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Ali McManus

Unbreakable

Review by Gary Hill

On the one hand, I feel it does the music here a disservice to focus on the health adversities that Ali McManus has faced (and is still living through). In some ways I feel that the music should stand on its own, and it really does. The other way to look at it, though, is that McManus' health has shaped who she is and what her music reflects. McManus was born three months early and has only 30 percent lung capacity. You can't hear that in her singing. You can't tell that she's been in a wheel chair since she was seven because of a rare bone disorder. You can't hear the many surgeries this young lady has endured. The thing is, once you know about that, the spirit of survival and will to thrive becomes so apparent in the music. It lends more appreciation for the lyrics. Knowing McManus' story is not necessary to appreciate the music. It does lend a deeper understanding, though. McManus says that each song is three-minutes without pain for her because the music is medicine for her. After hearing this, I'll say that I hope she has a lot more time without pain in her future because her music is compelling for the listener, too.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2018  Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Unbreakable
Piano leads things out on this song. The vocals join with very little other accompaniment at first. The cut works forward from there with other instruments joining the arrangement. This has a slow moving, balladic kind of vibe to it. The lyrics are empowering and strong.
Rhythm That Rhymes

There is a bit of country sound in the mix here. Beyond that, this is a pop music meets folk kind of sound. It's a classy and rather catchy tune. I dig the guitar solo on this cut.

Breaking Free
The lyrical message on this cut is an important one. It's a story that's obviously specific to this young lady, but also could apply to young people in general. The cut doesn't break any new ground, but somehow manages to stand taller than the two that preceded it. I love some of the powerful textures in the arrangement.
Wings
More of a rocker, I love the retro textures on this cut. This is one of the standouts here.
Heart Shattered
This is a powerful and evocative tune. It has a more or less balladic approach. There are some hints of country music in the mix.
Home
In some ways I think this might be my favorite song here. A lot of that comes from the roots music break later in the piece. I really dig the guitar solo on this thing here. The whole tune is really a lot of fun. It's a great way to end things in style.
 
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