The McCarthys

The McCarthys
The Way Life Is
Cornmeal Records

Click to hear: “The Way Life Is

The McCarthys, who recently celebrated their 15th anniversary, release an album every five years — hey, good music takes time. Their latest (and arguably greatest) is The Way Life Is.

There’s nothing groundbreaking here. The McCarthys blend the sensibilities of classic country and blues with those of ’60s pop (Beatles, Byrds) to produce widely likeable music. Now officially a five-piece, with the addition of keyboardist Scott Shuster, every member sings and most contribute songwriting.

Highlights include the crunchy blues-rock of “Built for Comfort,” the honky-tonk song “I Just Pour ’Em Down” (featuring fiddler Zach Ovington), the rumbling trucker number “Take a Ride With the Devil,” and the barrelhouse burner “Gonna Die Twice.” Guitarist Tim Emery, who wrote and sings that last one, is a seasoned player whose solos could double as lessons in six-string technique.

The title track is my favorite, a song about working-class life in the Pine Tree State — its disappointments, but also the acceptance and appreciation of what that life brings. “The way life is / Ain’t the way life should be / Ain’t the good life promised me / It’s just the way life is.” The accordion (courtesy guest Tom Whitehead), trumpet (by bassist Jimmy McGirr), and group vocals strongly recall the best work of The Band.

Maine’s official state song, by Roger Vinton Snow, is the kind of cheesy, clichéd treacle you expect such things to be. (In fairness to Snow, the first track on this album, “Love Is,” has some wince-inducing lines of its own.) It may take a statewide referendum, but I’d support replacing Snow’s anthem with “The Way Life Is.”

— Chris Busby

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