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New Pick of the Week

Pat McLaughlin: "Unglued", Dos Records

March 10, 1994|JIM WASHBURN

The rest of the music world might be going unplugged, but I don't expect to hear a finer album this year than McLaughlin's "Unglued." He's a Nashville songwriter who has been covered by, among others, Trisha Yearwood, John Prine and Steve Wariner, none of which prepares one for this cozily stunning album.

McLaughlin has the pith of John Hiatt, the whimsy of Prine, the soul of Al Green (OK, not quite ) and a whole bunch of something all his own. Whatever it is, after a couple of listens, nearly every song on "Unglued" is able to call up moods and emotions in a way usually only a few of one's favorite old records can. Some of it is true roadhouse rock, some is reminiscent of breezy pre-Beatles pop, some borders on Van Morrison's mystic soul, while in other places he sounds like a country David Lindley. The songs are at once inviting and familiar while haunting and beguilingly out of bounds. I've been listening to this album nonstop for a couple of weeks and have to admit that in many cases I don't know what the hell McLaughlin is singing about, but it's still reaching me.

Some songs, like the infectiously grooving "Better You Get Ready" and "Night Thing"--a rollicking Hiatt-meets-NRBQ burner--don't exactly cry out for extrapolation. Others, though, such as "Wind It on Up" and "Nothin' but Trouble," have such a powerful feeling of longing and melancholy that one expects the lyrics to directly support that. Good luck.

On the latter song, he begins:

Smiling girl, even with your hands can make,

Such a night ring true, baby,

Only flower underneath my rug can find,

Such a piece of cake,

'Cause I've got nothing but trouble,

Since you lay down beside me.

Elsewhere, the playful poetry of the lyrics is sufficiently beguiling, as when on "Friendly Bird" he sings, "I didn't know people could still move this slow, Where did all of them Mohicans go?" Curiously, these songs are no less moving than his more evidently "serious" lyrics, such as on the nakedly romantic "Try the Love" and the redemptive "Long Time."

Whatever the words, McLaughlin's voice seems to imbue them with a new gravity. His soulful but slightly cartoonish voice often lingers on words, as if they're furniture being dragged across a wood floor. Meanwhile, the musical settings are never less than enthralling, produced by Ben Keith, best known as Neil Young's pedal steel guitarist.

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