Some experiences can have a direct and profound impact on an artist. When folk-punk troubadour Bryan McPherson was immersed in Occupy Oakland in 2011, the event was so life-changing that he began writing the material that would eventually become an entire concept record. That record was ‘Wedgewood’, a collection of eleven reflections on the human condition, the government, religion, love, freedom, conflict and much more. To help set a tone for the album, Bryan holed up in the Flying Whale Studios in Northern California in 2013, cutting himself off to self-produce it. Every day he would light the wood-burning stove in order to warm up the hut he was living in, on a small ranch in the depths of winter, deep in the mountains. The warmth of the crackling fire inspired much of the recording process, while his stark surroundings set the atmosphere of isolation in place.
All of these elements combined to form a record rooted in the acoustic sensibility and rawness of modern folk, yet lit by the angry defiance and establishment-questioning of alternative and punk, Bryan’s fiery and impassioned delivery compelling us to care about his story and his argument. On ‘Days of Rage’, one of the album’s highlights, he begins by exploring the multitude of worldly religions before launching an attack on the very structure of America itself, challenging notions of freedom and truth before closing in on corruption itself. “In a broken system the snake will eat itself, how can I go to Heaven if I’m living in Hell?” He asks, but there seems to be no answer. He continues to make socially conscious statements on the dystopian ‘Burn It Down’, the war-stricken ‘Wasted World’ and the religious analysis of ‘Song From The Moon’, dreaming up scenarios and musing over scarily accurate depictions of reality with an unnerving calmness.
But Bryan is not one to wallow in doom and gloom, and presents a dynamic call to arms on ‘Here We Go’, drumming up support for a revolution. “We don’t go down without a fight,” he reassures a loved one in the delicate ballad ‘Dark Hearts’, going on to reflect on death, loss and the darkness in all of us. “Some of us are alright, some of us are okay, some of us are the night, some of us are afraid,” he sings on the powerful and anthemic opener ‘Born On A Highway’, a song that goes even further into exploring the human condition, shedding light on our very nature in all of its glory and ugliness. Tracking the journey of artists as they travel from place to place and their evolution as human beings, the song is bookended by snippets of Bryan’s nieces, first speaking into the mic and wondering what to sing, and second delivering a couple of lines of ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’. It is a charming way to open the record and a reminder of the joy and innocence in the world, something which is countered by the darkness and pain that appears as the album progresses.
‘Hearts In Boxcars’ describes a relationship that is straining from the couple’s lives going in opposite directions, while ‘Bullets and Blues’ reminisces over a love long gone. But that’s nothing compared to the gut punch of ‘Kelly Thomas’, a song in tribute to the homeless man that was beaten and killed by three police officers in 2011. “You don’t care about Kelly ‘cause he ain’t you,” He sings pointedly. “Who has justice for the men that they just set free?” Unafraid to get political, we get the sense that Bryan prefers full clarity over holding some things back. ‘Wedgewood’ is something of a confessional album, but only insomuch as it painstakingly honest about an imperfect world drowning under pretense.
Music is an important tool for instigating social change, and Bryan knows that perhaps more than anyone. This album is a testament to the concept of true artistry, where meaning can be found in every utterance and real messages are delivered in stark, pure poetry and simple musicality. ‘Wedgewood’ is not only a documentation of Bryan McPherson’s personal enlightenment, but also another fabulous record that is built to stand the test of time.