august 2009

Bill Noonan
Catawba City Records

There will be those who will readily identify Bill Noonan from his days spearheading one of the finest ‘90s roots rock bands, the Rank Outsiders, or from various projects he’s steered since, including solo outings and a key multi-function role in the development of Gigi Dover’s two solo albums. The collapse of his marriage to Dover sent Noonan on what reads like a Carson McCullers-like interior odyssey to gain control again that found him at one point holing up in the nether regions of Cherokee County, South Carolina. In 2006 he resurfaced with Catawba City, a penetrating look at the course of a life lived intensely. The Man That I Can’t Be announces itself with the title on its cover and the first ragged strains of Noonan’s compelling voice on the ebullient bopping rockabilly strains of the album opener, “Road 99,” complete with its clacking bass, robust stab of twanging guitar, heavily reverbed vocal and shouted retorts of his studio accomplices as he extols the virtues of the gal who lives on the road in question, to where he is obviously bound. You’ll known Noonan by the styles he inhabits: On “Road 99,” that’s him channeling the energy of a new age as it was defined in a one-room studio at 706 Union Avenue, Memphis, circa 1954-1958. “Wasn’t Meant To Be” comes by way of west Texas, from Joe Ely precincts specifically, in its deliberate, plodding rhythm and Noonan’s brittle electric guitar maelstrom, and lyrics fraught with both fatalism and desperation. In the caustic, widescreen drama of “Money Girl,” you meet Noonan at the junction where Spector and Springsteen meet in anthemic ambition, the music exploding into a heightened intensity and Noonan howling his anguish over a doomed romance he charts from its first seismic shift in feeling to his realization of its ultimate futility. In “Tried So Hard” Noonan finds his groove in the gentle shuffle of Sweetheart Of the Rodeo-era Byrds fused to a literate Rodney Crowell-like dissembling of a doomed love affair. “The Man That I Can’t Be” might be the best Butch Hancock song Butch has yet to write, or Noonan either—it’s penned by co-producer Mark Lynch, and occupies that same dry, west Texas turf as “Wasn’t Meant To Be” but with a serious streak of searing, Hancock-like self-recrimination. With soulful background vocalists, organ and horns at his disposal, Noonan goes way south, say, down to Memphis-Muscle Shoals territory, for the plaintive R&B heart-tugger “Dirty Ragged Blanket,” a song that has a lot of church in its acknowledgement of hard times faced head on and a hope for reconciliation abiding; that same lineup kicks it up a notch on “Down at the Biddy Hut,” though, percolating through a southern soul workout with a blurting sax, jabs of horns, sassy background vocals and R&B guitar punctuations underscoring a litany of economic woes, recession blues and outsourced jobs Noonan ticks off before extolling the solace offered at a joint where the rockin’ never stops. Throughout the album Noonan’s voice betrays some hard times, and he wobbles a bit off-key here and there, but not for a second does he sound less than true to himself, any more than he ever wavers in the conviction he brings to what must have been some painful songs to write. The Man That I Can’t Be is as honest a musical endeavor as anyone could ask, and that’s quite enough, thank you. — David McGee

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024