Arlo McKinley on Friday shared the next chapter of his nascent legacy with This Mess We’re In. The third album from the Cincinnati, OH-born singer-songwriter marks his second on John Prine‘s Oh Boy Records and serves as the follow-up to his acclaimed 2020 LP, Die Midwestern.
This Mess We’re In comes off like tales from the lowly man sitting at the other end of the bar. It’s closing time now, but that just sends him out into the night with the promise of a new day coming soon. Since his last album, McKinley has mourned the loss of his mother, best friend, and others, all while trying to navigate his own traumas with addiction and mental health. The result of these devastating lessons and experiences is This Mess We’re In, a transformational 11-track offering that finds light in the darkness and beauty in tragedy.
Through the swirling organ work of “City Lights” and its classic descending chord progression comes the epitome of Arlo’s melancholy as his dark past mixes with his bright future. There’s a tinge of light shining through the darkness as the album begins in its bleakest corner, exemplified in one of several standout tracks, “Stealing Dark from the Night Sky”. The lead single is the musical embodiment of watching the sun come up when you know there’s no chance of falling asleep, and no way you can go anywhere until you come down and sober up. There’s a tranquility of “hurry up and wait,” where you want to make changes, but they can only happen one moment at a time—or in Arlo’s case—one song at a time.
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“Rushintherug” is another jewel of the album, one that could easily be a classic Tom Petty song you grew up hearing on FM radio. The beautiful rocker serves as a microcosm of the entire LP as McKinley masterfully blends his deep folk roots with dive bar rock and roll, bolstered by his tight studio band of Ken Coomer (Wilco, Uncle Tupelo), pianist Rick Steff (Lucero, Cat Power), guitar and mellotron from producer Matt Ross-Spang (Jason Isbell, Margo Price), plus guitarist Will Sexton, bassist Dave Smith, and fiddler Jessie Munson.
Arlo’s outlook gets progressively brighter as the album progresses, don’t let the closing, deceptively titled “Here’s To The Dying” fool you from the woefully optimistic composition it masks. With the darkness of This Mess We’re In perhaps not behind him, but more like beside him, McKinley can move forward into his bright future as one of the top rising singer-songwriters in the movement today.
Stream the new Arlo McKinley album This Mess We’re In via the player below or on your preferred platform. He is currently in the midst of a summer tour, appearing next on July 28th at Levitt AMP Springfield in Illinois for a free show. Tickets and a full list of tour dates are available on his website.
Arlo McKinley – This Mess We’re In
Arlo McKinley – “Rushintherug” (Official Video)