RANDY McSTINE – Unintentional (Album Review)

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Cliche or not, the phrase “Necessity is the mother of invention” is inevitable when describing Randy McStine’s new EP “Unintentional”. The original material herein was written just a couple of months ago for a specific live festival gig that McStine was booked to play. Fresh off the latest Porcupine Tree live dates (perhaps the final Closure? TBD), inspiration was pouring through his veins and so he dedicated himself to writing enough brand new material to fill his upcoming live set.

The festival happened to carry a blues focus, a form that McStine has been steeped in since a young age (yeah, he’s still young, but we’re talking 12 years old). So, he crafted over half a dozen tunes, demo’d them at home, got together with a bassist and drummer and played the gig. Although his solo career hasn’t really focused much on the blues idiom, McStine found so much affinity with this style that after the show was over he realized he wanted the new material to be preserved. So he took his own guitar and bass recordings, laid some new vocals over half the tunes, and sent them to none other than Marco Minnemann who recorded drums on everything in two takes.

The resulting six tracks are now presented in their completed form – raw yet sincere, immediate yet intricate. McStine was determined to stick to the uncluttered power-trio form of one guitar, one bass, drums and, at times, one vocal. No keyboards, harmony vocals or backing guitar tracks. This homage to Jeff Beck, Robin Trower, Peter Green, Billy Gibbons and more was very intentional in its design. Thus, we have brand new music from Randy McStine – BLUES, no less – and can enjoy while he gets on with the other projects he had originally been planning to focus on before this unintentional detour took over.

Ironically, although this is labeled as an EP, it’s only a few minutes shorter than McStine & Minnemann’s debut “album”. At that time the duo had been following the approach of many 70s bands, such as Van Halen, who recorded powerful classic albums that were under 35 minutes long, bursting with so much talent that no one even thought of calling them an EP.

“Unintentional” Album Artwork

The six tracks on “Unintentional” trade back and forth between instrumentals and vocal songs, a good balance that ultimately leaves the listener wanting more. The three instrumentals follow a slinky theme of a day in the life of “the Mink”, starting with ‘The Mink Is Born’, going to a day ‘In the City’ and finally ‘Goes Home’. Reportedly there’s an in-joke between McStine and Steven Wilson about this character of the Mink, and McStine has mentioned that the titles are a nod towards Camel’s ‘The Snow Goose’.

For guitar fans, these three instrumental tracks are gold. Rarely do we get to hear McStine’s six strings so unencumbered by lyrics or other instruments, the chiming distorted blues figures ringing out in satisfying ecstasy. ‘The Mink Is Born’ and ‘The Mink Goes Home’ are laid back affairs but also album highlights to these ears, capturing such sensitive and emotive guitar playing from McStine, truly blissful. Minnemann is relatively restrained, fitting the mood perfectly with a loose approach, while McStine’s bass impressively supports underneath with just the right touch. ‘The Mink In The City’ gets more funky as our mysterious character swaggers down the sidewalks, perhaps visiting some dive bars on his way. It’s a delight not have any additional instruments in the mix, as there’s plenty for these three instruments to explore.

The vocal tracks brush closer to McStine’s previous output, though with a decidedly more bluesy feel, especially the powerful ‘You Can’t Change The Truth’. When it’s time to hit the guitar solo, what a treat for only bass and drums to back it up so that we can take in each riff. The stinging guitar is matched by the biting lyrics, “When we decide to look away, we owe a debt that we can never pay in our souls, and we can’t be forgiven if we don’t care to know.”

‘Building A Monster’ is the heaviest track on the album, which feels the most like it could fit on a McStine & Minnemann album, that is until its blues jam in the middle. Taking on the out-of-control monster that is AI, McStine isn’t lightening up on the lyrics on this EP, which continues with the closing ‘Mother Nature’ which pounds us into submission. “Mother Nature knows what she has to do to get rid of you. Mother Nature shows when she wants to take back her love.” Damn.

Overall, “Unintentional” is a treat front to back. Sometimes it’s best not to overthink creativity and McStine has stayed true to his vision to keep this raw and direct. If he can churn out such a rewarding album…ehem, EP…this quickly, he might do well to take this approach more often. It should be mentioned that although the approach is very off-the-cuff, the venerable Rich Mouser was brought in to produce the material, which means that it doesn’t come off as a garage band but as an expertly mixed polished trio. And while there might not be as much that’s “original” here given the classic sources of his inspiration, this is an original realm to McStine’s catalog, and a most welcome one at that.

Released By: Independent
Release Date: December 1st, 2023
Genre: Blues Rock

Musicians:

  • Randy McStine / Vocals, Guitar, and Bass
  • Marco Minnemann / Drums

Unintentional Track List:

  1. The Mink Is Born
  2. You Can’t Change The Truth
  3. The Mink In The City
  4. Building A Monster
  5. The Mink Goes Home
  6. Mother Nature

Order Unintentional HERE.

8.8 Excellent

Randy McStine travels back to his roots with this fantastic bluesy collection, played in power trio form and featuring Marco Minnemann on drums. From stinging vocal pieces to emotive guitar-slinging instrumentals, “Unintentional” is an unexpected slice of rock’s past, brought into the present with inspiration and precision.

  • Songwriting 8.5
  • Musicianship 9
  • Originality 8
  • Production 9.5
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