Even though Doug MacLeod has been playing blues for years, it was only a couple of years ago that I was able to get copies of his first two album on Reference Recordings. There's a Time came out in 2013 Exactly Like This was released in 2015, and now Break The Chain was released this year.
From the first time I heard his music I was entranced. I find so few artists who work in the old-school country blues tradition, and even fewer who do it well, that after hearing his approach I knew that I was listening to a master performer.
Break The Chain continues his list of strong recordings. Working with a spare group – MacLeod on guitar and vocals; Jimi Bott on drums; Denny Crow on bass; Oliver Brown on percussions; and son Jesse MacLeod on guitar as well. MacLeod has once again written all of the material on this album, as is his normal approach, although Jesse MacLeod did contribute to the title track.
MacLeod and company start off with a cool shuffle on Goin’ Down To The Roadhouse. It’s a good introduction and the tight playing gives it the feeling of a live recording – musicians actually playing music instead of running everything through the computer. It’s music the way most of us like it.
Next up is Mr Bloozeman, and it takes on a deep slow groove that should strike fear in the hearts of the blues posers that make a living pretending to play the blues. Does one actually “play” the blues or does one live the blues? MacLeod has earned his place with years of playing on his own, and backing some of the legends prior to that. I love this song and want to send it anonymously to a number of folks…
A plaintive guitar intros Lonesome Feeling, giving the song a truly lonesome sound. This is the essence of the blues, a voice that aches with emotion and a guitar that has an ethereal sound combining to create a unique experience. The blues is often about mistakes, and this song really drives that point home. Beautiful number.
Some wild percussion and a shuffle rhythm kick off Travel On, a song that exhorts us to travel on despite any hardships. Life can’t all be good – but as rain falls on the unjust the same as the just, all you can do is pick up and keep on. It’s a joyous song with a great country blues feel.
MacLeod then drops LA – The Siren In The West. If you remember the story of the sirens, they sang beautiful songs that lured sailors to crash on the rocks. LA is a lot like that, offering promises and whispering sweet things in your ear to get you closer where many will crash as well. I wish everyone who ventures there the absolute best, and maybe one day I’ll join you there as well…
One of the most influential blues artists was Hudson Whittaker who became better known by the moniker “Tampa Red.” One For Tampa Red is an homage to the great performer who developed a very interesting style of playing slide guitar. This instrumental beautifully captures Red’s style of playing. If you call yourself a blues fan and don’t know his work, you have some homework to do. And trust me, you’re going to love doing that homework.
MacLeod delivers a spoken word story as the autobiographical number, What The Blues Means To Me. If you’ve ever wondered what I mean by old-school when I talk about the blues, or you wonder why I treat the music so reverentially, listen to this track, it sums up my thoughts through his experiences.
Oh yeah, This Road I’m Walking, is a great song. The rhythm is cool and it’s the kind of song you expect to hear in any roadhouse or juke joint around the country. MacLeod has a lot of fun with this number and you better believe I’ll be playing it soon.
Next up is a question I ask every week on the radio, Who’s Driving This Bus? I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to jump onto anything without knowing who’s in charge. Even if I don’t like their agenda, at least I know what to expect. MacLeod’s lyrics definitely put his philosophy of laughing to deal with the blues to the test.
A beautiful slow, memory song, Church Street Serenade follows. It has some of the most gorgeous solo guitar on the album. For those in the Virginia area, the song is a look back at the time MacLeod spent in Norfolk. As a side note, I spent several years in the same town and often think along similar lines. This is a lovely number.
A quick song, Going Home, follows. It is delivered in the manner of a field holler. There is no instrumentation and it has all the emotion of those early Alan Lomax recordings of field hands or prisoners who sang a cappella with the strength of emotion guiding them.
The only song not entirely written by MacLeod is the title track, Break The Chain, which he co-wrote with his son Jesse. The song confronts the threat of continued family abuse and looks for a way to keep the abused from becoming the next abuser. This is a chain that needs to be broken, but all too often just grows longer and stronger.
Doug MacLeod is the real deal. He makes real music and doesn’t feel the need to cover up his words and emotions with a number of empty notes that sound great but don’t really convey the essence of blues. A prolific songwriter, he creates great songs and interprets them beautifully.
Look for him on tour – he has an extensive schedule ahead in both North America and Europe, so check out http://www.doug-macleod.com/ to see where you might be able to catch him. And be sure to pick up Break The Chain as soon as you can.