says, noting, "It's so special to be able to share this gift with them."
On album opener "Coming Down," McCain sings about his struggles over the past few years, and about regaining his career and spiritual footing: "I'm just glad to be here/And most of all I'm thankful I'm alive." If you didn't already know, you wouldn't necessarily pick up on exactly what the song is documenting. "Turning Around" also carefully touches on his personal reinvention.
"Shooting Stars" perhaps best captures McCain's mindset at the moment: "And maybe this life is just about love and tenderness/ If all we are are shooting stars/Maybe we can fight all this pain and loneliness/ if all we are are shooting stars." "Good Enough" is a tribute and a thank you to all the black icons of rock and roll's early days who were forced into segregated hotels and restaurants while touring the American South. The disc ends with a fierce and fun cover of Rod Stewart's "Maggie May."
Of the disc's positivism, McCain says, "It seems like no one is saying anything positive right now. It's time for there to be a little bit more human kindness and a little less thoughtless and selfishness."
The seeds for McCain's blend of southern soul and acoustic storytelling were planted some 20 years ago in Greenville, where he born and raised, and where he still resides. Having grown up singing in the church choir, as a teen he fell in love with everything from the poetic songwriting of noted North Carolina tunesmith David Wilcox to the '70s soul of Earth, Wind & Fire. Eventually, he would become the self-described bastard child of everything from Motown, the Gap Band and Roger & Zapp to James Taylor and Jim Croce. He began writing songs as a teen, and after a semester at the University of South Carolina moved to the Carolina coastal city of Charleston where he slowly began building a name for himself while playing the college town's many bars, pubs and restaurants. It was there that he would befriend the members of Hootie & the Blowfish. Gigs with the band helped McCain score a deal with Lava/Atlantic.
Darius Rucker (Hootie and the Blowfish) lent his vocal talents to McCain's debut single, "Solitude," thus giving the band's first album, 1995's Honor Among Thieves, a huge boost right out of the gate.
Two years later, the ballad "I'll Be," from McCain's sophomore disc, Misguided Roses, became a smash, this paving the way for he and his band mates to continue their marathon touring schedule and two more albums for Lava/Atlantic, Messenger and Far From Over. McCain broke with the major in December 2001.
And while initially the split was a bit crippling, it wasn't long before he began to see it as the end of a really nice day. He characterized it as such on his first post-Lava/Atlantic set, 2002's The Austin Sessions, a stripped-down, acoustic collection of old and new songs.
While continuing to tour endlessly, McCain took some time after the release of The Austin Sessions to host a radio program for Sirius Satellite Radio called "The Spectrum," on which he interviewed everyone from Phoebe Snow to Poison frontman Bret Michaels. "I was trying to show that even though you have so many ends of the spectrum, you have a real common thread. And the common thread is that Phoebe has the same emotional connection to her music as Bret Michaels does to his. The common thread is emotion, personal attachment to music."
And that's one thing that has never changed in McCain's career, despite any ups and downs. He's always loved the music. And right now he's more smitten with it and its power than ever before. While he went through a bit of a dark stretch after leaving Lava/Atlantic, he wouldn't change a thing, he says. "Honestly, I'm so glad that all that stuff happened because I wouldn't have the attitude that I have now. I don't think I would understand how much I love this, and how much I love playing…It's not about chart positions or record sales or anything like that, it just has to do with people coming together and sharing a moment, that's it."
"And that's all I ever wanted to do. I just love that moment in the small club and bar where every single person in there has a moment where it's silent and they get it and it's beautiful, that moment where the music that's coming off the stage is much more than the players and much more than the audience and something happens and you're sitting there and your hair stands up. That's it, man. I love it."