Here come the seven deadly sins walking down the street—and stop! They are sloshed! That’s when big-hearted Laura Mae “El” McLean names her upcoming CD “Sheven Deadly Shins”—sins that are too “high” to know they’re in the wrong! The songs on this album convey McLean’s dismay with the “craziness” of the present state legislature and the world in general.
“Easy to Foos” is only one compelling song that focuses on McLean’s sharp eye for blending words with current issues we all face in society: “We worship competition/We don’t teach compassion/We wring our hands at school shootings and slashings/Someone knew what the shooter went through/Could have done something. Was it you?”
An advocate for kids and education, McLean believes too many people live their self-centered lives without manifesting any true compassion for the big picture of humanity. Together with Roger Davis, she just finished teaching a music composition class for DREAMS of Wilmington, an award-winning nonprofit dedicated to uplifting students through the arts.
“If we’d had hip-hop when I was a kid, I’d look like Gollum (‘Lord of the Rings’) today,” McLean exclaims. “I’ve written 200 hip-hop songs with the DREAMS kids. I love it. I like to repair old PC’s for them so they can record with DIY studios.”
McLean loves the time she spends within the community. She finds DREAMS one of the most nurturing places to be in Wilmington. “We need to build nurturing back into the songwriting community,” she notes, “and into all aspects of our living. This is the key to the health of our political and environmental future. It is the heart that’s fallen to the favor of business. We have a ton of great music right here in Wilmington. If we promote it in a nurturing and heartfelt manner, it will attract more tourists and locals alike.”
McLean’s band, New Riders of Calamity, includes Britt Gentry, Jeff Hunnicutt and Joan Travis. These four accomplished musicians produced the CD “Elliguitar” a couple of years ago. McLean’s humor and strength are heard clearly in “Sheena, Sheena”: “Janice Joplin didn’t have to show her tits to sell a song/Chrissie Hynde didn’t have to wear a thong/Bonnie Raitt’s guitar was her money maker/Joni Mitchell’s hair wouldn’t make or break her.”
Another song from “Elliguitar,” “Dragonfly” demonstrates McLean’s contemplative nature. She wrote the song after a morning guitar practice on her porch when she was “really blessed with weird communing nature,” including her favorite fat lizard Ralph.
Music called on the singer/songwriter early in youth. In fact, McLean marched to the beat of a different drum since she was in her mid-teens.
“I was in the beauty parlor one day with my mom and looked around at her friends,” she recalls. “I looked at my dad’s friends and thought, ‘There’s no place in this world for me.’ I turned on the TV. We’d just gotten channel 3, and there were the Beatles. I said, ‘There it is. Thank, God!’”
She took guitar lessons from Deborah Hart Sherrill at Gillham’s Guitar Works, and soon was teaching 20 students blues and heavy metal. Then she hit the road. She was a punk musician at CBGB in NYC; a shredder at Rusty’s Surf Ranch on the Santa Monica Pier; and a folkie at Eddie’s Attic in Decatur outside of Atlanta.
She kept her ties to Wilmington, and still today she remains busy, busy, busy. “Most folks have three or four jobs today,” she says. “It takes a strong spirit. I have no nest egg to back me up. Some days, I feel like I’m swinging from tree to tree, grabbing at coconuts.”
But she is making her life work and enriching the lives of others in the process. Every Saturday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., she plays solo at the Pilot House restaurant. “I pack them in” she says with a smile. “And the steamed seafood pot is quite fetching, I must say.”
Come September, she will release “Sheven Deadly Sins” on YouTube.com, as well as re-launch the Cape Fear Folk Festival, and take the helm for the Wednesday night songwriters’ series at Ted’s Fun on the River. On October 9th, McLean and the New Riders of Calamity will appear at the 25th annual Take Back the Night March and Awareness event for the Domestic Violence Shelter. She will sing “Lean On Me.”
“When I was growing up, my dad, who was abused as a child, took all his frustrations out on me with his belt,” McLean explains. “There are better ways. The last time he threatened me, I was stronger and it was pretty even. He ended up walking into a field and having a mild stroke over it. He never raised his hand to me again. I started helping victims of domestic violence by being one of the women ‘on call’ to move folks out of abusive situations. When I heard about the first rally, I knew that was a job for me and my Pa, and I have steadily remained with the cause. I write many songs on this theme to this day, though my dad has been dead for years.”