Anyone familiar with Ian McShane’s Golden Globe winning role as the profanity-spewing, hard drinking Al Swearengen on HBO’s "Deadwood" shouldn't be remotely surprised that intense, gritty characters have been Ian McShane’s bread and butter for quite some time. Surely his knack for bringing swarthy, murderous types to life has aided him in being cast as the embittered dwarf king Beith in "Snow White and the Huntsman" and his latest curmudgeonly role as King Brahmwell in "Jack the Giant Slayer."
However, a careful look at McShane's decades-long career reveals a few nuggets of evidence that it isn't quite all malevolence and danger behind those beady eyes. Could it be possible that all of these latter-day seething character roles are actually hiding the longing, romantic heart of a true ladies' man?
Perhaps the answer lies not in the man’s movies, but in his music. Make no mistake, the McShane of cinema has indeed become a brooding, lawless misanthrope, but just a single, solitary spin of one of his adult contemporary albums demonstrates that the tender, inviting McShane of the music world would just really love to see you tonight.
Long before he established himself as the go-to actor for grimacing on-camera, a younger, more mulleted Ian McShane felt compelled to offer the world a gift in the form of an easy-listening covers album by the name of “From Both Sides Now.” Don’t mistake the man in the leather jacket ominously glaring back at you on the cover for the dark, nuanced thespian we’re all familiar with. This album was created by a lustier, more youthful McShane; a man who is looking to charm the pants off you though the art of song.
From the first soothing synth lines and jazzy, overproduced percussion on the 1992 album’s opening track "Avalon," it’s clear that we’re about to get a taste of a McShane that we’re not quite accustomed to. Gone is the signature gravelly snarl developed through 20 years of playing pottymouthed rough-and-tumble outlaws. Instead, “From Both Sides Now” features a golden-voiced McShane that consistently demonstrates his surprising talent for silky-smooth crooning. His libidinous swagger remains on full display over the album’s 14 tracks, with song after song featuring his velvety vocal take on hits by other Casanovas of yesteryear such as Tony Bennett ("Shadow Of Your Smile"), Chris Rea (“Fool (If You Think It’s Over)”), Peter Allen (“I Could Have Been A Sailor”), and of course, Sting (“Every Breath You Take”). Why Puff Daddy decided not to pay tribute to Biggie Smalls by sampling McShane’s strange, synthesizer-drenched version of The Police's 1983 hit will indeed remain a mystery for the ages.
Instrumentally, the album's mellow guitar work, soothing percussion and twinkling piano notes are firmly (and so very unfortunately) rooted in its early '90s origins. In fact, tracks on this album wouldn't remotely feel out of place alongside the work of venerated songsmiths of love such as Josh Tesh, Yanni or James Ingram. With musical contemporaries like that, this album must've been a sales juggernaut on the charts, right? Amazingly, yes: 130,000 British people felt compelled to shell out some of their hard-earned cash to own this aural aphrodisiac, earning it a gold certification in the UK. Sadly, stateside ladies have been criminally deprived of such a purchasing opportunity, with the record never receiving an official release in the United States (fret not, Yankee McShane groupies: through the magic of the interwebs, the CD is available for literally one penny as an import on Amazon).
Today, "From Both Sides Now" seems to have been mostly brushed under the carpet of McShane's far more lucrative acting endeavors. The album is absent from iTunes, and no mention of the record's existence appears on his Wikipedia page or in any recent interviews with the man himself. Despite languishing in obscurity for so many years, the record was inexplicably re-released in the UK in 2003, complete with a new cover featuring a more contemporary, shorter-haired photograph of a creepily half-smiling McShane. Ten years after being reoffered to the marketplace, it seems that the new cover image's blisteringly raw sexuality has yet to make the album catch fire in a popular culture yearning for Ian McShane's musical talents.
For many of us, Ian McShane's presence in our lives will remain relegated to watching a career spent playing pirates, cowboys and kings notorious for their ornery attitudes and grizzled demeanor. Perhaps there will come a day when, while quietly singing to himself in the shower, Ian McShane will suddenly realize that he has willfully deprived women worldwide of his uniquely potent yet tenderly accented singing voice for far too long, inspiring his hasty return to the recording studio. However, until that beautiful, triumphant moment, anyone looking for McShane-related auditory magic to spice up their love life won’t have to look any further than “From Both Sides Now.”