Ron McFarlin / self-titled 3rd LP
Any discussion of Hollywood-based country rocker Ron McFarlin by a snotty record collector like myself will get around to Kenneth Higney comparisons pretty quickly. Same burnt, boozy sound; same peculiar sense of rhythm; similar downer lyrics that don’t always make sense; hell, they even look alike. Well, there’s only one Higney, but I like Ron McFarlin a lot and I like what he stands for.
The reason I like Ron McFarlin is because he sort of embodies the Hollywood I know. He wants to be a star, or at least a working songwriter. He wears his ambitions on his sleeve as clearly and poignantly as Higney does, and that’s his appeal — guts and glory in the face of overwhelming odds, tempered with a knowing pessimism. In almost every song, you can hear two opposing forces — the longing for fame and fortune and the nagging sense that it’s not going to happen. You can experience this dynamic most brilliantly in Higney’s ‘Rock Star,’ but it’s also all over the two McFarlin records I’ve heard. His worst songs are the love songs, the imitative canned emotions clogging top 40 radio. Some of these tracks are simply uninspired. But in his best work, the cynicism wins out, and McFarlin blasts you with a world-weary rage that comes off (at first, anyway) as so over the top that you just want to laugh. Check out ‘Skid Row USA’
You can have your bills
and your false security.
It’s bums and the bars
on skid row for me.
His records are full of this sort of simple poetry, backed by a band who may or may not have any personal investment in the product, but sung by someone who sounds like he’s actually been there.
I’m not a fan of labels like and “real people” and “outsider music.” They are descriptive and useful, but they’re also lazy and marketing driven, and stuff complex artists into simple little boxes. That said, those terms were created to describe the weird sounds of people like Ron McFarlin.