"Torn" by Dean MacDonaldReview
It's yet another of those serendipitous coincidences that, so soon after telling you about the song which Jackie James & Shanade Morrow put out to mark Mothering Sunday, Dean MacDonald's new single "Torn" comes out on Good Friday. And both have 14 Records connections.....
Naturally you might think that Dean has chosen that date as the most convenient, but I do perceive deeper resonances at play here, since he mentions that the song, in fact the entirety of his solo album concerns "….love & loss….. not necessarily loss in love, just more about mortality and showing love to the living and mourning..loss…" which is pretty much what Good Friday is about.
I've praised Dean's earlier singles (such as "Unbounded" & "Inflamed") in this magazine often enough & fervently enough for you to know that a passionate commitment to baring his soul is their hallmark, to the great benefit of the songs themselves.
Admirers of his writing for The Session might reasonably point out that this applies just as much to their songs: and they'd be correct. All I can do is suggest that his solo stuff is "even more personal" than the group material & that bar is pretty high already isn't it?
Dean's songs are not intended as anodyne emotional balm: he asks questions of us often & whether that's confronting racism or in this case death, he in essence gives us a bit of a kick up the emotive backside: which is never a bad idea if a song is to have impact.
I honestly cannot think of any song I've ever heard from him which could be classed as "filler": he throws everything he has into his writing and with The Session, he is lucky to have Sheryl to replicate the emotional clout vocally & the rest of the band to perform complementary arrangements.
Bereft of their involvement for his solo recordings, with the help of Matt & the late Gemma at 14 Records, Dean has evolved another way of getting the truth across. It's a little hard to describe as a whole, except maybe to say instead of immediacy, he goes for depth. Thus (and I think we can detect Gemma's part in initiating this), we hear more complex vocal harmonies (in three parts) and (presumably we can thank Matt for playing a role here), more complicated (even "lush") instrumental layerings. And they do really work in bringing out the identity of the songs without falling into the trap of smothering the truth in excess production.
"Torn" is therefore a pretty raw song lyrically: Dean sounds desperate at times, almost struggling both for breath and trying to hold back tears (appropriately the accompanying video focuses on his recording the vocals, which reflects the intimacy of the track) yet if you were sufficiently respectful as to play the song without paying much attention, you might mistake the melodious tune for telling a different sort of story altogether. And how wrong you'd be: it really does reward to pay attention to good music.
Another aspect of good songs is where the writer draws upon deeply personal experiences to give truth to the words, yet does so in a way which transcends the specific and allows each listener to apply them to their own circumstances. The intensity of the lyrics & their delivery indicate what must be in Dean's mind (he felt "..the pain down to core…" and you can tell) and as the title says bluntly, he feels torn by the process. We don't need to know of whom he is thinking (though possibly I've already mentioned one candidate) & it would be intrusive into his grief so to do. We can just take his words and say "yes: I know what you mean. Thanks for expressing it" as we appropriate it.
Not that I want you to think that the song is wholly a grief-fest: a major part of Dean's message is that grief for the lost needs balancing with loving those left while you still get the chance, which again tends to be in accordance with his long term writing style: balancing the negative, the sad & the unedifying with a dose of positivity and optimism.
Dean just goes from strength to strength doesn't he?