The Heath McNease Fan Club Meets Tonight was more of a hip hop record than anything, but songs like "Farewell My Dignity" and "Favorite Nightmare" showed what Heath McNease could do with an acoustic guitar and some harmonies. A couple years ago, he set up a MySpace account devoted to similar-styled acoustic tunes, further showing his fans that he wasn't just a hip hop artist. Now, releasing side-by-side with his latest hip hop album, McNease is finally releasing a whole album's worth of singer/songwriter songs, simply-titled Shine On.
The lead-off track is one that McNease had posted on his MySpace when he first started it up, "Won't Be Back Tonight." It's an upbeat track resembling something you might hear from mainstream artist Jason Mraz. It's followed by the stripped down version of "I Will Live," which is featured with a slightly different sound on The Gun Show (not to mention that version has drums), though neither of the versions feel inferior to the other. The piano on this one was a nice touch, and it fits well after the opener. The pace slows down quite a bit for "Leave." It incorporates a small southern feel with the somber playing of a harmonica as McNease sings of a lost love. The toned-down sound ends here for now, as the title track picks things back up, but only for a song, as "'Til The Fever Breaks" takes it back down again. It seems like odd song placement to have "Shine On" in between two slow songs, but it's not a huge deal. And it turns out that "'Til The Fever Breaks" is a real highlight of the album. It features vocals from an indie singer named Alisa Turner, who ends up playing the loving voice of God in the song, responding to McNease's gentle pleas to his Maker when he feels at his worst ("So how far down does Your hand reach? I wanna know, could You think less of me? If I beg and plead for You to never leave would You stay (I'm right here), 'til the fever breaks?").
"Jacob's Song" was crafted from Genesis 32, when Jacob wrestled with God and received a blessing and a new name. McNease asks for a new name in the same fashion. He also says "I want a new mind, I need a new mind, my eyes have seen so many things, I'm begging for a new mind, please give me a new mind." The song is soft and mild, and shows us some of McNease's struggles. He sings of hope, however, in "Get Through Today." He sings "We'll make it through today, don't break no matter what goes down, because tomorrow's waiting just around the way, and we'll get there when we get through today." Not the most creative of lyrics, but it's nice to get some hope after a song that yearns for it. "Stay" used to be on McNease's lo fi MySpace page under the title "A Man After Your Heart." The message is the same (it's a repentant song, asking God for forgiveness for running, knowing we won't ever be perfect), though a few of the lyrics did get changed (particularly the last line of the chorus). "Paved" is a slow waltz where McNease sings to someone who has passed on, while "It's Alright," another of his MySpace demos, keeps the pace down to close things out. It also serves as a reminder to a loved one that they'll be together again soon. It's beautifully-composed with the ever-present acoustic and some soft piano. It also features a nice drum beat about halfway through, accompanied by some strings.
Those who had heard the original version on his MySpace page will appreciate the newer sound, as well as the excellent production that the demo version lacked. For those who heard Heath McNease's 7 Spin Music debut and liked the singer/songwriter stuff more than the hip hop, you'll be happy to know that the few occurrences on that album weren't just flukes. McNease shows that he's not just a hip hopper, but he's quite accomplished as a musician as well. The songs on Shine On are quality and give me a new appreciation for an artist that definitely deserves it. Highlights of Shine On include "Won't Be Back Tonight," "I Will Live" and "'Til The Fever Breaks," but each of the songs have their own sort of charm, and it's recommended to fans of Jason Mraz and/or Bradley Hathaway.- Review date: 4/30/10, written by Scott Fryberger of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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