Retro Review: ‘Billy as Billy’ is Simply Effective

Come take a walk with me down the hall of time.  The year is 2006.  I was merely a Chris Elston as opposed to THE Chris Elston (as one my friends jokingly calls me) as the Corner wasn’t even a thought.  And a local musician & actor who had rocketed to fame as Buddy Holly was now releasing his debut album.  Join me as I retro review Billy as Billy, the first album from Omaha singer/songwriter Billy McGuigan.

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of reviewing McGuigan’s latest album, billymcguiganTOGETHER.  I then realized I had never heard his original album and decided to see if I could hunt it up.  A little research managed to help me lay my hands on a copy and I gave it a listen.  Quite frankly, I was blown away by the quality of the work as McGuigan demonstrated a depth and maturity with his songwriting that experienced and legendary performers would envy.

I found myself liking this album every bit as much as his most recent work and in some ways, even a little bit more.  What I liked most about Billy as Billy is that it was just that. . . purely Billy.  He had a sound that just reached right out and grabbed you and it was wholly his own.  Only at a few moments did I detect the influence of another artist.  Even then, it was only for a brief riff or chord.  And, again, the stories McGuigan shares obviously come straight from the heart from which the best work always comes.

What surprised me the most about the album was that it was, for McGuigan, considerably lower key and reflective as opposed to the stratospheric energy of his live performances.  But that reflection is what gives the album its strength.

The album opened with “That Wonder In Your Eyes (My Little Girl)” which is a moderate love rocker, but that love could be different depending on one’s point of view.  The wonder in her eyes could be the wonder of a lover or the wonder of a newborn child which makes it a truly compelling song.

The album follows with the sad, yet darkly humorous “She Never. . .” which is told from the voice of a someone consoling a friend who’d been dumped by a faithless woman.  “(And Everything’s Fine Down On) Mission Street” is a fun, reflective rocker on a neighborhood’s history.  “Separate” is a tearjerker about a crumbled marriage.  “Trying to Write This Song” is a touching number about a man trying to say how much he loves a woman.  “Eyes Wide Open” is the album’s most haunting number.  Driven by a tragic piano, it tells the story of a broken man who can’t escape his past even though he tries to honor his late father’s final words to “keep (his) eyes wide open”, but he doesn’t know what he’s “supposed to see”.  The album closes in fine fashion with “All This Time Has Passed” which is an effectively simple tune featuring McGuigan on acoustic guitar backed with synchronized strings as he tells a story about a man still in love and trying to love even better.

If you’re able to find a copy of this album I highly recommend it.  It’ll unleash a cornucopia of emotions within you and it’s a poignant piece of musical storytelling.  All I can say is that I hope it isn’t too long before McGuigan gets the itch to share another album with the public.

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