FAME Review: John Batdorf & Michael McLean – Soundtrax 2 Recovery

In a companion review of the mouthwatering Portfolio 2-disc re-release of past works (here), I make it obvious the respect and enamorment I have for John Batdorf’s early oeuvre, thus I’ll leave it to the reader to skip over to that critique so that I can concentrate here just on this most recent in the catalog. Soundtrack 2 Recovery teams John up with Michael McLean, an excellent choice, a guy who brings back a LOT of the old Batdorf & Rodney sound and vibe…or CSNY refrains…or America…or Crosby & Nash…or Loggins & Messina; in short: some of the best of this ilk of soft but often energetic rock, the two working together as though of one mind. Batdorf started out at the top of his game in 1971 and this very affecting set of compositions shows he’s never flagged since.

Recovery is about exactly what you think it might be: rehabilitation from substance abuse and addiction, the scourges of the rock world and all too many high-pressure professions in our sick uber-capitalistic culture. The CD actually commenced life, however, with an unnamed someone discovering John and Mike were working on a dozen songs reflecting the 12-Step recovery program, as both had witnessed the heart-rending tragedies arising from the addiction problem. Asked to give a concert for recoverers on the mend, they weren’t sure if the material was quite ready, but 700 people showed up, and more than a few attendees urged the pair to “please hurry and get these songs recorded!”, as the need was dire for this spiritual and aesthetic boost. That moved the gents to start a Kickstarter campaign, and we now have the outcome, going well beyond the original aspirations, the disc standing at 17 cuts of pure music heaven.

I distinctly recall the first time I ever heard a really serious song about getting off the habit, whether alcohol, drugs, or any item: Dion’s Your Own Backyard. I’ve never been addicted to anything despite fairly impressive immersions in alcohol, drugs, and all kindsa stuff back in my youth, but that song hit me hard…and still does. Ian Hunter was so impressed by it that Mott the Hoople recorded a version. Then Batdorf & McLean tackle the subject from a passionate level of a deep understanding upon the grit and determination it takes to conquer one’s own demons. There is, however, so much hope for redemption that every cut soars, constituting another level of Batdorf’s best work…ever…of the highest order, sitting with Plainsong, Al Stewart, Gordon Lightfoot, Kenny Rankin, Joni Mitchell.

The lyrics thankfully cut through all the brightsiding bullshit and brainless positive-think so often attached to such things. The 12-Step program isn’t a Dale Carnegie extension course, it forces the individual to tear down his darkness but also helps him (and her, as Mama’s Coming Home Tonight shows) every step of the way, reaching for a core of real beingness. No one, it’s obvious, gets to heaven without first laying eyes on the devil, and that’s not a comfortable experience, not at all. It takes grit and backbone…and help, a necessity firmly established throughout the CD. Given all the aforegoing, you’d think Recovery would be non-stop threnody, but that’s not the case in the least.

One of the Lucky Ones, my favorite cut, is the most despairing track, riven with pain but lofted by gratitude, mystery, and determination. The sum of the rest is resolute and often joyful in that the goal can be reached, perhaps best exemplified in the lines: “I’ll work the double-shift / Until the piper’s paid / I will not be afraid” amid panoplies of examinations and confessionals that pay tribute to the possibilities lying within all of us, too often dormant until we have to fight for our lives. In that regard, I have a confession as well: I had to fight back a few tears while listening to and reviewing this. It’s the most striking combination of beauty and thoroughgoing humanity I think I’ve ever heard, a groundlevel exposition of heart and soul rarely achieved. It exults in the true human estate despite all the sadness and insanity we see all around us and is hands down one of the best CDs of the year.

Track List:

  • Ain’t Dead Yet
  • I Don’t Always Win
  • It’s Not Heavy
  • Still Burn Bright in My Heart
  • Won’t Go Down That Road Again
  • Look Inside
  • A Case of Treason
  • Forgiveness
  • Heaven Help Me
  • This Time
  • I’m Changed
  • Let It Go
  • Mama’s Comin’ Home Tonight
  • If You Could See Me Now
  • One of the Lucky Ones
  • I Will Not Be Afraid
  • Can You Hear Me (I’m the One Who Cares)
No songwriting credits given (???) nor session musician credits (???), but I know these are all original tunes and attributable to either John Batdorf of Michael McLean or both.

Edited by: David N. Pyles

Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.