Shores of Mercy by Michael Kiel Cash

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“Shores of Mercy” is the latest album from NYC-based singer-songwriter Michael Kiel Cash, and it’s honestly one of the most joyful and well-rounded records I’ve had the pleasure of listening to. 

Being in the business for two decades now, Mr. Cash starts off his album with the track “Flood of Springtime Dreams,” a very calm track that feels like a bard performing his poetry in a medieval-age bar. If there was such a thing as a collaboration between Johnny Cash and Elvis, this is what it would probably sound like. 

After that, we are presented with “Lying With My Baby,” which was released as a single and is a very upbeat and romantic tune that will probably score big numbers in terms of record sales and radio play. There is a second (backing) female vocalist with Mr. Cash, and she adds a nice flavor with her harmonious approach. This song strikes every variable of the hard equation of being an easy-listening pop hit while also being a magnum opus in terms of musical ability and good songwriting. A true masterpiece and my favorite.

The third track, “Love’s Arroyo,” has a super catchy harmonica that will make you feel like you’re at a royal palace gala or a traditional revivalist party, doing some traditional dances and maybe throwing coins in the musicians’ flipped hats to show appreciation for their entertaining tunes. Up to this point in the album, there is an awesome balance between all the string instruments, which I believe are a semi-hollow guitar and a mandolin, giving country, blues-rock, and folk elements in a pleasant mix.

The fourth track, “Hoophead’s Country Blues,” has a lovely accordion and feels like a traveler or an outlaw just began a poetry recital in the bar of a small countryside town. Thanks to the spoken word vocals and the accordion-harmonica battle going on. Mr. Cash begins showcasing his head voice more in this track, and it’s so impressive and likable.

Although the fifth track, “Rattlebox,” doesn’t have the word “blues” in its name (like some other tracks here), it’s the most blues-sounding of the bunch so far. It makes more use of the male-female dynamic in a duet arrangement this time, not just as a backup. The track makes use of brass instruments and a beautiful fiddle that delivers the sadness along with the vocals to create a very immersive experience. I truly loved it.

The sixth track, “Heart of The Mountain,” begins with a nice keyboard line and a soft drumbeat that makes use of perfectly timed rim shots, alternating with soulful snare hits in the chorus and heavenly backing vocals. Mr. Cash belts high notes and uses more the voice cracks and soft head voice. And this is, so far, the most vocally challenging song on the record. The female vocals chant along with the last chorus till the soft outro that Mr. Cash softly sings and I am truly impressed.

The seventh track, “Pinhole Pass,” is a stripped-down and simplistic song with only guitars, vocals, and some lo-fi keyboard/synth lines, which makes it all more impactful.

The eighth and title track, “Shores Of Mercy,” is also simplistic and easy to listen to. It utilizes beautiful accordion melodies with vocals that feel like they are telling you a story.

The ninth track, “Winged Kiss,” sounds like a bunch of old proverbs and wisdom being given to a child, and I love its vocal delivery so much. At this point, though, we know the formula: the fiddle and strings are for upbeat songs, and the harmonica, accordion, and strings are for sad tunes. I thought I could predict what’s coming in the next tracks if I considered this as a rule.

To my surprise, “Muscadine Wine”-the tenth track-breaks those predictions and has spoken/storytelling vocals like the first half of the album, with a very pleasant timbre and tone. The fiddle harmonizes and sways with the accordion, bringing you a sense of peace and joyfulness as you listen to it. This album is the gift that keeps on giving.

The eleventh track, “Hymn of The Harvest,” had one more surprise for me: a full-blown choir, and as if a country, folk, and blues rock weren’t enough, we now have classical music elements. If you visualized, like me, that you were in a small town in the countryside, living with this music at traditional parties and local musicians, this is probably what the local church choir would sound like.

I’m starting to grow more and more fond of Mr. Cash’s compositional mindset and the belief that he can make music in any style he imagines.

The twelfth and final track of this awesome joyride, “D&RGW Chili Line Blues,” is a fest of all the instruments we heard before, and Mr. Cash sings alone and with much grit here. What a way to end a huge yet comprehensible record with tons of influence and a myriad of instruments mixed up. I’m keeping this album.

Edited by: Viola Karmy

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