Album Reviews

Die Midwestern. Arlo McKinley Delivers A Hauntingly Beautiful, Yet Painful, Collection Of Truth

Cincinnati, OH – For many Kentuckians, the name Arlo McKinley is immediately recognized as a stellar songwriter that is able to deliver like few others can even imagine. Arlo’s transparency is his secret weapon and his ability to be brutally honest is the reason why so many relate to his stories.

If you aren’t familiar with Arlo or his music, then allow me to introduce you to your new favorite artist. I am not kidding.

When you speak of an artist that has “paid their dues,” Arlo is the perfect embodiment of that sentiment. McKinley is a Cincinnati native that has made his own way. He’s played nearly every imaginable venue from Cincinnati to Huntington to Lexington to Nashville. He’s even been involved in several shows that Capture Kentucky has been a part of.

Arlo’s music eventually landed in the hands of the legendary John Prine. John loved Arlo’s music and signed him to his label, Oh Boy Records, before he left this earth. With that ringing endorsement, you can rest assured that Mr. McKinley deserves your attention.

‘Die Midwestern’ is the culmination of many years spent honing his skills. Arlo is the most polished, yet extremely raw songwriter that you’ll ever hear.

So you may be wondering how that dichotomy translates into his music. I’ll tell you very simply how that works in McKinley’s favor. Truth. Every lyric you hear, you believe it and that’s because what Arlo writes, he’s lived. These songs often do not paint a pretty picture. These songs are a collection of disappointments, substance abuse, love that wasn’t given the attention it deserves, and emptiness from all of those broken promises. I would argue that this album is not only a work of art, but it could serve as a case study into depression.

So what does all that mean? That means that Arlo has taken his pain and crafted it into something beautiful. Something that we can all find a lyric that we relate to. Be it love, anger, disappointments, self medication, or a plethora of commonalities.

As I often do, I’m going to hit a few highlights, but I want you to be inspired to listen for yourself, so onto the music!

‘Die Midwestern’ begins perfectly, simply and right smackdab in Arlo’s wheelhouse. In my opinion, the simple acoustic guitar coupled with McKinley’s sorrowful vocal are the perfect introduction to his music.

As the song progresses, additional instruments slowly join the arrangement. “We Were Alright” is about a dream, but it also serves, essentially, as a handshake that builds in momentum and fully pulls you in for a hug, welcoming you into his world. A world where that warm hug helps you make through the tumultuous journey you’re about to experience.

The title track “Die Midwestern” details the love/hate relationship Arlo has forged with his hometown. How it has shaped him in every sense to be who he is. It’s an anthem for his desires and how his music has helped push him to pursue his music, or inevitably perish in Ohio.

If you enjoy traditional sad country songs, start your journey with “She’s Always Around.” The story and audible atmosphere will have you feeling as if you are standing at the front of a stage in an old smokey bar, sharing a beer and your sadness.

“Bag Of Pills” is a song that Arlo wrote several years ago. It’s been recorded several times in the past, but until this version was produced, the song lived as an unreleased song that has been a staple of his live performances. I think this version rings a similar bell as Johnny Cash’s version of “Hurt.” I suppose it’s the building of the momentum, piano and subject matter, either way I love em both!

“Bag Of Pills” was also a stepping stone that immensely influenced John Prine’s decision to sign Arlo. The wonderful folks at Somersessions filmed a solo performance that has garnered nearly three million views so far. You can check that out for yourself below.

If you enjoy your sad songs accompanied with a piano and great harmonies, you will, like myself, be drawn into “The Hurtin’s Done.”

If you want to experience who Arlo is as an artist, there is no better example than “Once Again.” Stripped bare for the first 2:30, save a haunting electric guitar, you’re given the opportunity to feel Arlo’s pain.

Next up is “Suicidal Saturday Night.” It is the song that has the biggest hook on the album. The fiddle snags your attention and Arlo reels you in with poignant lyrics that place you perfectly within the story.

The last song I want to suggest is “Gone For Good.” If you haven’t heard this one yet, you’re definitely in for a real treat. As with most any McKinley songs, his storytelling is miles above anyone else, much like his longtime buddy in Tyler Childers. “Gone For Good” is essentially the punctuation mark of all the trials and tribulations you’ve just experienced. The love, the loss, the pain, and the realization that much of his pain is self-induced.

To wrap this up for ya, with ‘Die Midwestern,’ you’re held prisoner in a rising river of sadness. A deep look into the very soul that has lived through all the pain that has created this beautiful piece of art. The art that will forever be a badge of honor, hung upon McKinley’s sleeve for the world to cherish. Much like his heart.