There are a countless number of albums that lure you in at the start but are unable to sustain your attention for its entirety. Then there are the rare gems like Gary McClure’s debut under the moniker American Wrestlers that not only grab hold of you from the first song, but by the end of it you are the one who doesn’t want to let go.
Much of this feeling can be attributed to American Wrestlers being a raw, honest, and humble record. It’s the sound of the ordinary person who has struggled to find her place in this crowded world, who experienced the ups and downs throughout one’s life, and one who moved to a new country in the pursuit of love. It’s not a romantic album by any means. Neither is it a lifetime achievement, about redemption, or finding meaning in life. Instead, it is an album of stories, those personal to McClure and those of people he’s known.
There is a feeling, however, of an individual who has come full circle, accepting who he is and what he has become in the end, which is best exemplified by the album’s terrific bookends. The warm and engaging “There’s No One Crying Over Me” speaks to new beginnings and no regrets, which could include his experiences under failed projects Working For a Nuclear Free City and is solo debut Wreaths to his move from the United Kingdom to the US, specifically St. Louis, to be with his now wife. The intoxicating “Left”, meanwhile, is one of reflection and sentiment, almost an apology of sorts to the people left behind.
The introspective examination is further highlighted on “Wild Yonder”; the brilliant, mid-tempo rocker, “Holy”; and marvelous “Cheapshot”. The former admits to leaving “a trail of mistakes”. To whom he is apologizing is unclear, but there’s a sense that one of the individuals is the protagonist himself. “Holy” is the proverbial internal battle of reconciling one’s faith in the complicated world we live in. But unlike similarly themed songs, the song is startling in its poignancy, which is best evidenced by the repeating line, “She sings like a fool forgiven” and later “Burn like a fool forgive me.” They are lines that speak to a man struggling to find a middle ground. “Cheapshot” is a mood-swinging, engrossing number, recalling early The Smashing Pumpkins, from its hallow tone to the call for individuality. It is the song that might define McClure the most, his anthem you could say, as it reflects his past influences and his desire to be recognized for who he is.
Then there is “I Can Do No Wrong”, a song of youthful jubilation and invulnerability, where everything seems perfect despite one’s surroundings. It’s a song of better times and moments, possibly recalling the day McClure fell in love or just a moment in time where everything seemed perfect. The DIY sounding, jangly rock tune, “The Rest of You” (the album was recorded on an 8-track in his living room), continues the upbeat tone, focused on finding one’s true love. It’s not a cheesy love song, but instead finds a little humor in life’s idiosyncrasies. The amusing “Kelly” is another amusing number, as McClure recants a person from his past and how the individual represents the best of youth’s innocence.
In his ten years performing professionally as a musician, Gary McClure has seen and done it all – well almost. Through the successes and disappointments and his many travels, McClure may have found his voice, his sound as American Wrestlers. Then again, maybe it’s not an album of redemption or self-fulfillment, but it sure feels triumphant. American Wrestlers is an engrossing, masterful album, one that simply cannot be heard once, twice, or three times; it’s one that must be repeated over and over again to truly appreciate its beauty and the many stories that McClure tells.
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