A lot of people know me from reviewing the records and shows of the rock, indie and punk scene around New Jersey. What they might not know is that I am also a fan of soul, folk and, especially, jazz. Bernardsville native Michaela McClain blends facets of all these genres in a wonderfully intoxicating way on her third EP Bittersweet Melodies. Reflecting back on a previous relationship, the album runs the gamut from heartbreaking to hopeful. McClain takes us on her journey through this time in her life and we are willing passengers.
The EP opens with “Time With You” which is a sultry number where McClain’s strong voice doesn’t waste anytime drawing you right in as she invites you to “just spend some time with me.” “You’re My Love” slows things down a bit and it is a clear winner. A romantic number with some wonderful guitar. “Bittersweet Memories” is quite interesting as the light and breezy melody is offset with lyrics like “You and me, were doomed from the start” and “How can you give me up just like that?” McClain gets funky in “Bleeding Heart” and horns add a jazzy element to the song. “Special Kind of Love” is the closer and it is a passionate and poignant coda. “What’s my heart supposed to do when I’m still in love with you?” Devastating.
Bittersweet Melodies is an emotional powerhouse that cannot help make one reflect on the loves and losses, ups and downs, of all of our relationships. They may not always be smooth sailing and may not last but we hopefully come through stronger. Though sometimes tinged with sadness, there is a hope in these grooves.
The album release show is Friday March 13 at Hat City Kitchen in Orange.
What was it like growing up in Bernardsville? Was it a musical household?
Growing up in Bernardsville was great. It is a small, friendly town. My grade school experience was wonderful. I attended a small Catholic school a block away from my house, which was also my family’s parish where we attended mass every Sunday and where I received all my sacraments. The school and parish was my second home, full of warm people and positive encouragement. My teachers then recognized my musical gifts and always gave me roles in school plays and solos. I knew early on that was my calling.
My household was very musical. I grew up singing with my five sisters. My father was a musician and I used to hear him playing guitar at night and we’d sing jazz tunes together before bed.
When did you first know you wanted to make music your profession?
I always knew music would be a part of my life. It was always my passion and gift. I remember telling my oldest sister when I was 5 years old that I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. It was a moment, like an epiphany – I remember so clearly. I was sitting on my bed, listening to an Amy Grant album and exclaimed, “I want to be a singer!”
Who were some of your early musical influences?
My early musical influences were artists I grew up listening to; Amy Grant, Ella Fitzgerald, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Indigo Girls, Sting, James Taylor…. My family also loved musical theater so show tunes were a big part of my early musical influences as well.
“Bittersweet Melodies” tackles the age-old subject of love. Do you think love is bittersweet, that combination of pleasure and pain? Are you a hopeful person?
“Bittersweet Melodies” was a labor of love and the process of getting it done was challenging. The tunes are 3-4 years old and I was ready to be done with it and leave it all behind. I knew however that I needed to mark that chapter of my life and I was encouraged by my closest friends to see the project through. The particular relationship that inspired those tunes was very much a combination of pleasure and pain- which is why I felt calling it “Bittersweet Melodies” was perfect.
I am a very hopeful, faithful person and believe that love is a gift to be treasured and honored. So many of my songs topics are about love because it is the most powerful force in my world. It has been, however very exciting to be writing songs about OTHER things besides romantic love. 😉
Who is a musical artist or group that someone would be surprised you like?
I don’t know if anyone would be surprised to know I love old school R&B & funk, like Anita Baker and Tower and Power.
Five words to describe your music.
5 words others have used to describe my music: warm, soulful, passionate, accessible, spirit-lifting.
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