Bob MacKenzie,
Assume Nothing
(Poet Pourri Entertainment, 1999)

There's so much packed into Bob MacKenzie's new recording Assume Nothing that it's hard to know where to start. On one hand, it's a 20-song CD, featuring an eclectic blend of musical styles which backs Bob MacKenzie's poetry. On the other hand, it's a comprehensive CD-ROM, including lyrics for all songs, complete session notes, a history of the live performance group Poem de Terre, as well as individual member biographies. Then again, it's a full-length crime novel by Bob MacKenzie. All this in one regular-sized CD jewel case. Whew!

Bob MacKenzie has been writing poetry for over 30 years, and many of the poems that appear on Assume Nothing have been published across Canada. They cover a wide variety of poetic styles, with recognizable musical influences. The first track, "Life is a Poem," reminds me of Jack Handey's "Deep Thoughts" on Saturday Night Live. In fact, MacKenzie's voice keeps that same tone throughout the CD; while he varies his phrasings, his inflection remains monotone. There's very little expression in his voice in these poems. These poems cover a variety of emotions -- love, desire, betrayal -- and seemed rooted mainly in the imagistic style. About half of the arrangements are spoken word; the other half features vocals by Lesleigh Smith.

Although the lyrics were all written by MacKenzie and his name appears on the CD case, it would be wrong to give him all the credit for this inventive undertaking. Poem de Terre, a performance group created by MacKenzie and comprised of numerous musicians and performers, stands at the center of what Assume Nothing is really about. The group has performed live throughout Canada (a list of their appearances can be found on the CD-ROM) since 1993, with a rotating cast of about forty members. This time around the group features Justin Brake, Cynthia Gibson, Steven Gillen, Richard Gold, Jim Graham, Bob MacKenzie, Alex Young and Melanie Vancoughnett. Several of these musicians also have solo albums out.

The music on Assume Nothing ranges from the reggae beat of "Betrayal" to the country "Cowboy Rolly Rose" and jazzy "Rain." Of course, there's a world of combinations between those types and others on the CD, too. Several of the arrangements are pretty sparse in sound, but that could be a result of the DIY recording job also. There's a disclaimer in the CD packet, stating that these musicians are professionals in the sense of being dedicated to their work, but many of them have actually never performed before.

Assume Nothing also contains a full-length crime novel called Ghost Shadow: Unfinished Business. The novel, written by MacKenzie, is the first in a series of novels starring Paige Turner. The novel was for sale on the Internet back in 1998; if you're interested, I'm sure you can contact MacKenzie and get a copy of it.

However, if you're willing to take a chance on a grab-bag of music and poetry, you can get the CD and the novel for the price just one would cost you. And while Assume Nothing may seem amateurish in production and some of the performances, there's a very professional dedication to the energy and variety that live performance offers, which comes through several times on the CD.

[ by Audrey M. Clark ]

Buy it from