Clean-cut quartet's harmonic convergence

Rating: NNNNN

LONDON, Ontario — Brotherly love is all well and good, but the four McAuley sibs — Gary, George, Mark and Randy — raise the concept of togetherness to an almost monastic level. That’s part of what makes their music commanding, though. There’s no one else quite like them.

Apart from the fact that the four write and sing heart-melting, smoochy R&B ballads in silky harmonies that are unique because they’ve sung together their entire lives, they also all live with their schoolteacher mom and social worker dad deep in this conservative town’s deepest suburbia.

Never mind that George is a high-school math teacher, Gary is McAuley’s songwriting and producing point man, Mark’s a psychology major and youngest brother/track star Randy is a grade 10er. With the McAuleys, family and music are as one.

Even if Rita McAuley’s own multiple sibs hadn’t been unspooling the music of their ancestral Grenada in the house as her sons grew up amidst a crossfire of rap, pop, country, calyp-so, funk, gospel and a steady diet of the Jacksons, it seems certain the four would have pursued music in a serious way.

That’s evident in the dozens of photographs lining the walls of their tidy, compact house. There’s one of the four, taken years ago, decked in snazzy matching outfits made by their mom and an aunt, preparing for a cabaret show at George and Gary’s old high school. Frequently strummed guitars poised against a living-room wall were also observed.

And check out their CD collection — an expansive beast that includes Snoop Dogg, NWA, Michael Jackson (Thriller is blasting at the moment), Santana, Aerosmith, the Spice Girls (!) and Bee Gees. Gary earnestly defends the last two bands.

It takes a certain moxie to respectfully cover Andy Gibb’s I Just Wanna Be Your Everything, but the McAuleys — skilled interpreters, though they mostly perform their own stuff — did it on their second disc with negligible harm to their cred.

“Music was always around us in the house,” Randy confirms. “Gary started playing piano at the age of five and he wrote his first song in grade seven, so I’m pretty sure he knew then that this was what he wanted to do. Shortly after that, we developed a love for it as well.”

Gary goes one further. “Musically, everything changed for me on March 25, 1983, when I saw Michael Jackson doing the moonwalk on TV during the Motown special. That just floored me. Here’s this guy who’s a total entertainer, and the music coming out of him was sophisticated and so different from anything else. That’s what made us go into pop.”

“The harmonies,” adds George, “just sort of happened because we’d be singing familiar songs from the radio.”

Gathered near the pear and plum trees in the family’s back yard while the phone rings off the hook inside, the four marvel at their luck so far. They’ve opened for James Brown, Aretha Franklin, the Temptations and Gladys Knight. They even sang the national anthem at an all-star baseball game.

Still, had it not been for Mrs. McAuley — who literally beamed as she watched her handsome, athletic and faultlessly polite boys dazzle the glitterati attending our heritage minister’s Juno throwdown last March — the brothers might not already be delivering their just-released third CD, the impossibly catchy My Heaven, which gets a send-off on September 1 at the CNE Bandshell.

With disarming unity, all agree that had their mom not insisted that her singing sons record a seasonal album in time for Christmas 1995 and plunked down her own $13,000 to cover the cost of recording it — and had it not recouped her dough in a heartbeat — exactly when the McAuleys’ musical career would have begun in earnest is anyone’s guess.

That said, there was also an early and serendipitous brush with David Foster. Gary sent him a demo that actually got heard, and then ended up spending a day in studio observing the producer. Foster voiced his belief in McAuley’s songwriting skills, buttressing the opinion echoed on the understandably biased home front.

“We’ve always been big fans of the Jacksons, so we always wanted to do something like this,” says Mark, who hopes to try his hand at acting one day. “But when you live in a smaller town like we do, it’s hard to envision those kinds of things happening. All of a sudden, when the public started buying our records and there was a demand for us to perform, we realized that maybe we had a shot.”

As with their Gary, Indiana-reared heroes, faith played a significant role in shaping the McAuleys’ outlook and continues to inform their lives and their music. However, unlike the Jacksons, they insist they weren’t pushed into their career against their will.

“Our mother always said, ‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way,'” George offers, “and that we should always go for whatever we want. We were raised to believe that anything is possible.”

Though love songs dominate My Heaven, Gary admits, “Religion does play a role in our music. We always do one song that’s socially conscious. As one of our aunts says, ‘Remember to do one for Jesus.’

“I always tell her they’re all for Jesus because he’s part of me. He’s in there writing them with me. And one day we may well do a gospel album, which is something people have been asking us about for years.”

And a task they would undoubtedly ace. Moreover, all are prepared to put their current plans on hold to pursue music.

“Of course, you always want to have your cake and eat it, too, make it big and still be allowed to be the ordinary guy on the street,” Randy says. “But I think what I’d most like is to have other people be inspired by us.”

“And,” Gary adds, “to have music out there that is cherished for years.”

McAULEY, performing instore at HMV (272 Queen West), Friday (August 25), 5 pm, free. 595-2828. And opening for EIFFEL 65 at the CNE Bandshell (Exhibition Place), September 1, free with park admission ($5-$22). 393-6300.

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