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April 2024
Vol. 23, No. 7

CD Reviews

MICHAEL J. DWYER: Borderlands, Volume 2

by Ted BurkeMarch 2022

Originally from Des Moines, Iowa, San Diego based singer/songwriter and guitarist Michael J. Dwyer has a voice that has an appealing, husky texture, dusty and measured in how it mulls over a lyric and shares it with an audience. He sounds like the better moments of Dylan or Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits, throughout the length of his new release of eight original songs, Borderlands Volume 2. As the flinty edge of his voice suggests, the disc is a series of confessions, admissions, declarations, resignations, and estimations of a life lived long and fully enough that a timeline of hard living, fast loving, revelry, and ruination mark the beginnings of wisdom.
The material here, however, aren’t about ruing a past of blown chances or plans that didn’t pan out; Dwyer speaks additionally speaks from resilience, putting his shoulder to the cracked wheel again and persevering. Borderlands Volume 2 is less about the tales of a survivor, but rather a man who relishes the life he has yet to live. This is somebody who isn’t hanging up his guitar or walking stick anytime soon.
Borderlands Volume 2 is a fascinating evocation of divergent styles, be it folk, country, blues, or rock ‘n’ roll. In other words, Americana, the alluring synthesis of North American roots music. Electric and acoustic guitars, keyboards, banjo, harmonica, and drums are the essential seasonings here: organic, textured, earthy, and homey, creating an evocative intimacy as the stories unfold. One would expect an entire ensemble to provide a musical outlay this rich, but the credit goes to two musicians, Dwyer himself on guitars, harmonica, and vocals, and his associate Ronald E. Golner, who handles the other instruments and also oversaw the recording, mastering, and production of the sessions. (Let’s note that trumpeter Brett Wagoner provides his skills to good measure on the track “Fuego Grande,” a sizzling Spanish-flavored torch song). The sound resonates, punchy, each note and chord landing precisely on target.
Again, the record is not a sallow caterwauling of life gone wrong. Dwyer informs us that he’s got a lot of life left and a lot of fight to go with it, amply laid out in the opening track “I’m Not Afraid.” This is the telling of an old timer, declaring himself as a fool who might have dismissed in some instance, that he’s too old to dread what life might bring to him that do, that he’s been alive too long through too many circumstances to care what the world at thinks of how he lives his life. He sounds more than willing to put up his dukes to defend his right to not care what you think.
Resilience is a theme that runs through these songs. They are notes from an ongoing journal of a man who arises again and yet again after that, convinced to his core that the shame isn’t in falling down, but in staying down. “There Comes a Time” ends the album with the message to the young, the impatient, the impudent, the cocky, the alienated, the arrogant, the afraid, to anyone convinced that their life is at a hopeless dead end so early in their years to take chances, take risks, be unafraid to make mistakes, to fail, to get up and go again when your face is in the dirt—to do something, to do many things to ensure that on reflection  that one didn’t spend their life weeping. Michael J. Dwyer, a traveler, a songwriter, a man tempered by time and dared to feel his experiences deeply, tells us with Borderlands Volume 2 that it’s worth it all, and he’d do it again if he could.

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