Doug Macleod – Exactly Like This – Reference Recordings RR-135, 55:36 HDCD [3/10/15] ****:
(Doug Macleod – guitar, vocals; Jim Bott – drums, percussion, backup vocals; Denny Croy – bass, backup vocals; Mike Thompson – piano)
Doug Macleod is surrounded by the blues context. In his youth, he was able to overcome stuttering and abuse to become a staple in the blues community. With a powerful singing voice and rhythmic guitar technique, he played with George ‘Harmonica’ Smith, Big Joe Turner, Pee Wee Crayton, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vincent, Lowell Fulson and Big Mama Thornton. His career as an individual artist was propelled by a talent for songwriting. Two of his songs are covered by Albert King and Albert Collins. For three decades, he has recorded several live and studio recordings. In 2012, he signed with audiophile label Reference Recordings. In 2014, he was voted the winner of Blues Music Awards Acoustic Artist Of The Year. His There’s A Time release was voted Acoustic Album Of The Year. Macleod is involved in many diverse projects. His latest album is out!
Exactly Like This opens with a lively surprise. “Rock It Till The Cows Come Home” is pure boogie-woogie heaven. Accompanying Macleod’s tough vocals is Mike Thompson rollicking piano. The ebullient composition (one of eleven originals) utilizes up-tempo rhythm patterns (Jimi Bott/drums and Denny Croy /double bass) in channeling the likes of Louis Jordan. But it’s authentic roots. On “Too Many Misses For Me” (a hysterical word play on romance), Macleod’s jazzy, instrumental style was inspired (as described in the liner notes) by Wes Montgomery. But there is an underlying blues pulse that inhabits the songs and complements the soulful vocals. Acoustic blues artists are connected to the music of the Delta. The slide guitar passages on “Find Your Right Mind” are evocative like Robert Johnson or Elmore James. The relaxed pace underscores the eternal quest for hope. Macleod reminisces about his early career with an infectious, rambling country “train” song (“Ain’t It Rough?”). Inspired by the inimitable Jerry Reed, Macleod gets a call and response from Bott and Croy). It is notable that Johnny Cash recorded a similar type of song in 1969 at Folsom Prison called “A Boy Named Sue” (written by Shel Silverstein).
Nasty grooves infuse “Vanetta”, and Macleod is generous in his advocacy for John Lee Hooker. Macleod’s guitar runs are head-shaking and hypnotic. His vocals are soulful and balance the instrumentals. Pushing southward, “Serious Doin’ Woman” is a swampy vamp. This style of music influenced by Tony Joe White became a minor template for groups like Credence Clearwater Revival in the 1960’s. Shifting to Blue Ridge aesthetics, “Ridge Runner” is the only instrumental on the album. Straightforward and rootsy (washboard accompaniment (Botti) and upright bass solo (Croy)), the song has a toe-tapping backporch feel. Blues players have more than their share of anecdotal female disasters. “Raylene is one of those stories (…“The meanest Southern woman I seen…”).It is enveloped by great slide runs and woeful vocals. In many ways, Macleod is a classic troubadour. The heartfelt rumination, “Heaven’s The Only Place” just guitar and voice and has some interesting phrasing. The finale (“You Got It Good/ And That Ain’t Bad”) is an upbeat reversal (both rhythm and content) of the similarly titled Duke Ellington lament. The arrangement reunites the quartet (with some nimble soloing from Thompson).
The material on “Exactly Like This” is very good. The recording environment by Reference Recordings is superlative. The live studio intimacy is enhanced significantly by the full sound of the 24-bit HDCD. The guitar resonates with natural vibration and echo. McLeod’s baritone reverberates with subtle prominence. Engineer Keith O. “Prof” Johnson” captures the essence of spontaneous, bona fide blues. The recording was done live without headphones, over-dubs, pitch, or tempo adjustments. The liner notes are incisive and reveal Macleod’s thoughts on why he recorded this particular album this way. There is even an explanation about the squeaks from the stool. Blues lovers (and just plain music lovers) will be pleased with this effort!
TrackList: Rock It Till The Cows Come Home; Too Many Misses For Me; Find Your Right Mind; Ain’t It Rough?; Vanetta; Serious Doin’ Woman; Ridge Runner; New Morning Road; Raylene; Heaven’s The Only Place; You Got It Good (And That Ain’t Bad)