Bill McVail, Philadelphia native and longtime Frank Zappa devotee, has released what can only be described as a flaming cocktail of storied American music styles. Beginning with a melodic mix of alternative and acoustic sounds, McVail’s Garden Leave takes his listeners on a guided tour through folk, pop, prog rock, and even blues influences.
“Garden leave” is a term with multiple shades of meaning. It can refer to a paid period of absence from work after leaving a job, a euphemistic way of describing suspension from work, or sending an employee home due to publicity that would interfere with their job. McVail wastes none of the layered significance of his words in an album that finds its center of gravity within the soul of the individual – there is a certain sentiment present that spurns authority and looks for a kind of fulfillment that is fundamentally personal.
Of his album, McVail says: “The message of Garden Leave is to be honest about where you are in life, and to not be afraid of change. Life is short. You have the power to be the person you want to be and to have the life you want. The choice is yours.”
It doesn’t take an hour-long rock opera to chronicle a life’s journey. Unlike more imaginative metal genres that rely on fantasy and supernatural imagery to convey “epic” stories, McVail’s genre-blended roots twist achieves a much more simplistic and realistic message in its brevity. In spite of an attitude that values meeting one’s own needs, there is nothing in Garden Leave that seems egocentric or self-delusional. In putting forth his own authenticity and inviting his listeners into his private world, McVail opens the canvas of his musical spirit to public appraisal.
Garden Leave gives the impression that McVail is taking his own leave from the judgments of others. Firmly embracing the full range of his own musical influences, he hones in on what it means to pursue a goal with passion, with songs such as “Redemption” and “Sink or Swim” providing thematic backdrop for not only self-discovery, but also the freedom to explore.