With the Coming of Friendship: Kevin McCormick’s First Album

with the coming
Cover of 1993’s WITH THE COMING OF EVENING.

This month at Progarchy, in addition to writing and analyzing about many, many things, we’re having a bit of celebration of Kevin McCormick’s first album, With the Coming of Evening (1993).  It’s been 20 years since it first appeared, and, sadly, this masterpiece is still relatively forgotten.

This needs to change.

It’s nearly impossible to label in terms of styles.  McCormick, much influenced by every great composer, performer, and group from Andres Segovia and Viktor Villa-Lobos to Rush and Talk Talk, brings everything good to his music.

A nationally award-winning poet, published composer (for classical guitar as well as choir), and professional classical guitarist, he offers his very artful being and soul to his music.  Like many in the prog world, McCormick’s a perfectionist in everything he does.  But, it’s not completely fair to label this album “in the prog world,” though it comes as close to prog as any genre in the music world.

Had With the Coming of Evening been released now, in the days of internet sovereignty, many would label this album as post-rock or post-prog, akin to the Icelandic shoe-gazing of Sigur Ros.  No doubt, Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock hover lovingly over this work, though McCormick is always his own man.

Very much so.

Nor, would he have it any other way.  As humble as he is talented, McCormick would gladly take blame for any fault, and, being Kevin, he would rarely take credit for anything brilliant he produces.  He would say he discovered what is already, simply having been the first to notice it or remember it.

Still it’s his name on the work, and he recognizes that this comes with a certain amount of responsibility and duty–to all who came before him and all who will come after him.  McCormick would even want his inspirations to be proud of him.  After all, what would Mark Hollis think of just some ghastly American cover band?

No, McCormick is his own man.

My bias

I should be upfront about my bias.  I’ve known Kevin since the fall of 1986, when we were each freshmen in college.  Though we’d talked off an on our first month and a half of the semester, it was on a plane ride from Chicago to Denver over fall break that really allowed us to get to know each other.  After that, we were as thick as thieves.  Well, as thieving as two would-be Catholic boys could be.

As with all meaningful college friendships, we talked late into the night, read and critiqued each other’s work, had deep (well, at the time, they seemed deep) philosophical debates, talked (of course) about girls, discussed which albums were the best ever, mocked the cafeteria food, and so on.

The following year, we traveled throughout southern Europe and also the UK together.  I spent the year in Innsbruck, Austria, and Kevin lived in Rome.

When traveling together for three weeks in England, we paid homage to all of the great recording studios, tried to find Mark Hollis at EMI headquarters, and even (oh so very obnoxiously) thought we’d tracked down Sting’s house.  Kevin rang the doorbell, but, thank the Good Lord, neither Mr. Sting nor Mrs. Sting answered.

We also, of course, visited Stonehenge.

If we’d had Facebook, then, we probably would’ve visited Greg Spawton, David Longdon, Matt Stevens (was he in kindergarten, then?), Robin Armstrong, Matt Cohen, and Giancarlo Erra, too.  “Who are these crazy Americans knocking on our door!  Go visit someone like Mr. and Mrs. Sting!”

Our loss.

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Our dorm room in Zahm Hall, U. of Notre Dame, Fall 1988. Kevin and his future wife, Lisa. Notice the stereo system and cassettes behind Kevin and Lisa.

Our third year, back at our Catholic college in northern Indiana, we shared a dorm room.  That year, I also hosted a Friday night prog show (called, can you believe it, “Nocturnal Omissions”–I really thought I was clever) on our college radio station, and Kevin would often co-host with me.  He founded a band, St. Paul and the Martyrs, which became the most popular band on campus, covering everything from XTC to Yes to Blancmange.

Our final year, I helped produce an extremely elaborate charity concert, and St. Paul and the Martyrs performed–the entire Dark Side of the Moon, complete with a avant garde film and elaborate stage lighting, followed by a performance (less elaborate in terms of production) of side one of Spirit of Eden.

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Kevin and Lisa’s wedding. Notice Kevin’s ponytail. This automatically makes him a cool artist.

When Kevin returned from several years in Japan and (truly) traveling the world, we spent a few years together in graduate school, Kevin in music, me in history.

Kevin is godfather to my oldest son, and I to his second daughter.  We remain as close as we ever were.

What about the music?

Come on, Birzer.  This is a music site, not a “here’s what I did in college” site.  True, true.  But, so much of my own thoughts regarding Kevin’s music are related to our friendship.  Every time I put on one of his albums, it’s as though I’ve just had one of the best conversations in my life.

So, I’ve asked others at Progarchy to review With the Coming of Evening.  You know my bias–so, now I’ll state what I believe as objectively as possible.

Kevin is brilliant, as a lyricist, as a composer, and as a person.  His first album, With the Coming of Evening, the first of a trilogy, is a stunning piece of work, and it deserves to be regarded not just as a post-rock classic, but as a rock and prog classic.

It’s not easy listening.  Kevin takes so many chances and weaves his music in so many unusual ways, that one has to immerse oneself in it.  It’s gorgeous.  It’s like reading a T.S. Eliot poem.  No one who wants to understand an Eliot poem reads it as a spectator.  You either become a part of it, or you misunderstand it.

If there’s a misstep on the album, it comes with the 9th track, “Looks Like Rain.”  Its blues structure and blue lamentations stick out a little too much.  A remix of this album would almost certainly leave this song out.  It’s still an excellent song.  It just doesn’t fit tightly with the rest of the album–which really must be taken as an organic and mesmeric whole.

Kevin took six years to write and record the follow-up album, Squall (1999), and he’s ready to record the conclusion to the trilogy.

More on Kevin to come. . . .

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Kevin and I revisit Notre Dame, 20 years later. Kevin has cut the ponytail, but, otherwise, he’s not aged.

But, for now, treat yourself to his backcatalogue.  I give it my highest recommendation.  And, of course, it doesn’t hurt that he one of the nicest guys in all of creation. . . .

*****

To order With the Coming of Evening, go here.

To read more about McCormick, go here.

To read what allmusic.com thinks of McCormick, go here.

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