When one hears the phrase “the west” the idea that comes to mind is often of the old west, of Texas, and in the context of music, country and western music often comes to mind. However “the west” is really a big place and a small part of that big place happens to be Ashland, Oregon and Ashland, Oregon happens to be the hometown of Black Bears Fire, the moniker by which multi-instrumentalist and recording artist Nic Mcnamara goes by.
Mcnamara’s sophomore release under Black Bears Fire The Bottomless Blue is a mixture of roots-y folk rock with essences of blues, rock and hints of old school country combined with pop hooks and indie rock sensibilities with a sound that is firmly rooted in the north western landscape.
What becomes clear over the course of The Bottomless Blue are the characters that live in each of the songs. Mcnamara’s west is populated by lonely and fractured people who are often trying to find something which will make them whole again. Mcnamara is sympathetic towards his characters as he relays their stories with a sharp eye, though he doesn’t let them off easy, and many times as the song comes to a close they seem to be no better off than when they started.
On the opening track “Way Down” Mcnamara laments, “you'll fight me weighed down by the thing you're fighting for” which is an indirect way of saying “you’ll never win.” And not even the pretty melodies and jangly acoustic guitars on “Bite The Hook” can soften the blows of lines like “I left you with something you can't hold on to/ you can fight or bite the hook/ but don't look back on what you can't undo.”
However this tactic can only go so far. By the time one comes around to “My Best Friends Are Dead” a mortal skepticism has crept in and it lingers like a festering wound for the duration of The Bottomless Blue. Certain songwriters are able to get away with writing songs about hopelessness and hopeless people, but the truly gifted ones are far and few between. Mcnamara hasn’t yet achieved this level of songwriting mastery yet, and so eight roughly depressing songs begin to lose their luster after repeated listens. The frustration here lies in the fact that Mcnamara definitely has musical talent, but why he insists on believing that every song written in his chosen genre must be a verbose tale of sadness is quite beyond me.
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