He may call himself Mickelson but, like Oscar Meyer, he has a first name. Scott. God knows why he does not want to use it. It's a good name. Even has a ring to it. Scott Mickelson. I like it. But somehow the music world has been tossed on its ear. It is way more cool, evidently, to have a band name no matter who or how many you have in a band. The Suitcase Junket, for instance, is Matt Lorenz. I occasionally wonder if he carries a suitcase with him wherever he goes. Caribou is Daniel Snaith, having been forced to change one of his performing names (Manitoba) after The Dictators' Handsome Dick Manitoba sued, Manitoba himself forgetting that Manitoba was a province in Canada long before he was born. Buckethead is none other than, well, Buckethead. And Scott Mickelson is simply Mickelson. It is only fair and evidently perfectly legal – well, all but Manitoba, but Handsome Dick does have an ego bigger than Manitoba the province and what the hell anyway, huh?
Doesn't really matter in Mickelson's case. He is a rocker with a folkie's heart and shows it on his new album, A Wondrous Life. He shares music values with artists such as A.J. Roach and Jeff Finlin and Nathan Lee and so many musicians struggling to be heard and merges them with those of rockers like Springsteen and Ryan Adams and others who still have mainstream rock blood in their veins. You listen long enough and it becomes evident. Evidently.
I call it anthemic when a band or chorus hits all the notes just right and the sound becomes bigger than it should be, and Mickelson hits it often enough on this album to make it worthy of the highest of recommendations. Each song makes its own point, from the spot-on harmonies of “Plastic, Vinyl & Leather,” the far-from-the-verse chorus of “Hail Marys” with its "ditch the iPhone" step away from the modern world, the inserted brassy guitar on “Guard Dog,” the semi-jam ending of “When I Paint My House.”
The real surprise of the album, though, is an instrumental titled “B. Wilson” that sounds just about as Bacharach and David as you can get without being inserted into one of their soundtracks. Not an orchestra, but a band supplies the “Raindrops Falling On My Head” vibe, and I am bowled over by not only the song but the wherewithal to end the album with a song that, theme-wise, should not even be there but that wraps the album up so nicely. Such are moments that can make a really good album, which this certainly is, even better. With this track alone, Mickelson earns his right to use his last name as he sees fit. I am even thinking Scott Mickelson a bit too busy for a singer-songwriter of such talent. Too many names. Mickelson. Yeah, that works. It works very well.
Like I said, he is a rocker with a folkie's heart. Not the same as a folkie with a rocker's heart, you understand, the difference being where you start and what you do with it. Mickelson does plenty, leaving you to just enjoy the sounds and listen to the lyrics. They are a step above. So is he.