Pianist/singer/songwriter John McAndrew finally let the music lead him back to the right place. For years he fought substance abuse and mental health issues that ruined his shows, caused blackout drives and masked his brilliant talents which are certainly evident as listening to Walkin’ Back for this writer leaves a similar impression as those first few Elton John albums before Elton became a mega pop star. McAndrew’s songs are more focused on a central spiritual theme but the beauty of it is that while some could likely interpret them as songs to a Higher Power, he could just as easily be singing about a lover or a deep friend. He sings with so much conviction and passion, one can’t helped but be moved.
As he turned the corner toward sobriety, McAndrew recounts it this way, “Several years into my journey I played for an event in Minneapolis, where there were several thousand people. The following Sunday, I met a man named Earnie Larsen, who heard me sing that day, and they were both life-changing events – singing there, and meeting Earnie. He started to mentor me and take me places where he spoke as he was an internationally know motivational speaker, and he would have me sing to this new audience. Both of those things really changed the trajectory of my career and really changed what I sang about.”
Soon after McAndrew got his first record and publishing deal with Muscle Shoals Studios. He was commuting between there and Nashville often before being invited to sing at Cumberland Heights, and addiction treatment center in Nashville. He was eventually asked to come on board there four years ago to run the music therapy program. McAndrew deals with tough topics but delivers his songs like the best storytellers. He’s lived most of them as in the title track when he sings – “When the wind dies down/And the smoke begins to clear/I can see the damage done/Facing my worst fears” but later, as he usually does, he finds the optimism with – “One foot in the front of the other/We can overcome it all.”
”Right Here With Me” is a moving tribute to his brother, Paul, and “Back When We Rocked and We Rolled” is an honest reflection on his pre-sobriety years. “Small Crowd” speaks to building confidence while “Call My Name” is the grateful acceptance of help. The bonus track “Before They All Slip Away” sums up his credo beautifully – “Every day is a precious gift/Only once will they ever come our way/So I’m holding on as tight as I can/before they all slip away.” “You Again” is one of the most touching love songs you’ll hear on any record. These are all his songs except for his sublime cover of “That Lucky Old Sun.” The tracks were recorded in several different studios from Muscle Shoals to Nashville to L.A. with mastering done at Capital Studios. As such, there are 18 musicians in the credits including familiar names from Muscle Shoals like Roger Hawkins, Will McFarlane, and the late Jimmy Johnson. Others like drummer Gary Novak, clarinetist Billy Novak, and guitarist Michael Landau will be familiar to many.
Go ahead and visit McAndrew’s website to get a better understanding of his life story. We’d rather stay with his current focus, rooted in spiritual principles and hope. He transitioned from playing late-night shows in bars to patrons asking for “Piano Man” for the sixth time that evening to playing solo piano in private clubs and listening rooms, to a wider audience who appreciates the nuance of his abilities and his between-song storytelling. McAndrew’s music can now be heard in several feature films, television, and National Events.
Music continues to open doors for McAndrew. His recovery-centric songwriting has led to an exclusive inspirational website – visit https://inthishour.org. There are plans to add a podcast as well. He was asked to pay musical tribute to Eric Clapton for the latter’s work with the Crossroads Centre, a substance abuse treatment facility he founded in the Caribbean.
This is a deeply touching album that gets better with each listen. McAndrew is a voice for all of us.