Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Doug Macleod: There’s A Time (Reference Recordings)

Doug MacLeod CD Cover Pic



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UK release date 15.05.2013

Sometimes the very best music can make time stand still. Clocks stop. It’s neither day nor night. The bank balance is irrelevant. The bills printed in invisible ink. Nothing else matters at that particular epoch. You just float away on the wonderful sounds coming from your speakers.

There’s also another emotion that great music can evoke, and that is; how brilliant the musicianship, songwriting and performance is.

All of the above is relevant when it comes to “There’s A Time,” by American blues artist Doug MacLeod. It is a real gem. But guitarists be warned: After just a few listens to the sublime acoustic playing, you may be prompted to log on to eBay and advertise your own instrument for sale - and maybe see what golf clubs are on offer!

Quite simply and without fear of exaggeration, this is one of the best roots albums you are likely to hear. I have not heard all 19 of his studio albums or several live records recorded in a 30 year career to date, but I sure as heck intend to remedy that and get hold of some soon. Doug is a musician’s musician for sure, with a very wide appeal to blues fans, folk fans and those of us who appreciate well constructed material expertly delivered by a fine vocal and world class guitar skills.

Reference Recordings is a San Fransisco-based label, and this album was produced by Doug and Janice Mancuso. 13 self-penned tracks, all recorded live on a massive sound stage in Marin County CA, the three guys sat in a circle – that’s Doug joined by Denny Croy on bass and Jimi Bott on bass – headphones not worn. There are also no overdubs here. Doug lets us into a secret in the liner notes; that he missed a word or changed an entire verse on the spot a few times.

Yeah, there is gold in them there hills, or rather; there is wit, warmth, passion, love, a life well lived, a road well travelled and sheer class in his song writing. The material written from Doug’s own life experiences, and delivered with a soulful vocal and some breathtaking guitar wizardry. But the core of his talents lay in his ability as a story teller. Delta-inspired story telling where he introduces us to characters he brings to life, leaving us wondering if they were real or imagined. I am not going to attempt to pick out highlights and strongest songs. But this is a very even listen and nothing here sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb.

His life has not been an easy one. As a young man he overcame abuse and a crippling stutter, by turning to music as his therapy and escape. After he picked up a guitar and tried to sing, he found his voice. He worked out a unique, unorthodox and powerful rhythmic acoustic guitar style, and the rage of his “turbulent youth” was channelled through the guitar, using his relentless right hand to pound out an insistent, churning beat to complement his intricate bottleneck and finger-style technique. His playing landed him sideman gigs with Big Joe Turner, Pee Wee Crayton, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, Lowell Fulson and Big Mama Thornton among others.

His songs have been covered widely by such artists as Albert Collins, Albert King, Joe Louis Walker and Eva Cassidy. He has co-written with Coco Montoya and others, and his songs have featured on TV and movie soundtracks. He has songs on two Grammy-nominated albums. He is a perennial Blues Music award nominee, this year he is up for “Acoustic Artist Of The Year.” On hearing this wonderful album, there is no need to ask why, perhaps just to feel sorry for the other nominees!

His style is simple, and adheres to some sound advice he was given by a particular veteran blues star: “Never play a note you don’t believe, and never write or sing about what you don’t know.” He doesn't....Another aspect of why this album is such a winner is the crystal clear audio quality. For such a stripped down approach with just the trio and his highly skilled acoustic guitar technique, it would be sacrilege for the clarity to be an issue. Not so here.

The CD title is very apt. "There's A Time" - and that time is now for Doug MacLeod to take a bow and probably notch up more (deserved) awards to his name.

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