Shoestring Review: Michael McFarland's A Sarcastic Tango

Cover art: Michael McFarland

Well, it has been awhile since I reviewed some tunes, Shoestringers, but recently serendipity introduced me to the music of Ashville, NC-based alt-pop rocker Michael McFarland and who am I to ignore serendipity? This May marks the release of McFarland's 5-song EP A Sarcastic Tango, available on Vinyl (yeah baby!), CD and digital download. A Sarcastic Tango is an impressive showcase of McFarland's dexterity as a lyricist and musician that leaves me wanting to see what else this guy can do.




Logo design: Michael McFarland
McFarland describes himself as "Writer, Rocker, Biker, Geek" and his sound likewise has a lot going on. He provides all the EP's vocals and instrumentals and so harmonious is the end result that it's a little hard to believe at first that you are listening to just one person; on the technical end of things major props go to his co-producer/engineer Jason Rubal at Seventh Wave Studio in Harrisburg, PA. But do not misunderstand: McFarland is not a studio-only act. The lyrics are tight, smart and complex and the melodies stand on their own. Stick this dude on a street corner with just a guitar and no mike and he'd still get your pennies. Now let's tango...


Michael McFarland, Photo Credit: Jessica Dreger

McFarland's sound is well rooted in the 1990s alternative scene, fusing pop-friendly vocals with an edgier tribal beat. The first track "I Spy" takes me back to the heyday of Rusted Root. It's an energetic opening and McFarland keeps the momentum throughout the five tracks. Vocally, his sound intrigues: I can't quite pin it down but there's a broken, raw quality to his voice that reminds me, oddly enough, of Tracy Chapman: masculine, yet with a smoky androgyny. This effect is most pronounced in the final track "Not a Fool for You."  He knows how to work with his voice and can cull out an altogether different sound when the mood strikes --I was mildly taken aback by what can only be described as a clever vocal allusion to the Boss towards the end of the title track "A Sarcastic Tango."

Probably the most commercial song is "If I Say Hello," an optimistic rumination of love and the "poppiest" sounding tune of the bunch.  It's a crowd pleaser with a broad appeal. As it stands, McFarland could seriously get this song into a movie or commercial tomorrow and make millions --that's not a criticism but it is a warning to the listener not to dismiss it as another silly love song. The lyrics are darker and more philosophical than the catchy beat suggests, weaving together a rich story of two artists, working in very different mediums, that still might possibly be able to collaborate if only each other has the courage to try. McFarland is definitely a guy who likes language and knows how to use it. This is nowhere more evident than in "A Sarcastic Tango" a witty riff on idiomatic phrases. He turns traditional sayings around throughout, manipulating our understanding of words and throwing the listener for some linguistic loops:

Between the devil and the deep blue devil you don't see
Quarter after one when you wake up lonely
Drank like a chimney and smoked like a fish
The early bird gets the short end of the stick

There's a light at the end of the rainbow
All that glitters is going goodbye
If you're right girl then why don't you say so
Don't you look a gift horse in the eye
(from "A Sarcastic Tango © Copyright 2014 Michael McFarland

My personal favorite track is the fourth song "Stupid." It features a puckish quasi-reggae beat reminiscent of a young Sting with the Police... you know, a little of that schoolboy wicked gleam in the eye?  But all comparisons and possible influences aside, McFarland has created a sound all his own and it will be interesting to see how he develops as an artist in the future. I'd love to see this EP expanded into a longer album, and have him bring in other artists and sounds. I'm walking away with a solid sense of what Michael McFarland is all about but I am curious to see how he can push what he's done here even further. Musically, McFarland has his foundation and is poised to build one crazy house --he just needs to keep taking risks.

To learn more about Michael & get your mitts on some of his music check out the links in the article or save yourself a little scroll time and


A Sarcastic Tango © Copyright 2014 Michael McFarland
Produced by Jason Rubal and Michael McFarland
Engineered, mixed and mastered by Jason Rubal,
Seventh Wave Studio in Harrisburg, PA
Music & lyrics written by Michael McFarland
All instruments performed by Michael McFarland
Album cover art by Michael McFarland
All images used in this review courtesy of Michael McFarland Music 

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