Spencer Mackenzie – Cold November
CD: 10 Songs, 45:17 Minutes
Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues Rock, Jazz-and-Soul-Influenced Blues
Blues fans, remember TV detective Perry Mason? I don’t – he was a bit before my time – but I do recall my father saying his famous catchphrase: “Just the facts.” When it comes to this mag’s favorite music, what are the facts? What makes it blues as opposed to, say, rock, soul or jazz? Yours truly posits three key features: traditional blues rhythms (lump-de-lump, eight-bar, twelve-bar, etc.), repetition of lyrics, and simple, perennial subjects (love, drinking, being broke, et al.) The blues is not about complexity; leave that for the jazz artists and their improvisations. Truth be told, there’s not a whole lot of emoting going on, either, except when lead vocalists let loose. Now consider Canada’s Spencer Mackenzie, an 18-year-old New Artist of the Year (2017) in his home country. Traditional blues may be all about the “facts,” but Mackenzie is all about feelings.
On his new album, Cold November, he aims to warm people’s hearts instead of their libidos. He’d give crooner Sam Smith some stiff competition if the two ever performed together. His voice takes getting used to, being clear but also clearly accented. Once it seeps into your soul, however, it’ll envelop it like a warm pair of socks in the month he describes. On ten tracks (eight originals and two covers), he goes for smooth, melodic tunes. Mackenzie also runs the gamut of subjects, from one’s first ‘close encounter’ (“A Fine Place to Start”) to the state of today’s world (the title track) to environmentalist preaching (“Your Mama’s Crying”). Edgy, this CD is not, but who says all blues releases have to be?
According to his promotional biography, “His debut album, Infected with the Blues, released in May 2016, earned rave reviews and consistently had international airplay, hitting the Top 50 Roots Music Report Blues/Rock Charts…Spencer and his original song ‘Devil Under her Skin’ took a third-place win in the Blues Category at the 2016 International Songwriting Competition. [On Cold November,] he had the opportunity to work with Dean Malton, Jeremy Darby, Charles Carvalho, Clifton Broadbridge and Eddie Krammer.”
Performing alongside Spencer Mackenzie (guitar and lead vocals) are Miles Evans on piano, Hammond organ, and keyboard; Al Duffy on bass; Sean O’Grady on drums; Brant Parker on guitar and lead guitar for tracks one, two and ten; Dave Dunlop on trumpet; Peter Hysen on trombone; Jay Davidson on sax and horn arrangements for track one, and Sharon Riley, Rochelle Harrison, and Camille Harrison on background vocals.
The following selection blends the best of blues and the best of soul for a hypnotic effect.
Track 06: “Haunt Me” – As any horror fan will tell you, ghosts are supposed to scare people, but some specters are wholly welcome. “You haunt me, baby, and I admit I was wrong,” our narrator confesses. “You haunt me, sugar. You’re even in this song!” Sing along with the chorus of femme fatales (Sharon Riley and the two Harrisons), and play “air organ” while Miles Evans struts his stuff in semi-gothic fashion. If this song doesn’t haunt Sirius XM soon, I’m a dead woman.
Don’t let the title fool you: Cold November will prove a cozy, comforting CD in your casa!