‘The Fire That Burns’ by Switchback
CD review by Donna Eckberg, FOLKFIRE MAGAZINE
What a triumph this is for Brian Fitzgerald and Marty McCormack who were joined by their Chicago band mates Alpha Stewart and Cathy Kuna for this recording. I cried when I heard the luxurious mix and those sweet harmonies. Their essence has finally been captured by the skill of producer Lloyd Maines of Austin, TX. It is especially poignant knowing how the duo has carried on in spite of hard knocks and setbacks. Their superb songwriting prevails describing relationships. You’ll experience love, hurt, feeling drawn in or the need to pull away. Witness the ambivalence and emotion of life laid bare. Sprinkle in the haunting of family ghosts.
The title song, “The Fire That Burns,” sets the theme, showing that joy and sorrow can come from the same source. The music is energetic, emotionally charged and excitingly eclectic. Switchback combines acoustic and electric sounds with elements of bluegrass, country, rock, Celtic and pop. The twang of a dobro opens “The Farmer Leaves the Dell” joined by Brian on mandolin, Marty on guitar and their voices meshing in perfect harmony. The next track storms into the hardscrabble existence of the “Connemara Man” with images of the nomads of that rocky coastal region in Ireland. They growl the refrain:
“dancin’ for tomorrow, dancin’ for today,
dancin’ for the memories never to fade away
dancin’ for your sorrow, dancin’ for your pain,
dancin’ for your broken heart, never to mend again!”
Lending authenticity to the piece, the electric cello played by Cathy Kuna wails like Irish bagpipes. Sweetening the pot, “Apple of My Eye” goes country, combining Alpha Stewart’s freight train drum beat with Lloyd Maines on pedal steel guitar and the duo singing a poppy, echoing refrain. The undulating chorus in their captivating waltz, “End Over End” is backed by accordion and the tremolo of mandolin to give it a European flavor. Marty’s silky tenor explains that “love is pain turned inside out that wants to turn back again ….. because the thrill is worth the spill that sends you end over end.” A reality check follows when “In My Glory” asks, “will you love me?” as the real me is revealed in a duet pairing Marty with the stunning voice of Maggie Fitzgerald. You’re then “Bamboozled” when divorce brings the sting of rejection and betrayal as it all crashes. To lighten things up, the group throws down an instrumental Celtic tune, “Wild Irish Polkas,” so typical of their live performances.
The CD is capped by “The Has-Been That Never Was,” describing a home neglected and forgotten, but watched over by a higher power. The song is book-ended by the salvaged treasures of a couple of the family’s ghosts. A soul-searching sonnet read by Brian’s deceased father precedes the song. Ending the song, Maggie’s deceased father jauntily hums the tune while strumming on a mandolin, perhaps haunting the place while seated on the front porch.