Doug MacLeod,
There's a Time
(Reference, 2013)

Californian Doug MacLeod boasts some exceptional blues credentials. Over the decades he's been a sideman to several of the genre's most celebrated figures (Big Joe Turner, Big Mama Thornton, Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, Peewee Crayton), written songs covered by Albert Collins, Albert King and more, and served the blues as a disc jockey and Blues Revue columnist. He's released a whole lot of records, of which There's a Time is the most recent.

All of that experience helps a lot, of course, but ultimately, it's the gift that renders this such a spectacularly successful blues recording. It was cut live in a Marin County studio, with Denny Croy (bass) and Jimi Bott (drums) providing unobtrusive, almost ghostly accompaniment. MacLeod plays various acoustic guitars, provides vocals, and composes the 13 songs featured here.

The performance and writing are spellbinding. MacLeod, who -- it is necessary to state, given the racial politics of the blues -- is a white man, seems to inhabit the soul of rural bluesmen of another generation, capturing even their manner of delivering lyrics. Yet Time transcends pointless imitation and stale recreation. It feels authentically personal, even as one imagines that a Brownie McGhee or a Blind Boy Fuller could have sung "East Carolina Woman," the most strictly tradition-like song and the one explicit acknowledgement of origins. From long exposure, as well as from something profoundly within himself, MacLeod has mastered a sound and turned it into a kind of expression so riveting that the question of influences becomes academic.

These are all terrific songs. They're melodic, involving and awash in emotional and narrative truth. Perhaps most interesting, though, is MacLeod's unfrenzied manner on guitar, where the spaces between the notes turn almost scary as the listener begins to grasp how much they're driving the material. The air that floats through these songs ascends as if, in the title of a famous Memphis Slim blues that MacLeod quotes in one of his own, from Mother Earth herself.

There's a Time is not the predictable creation of yet another white guy hitting the well-traveled blues highway. Notwithstanding superficial similarities to familiar forms that stretch back to the first blues records in the 1920s, in the end this is something else, something distinct to Doug MacLeod. Once you've heard it, it will haunt you.

music review by
Jerome Clark

27 April 2013

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