Veritas Est Rock: Street ballads go a long way

Paul Karner

This past Saturday the chapel hosted pop music’s manic underdog Ben Kweller. Opening up for Kweller was Chicago singer-songwriter Cameron McGill.
Donning a tweed jacket torn at the shoulder and a black-rimmed hat, the scrappy troubadour sang his lulling acoustic ballads with such haunting sincerity as to cause a few audience members to squirm in their chairs. Still others were drawn into his homely charm.
The performance was dramatic and down to earth, bold and fragile. Moving intermittently between reluctance and forcefulness McGill’s songs toed the edge of emotive singer-songwriter sentimentality while maintaining a dignity that made his lilting melodies easy to swallow.
Accompanied by Noah Harris on piano, McGill strummed his acoustic with wavering intensity as displayed on his most recent release, “Street Ballads and Murderesques.”
The album, which was released independently on his own Post-Important label, is a collection of surprisingly pristine live studio recordings.
McGill’s folkish musings and overtly delicate aesthetics are laid bare on “Street Ballads” giving a clear picture of the kind of raw musicality that drives his creativity.
Discussing music with McGill at times seemed like talking beans with a bean farmer. While avoiding any grand imagery and drab philosophical quips, he simply fiddled with his hair and spoke of songs and recordings like they were old friends of his. Citing his time spent in college studying English and politics as “kind of a waste of time,” McGill made it clear that he had married his music long ago.
This past year McGill recruited a band for his live show. Cameron McGill and What Army have been touring the country extensively throughout the past year and has an EP scheduled for release in September.
More times over the acoustic singer-songwriter has proved his versatility as a musician and performer. Having performed his share of solo performances and even some with a string quartet accompanying, McGill has shown even more versatility as his shows with the full band continue to win over fans.
“We’re all grassroots with the way we do things,” McGill said. “It grows slower but it’s more real.” With a much-buzzed about set at last year’s CMJ festival and a slot on this summer’s Lollapalooza in Chicago, it’s clear that McGill’s slow and steady rise to notoriety is going to continue long into the future.
There are many opportunities for singer-songwriters to fall into a formula and simply build a laundry list of songs to be replayed ad nauseum. Cameron McGill stands out in his ability to write songs that have room to grow and the artistry and musicality to make it happen. Regardless of what this rock columnist has to say about it, as time goes on Cameron McGill will become increasingly difficult to ignore.