On the title track to his sixth full-length, A Few Towns More, Portland, Oregon-based one man band McDougall sings, “The road you chose might take you back to your front door, but it looks like mine’s gonna take me on a few towns more.” Telling the story of touring, human interaction, and sharing in life’s adventures, McDougall sums up his album on the final track, discussing the isolation and loneliness of touring alone, while also singing it’s praises, meeting new friends and new adventures in cities he plays.
“It’s the title track and the final track on the album,” McDougall says of A Few Towns More. “It’s a song that portrays how lonely and yet totally amazing it can be touring alone. The loneliness you face sometimes is all worth it as you spend each night sharing songs with people and making friends out of strangers.”
On “The Travels of Frederick Tolls Part 1” McDougall once again sings of traveling, moving on, and exploration: “I know there’s a place I need to be, but it’s none of those many that I’ve left behind me.” This theme can be found throughout the album, as McDougall carries the relevant tradition of oral history and folklore, making it a part of everyday life and sharing it with those around him.
Equal parts folk, Americana, and old-time country, McDougall’s music conjures up images of sitting by a coffee-can fire in the middle of a dry California river-bed that then pulls you up on a freight train that travels through the lush spring-time of the Pacific Northwest, with you ending up rambling around the country with all your possessions on your back.
McDougall wishes to keep to the unwritten rule of using what was left by those before while leaving something of your own for those who come after, as you exemplifies on A Few Towns More, an album that prevails with a message of hope throughout every journey.
“As with all of my albums, there is an underlying message of hope. This one also deals with the responsibility each one of us has to take what we learn in life and share it with others, to find that place where we know we belong and can do the most good,” McDougall says, summarizing the album’s lyrical themes.
A ten-track collection of dusty-trail Americana, it is hard to imagine that A Few Towns More is pulled off as a one-man-band live, McDougall handling either the guitar and banjo, while also playing percussion with his feet.
“I dig that when listening to [the album] you sometimes forget that most of it is one guy,” McDougall beams. “I try hard to find a balance between getting creative in the production realm and trying to produce something that can be repeated live with the same intensity. I think we found a good balance on this record.”
Whether it’s the opener, “Coleraine,” a banjo-driven clap-and-stomp chant piece that wears its hymn-like vibe on its sleeve. Or the rambling rock of “Ready, Begin,” in which McDougall sings, “time for living, you know, moving and thinking. I felt the bitter cold air make me high. On your mark, get set, and back to the task. Before all your chances change their colors and die,” McDougall creates mood-elevating, hopeful songs that remind you that you’re alive.
McDougall turns it down a few notches on the moonlit folk of “Evening Tide,” a ragged, yet mellow acoustic number that finds McDougall in a contemplative state. The high-impact banjo dance number “Cuttin’ the Grass/Tom and Willy Go To Town” is an instrumental that will make you get up and move, while creating the perfect soundtrack for the should-have-been theme song for the Oregon Trail. Abound with promise and adventure, even without words, McDougall can elicit feelings of a new life and excitement.
On the gospel-folk of “When God Dips His Love In My Heart” McDougall challenges himself on this traditional number that his mother used to sing with his grandparents when she was a kid.
“Gates of Victory,” with group vocals from various Portland-area musician friends, will have you singing along to the chorus, which rings with the words, “Looking to those who have humbly walked before us. They taught us how to live and they taught us how to die.”
“[The song] is about following solid examples of those who walked before us,” exclaims McDougall.
While in the past lyrics have been McDougall’s primary focus and concern, on A Few Towns More he decided to balance it out, putting equal importance on the music and the lyrics.
“I was able to pull off a few longer songs on this record that don’t feel long and stay interesting,” comments McDougall. “I normally focus so much on the lyrics that I put just enough music in there to get through the lyrics. On this album I wanted to space things out a bit and let the music take the lead at times. I’m very happy with how that worked out.”
Though, having taken a new approach to the album, did leave McDougall with a few challenges, and a few moments on the album that are still challenging him.
“There are a couple of lyrical decisions that irk me, but that’s exactly why i left them. I need to break out of my comfort zone more. I’m more interested in seeing how I feel about them down the line, see if they really worked or if I should stick with what I’m used to.”
Besides focusing more on the music than he has in the past, McDougall, with the help of engineer/producer Scott Swayze, pushed himself with a deadline.
“With this album,” recalls McDougall, “this is the first time that I worked with a deadline to get songs done before we entered the studio to start recording them. I’ve never wrote one big batch of songs before in such a short period of time.”
Recorded in a barn during a Washington winter, at times McDougall found it too cold to even play his banjo. But he persevered and made it through, proud of what he’s accomplished with A Few Towns More. Now all McDougall has to do is hit the road and play these songs for fans, new and old alike, while hoping they find the songs encouraging, engaging, and fun. With artwork from Modesto-based folk-singer/tattoo artist Roy Dean, A Few Towns More is rooted in traditional, better meant for your stereo, with artwork in your hands, than your MP3 player. However, McDougall will take listeners any way we can get them.
And, as he sings on “A Few Towns More,” “As we sing together each night in each town, old friends and new in the same room all let their problems down. And with our hands, feet, and voices proclaim, that every day doesn’t have to be the same,” McDougall hopes that his album will help you break up the monotony of every day life, helping you relax and enjoy yourself.
So, sit back, play it loud, and enjoy some McDougall.