Doug MacLeod – Break The Chain | Album Review

Doug MacLeod –¬†Break The Chain

Reference Recordings RR-141

12 songs – 48 minutes

Beloved acoustic bluesman Doug MacLeod is an anachronism in the modern world, a troubadour in the songster tradition who delivers extremely personal tunes that vary from insightful and intimate to humorous or soulful, as he proves once again in this 12-tune, all-original collection that feels like he’s playing in your living room and just for you.

It was captured live and in real time by Grammy-winning engineer Prof. Keith O. Johnson at George Lucas’ Skywalker Sound in Marin County, Calif., without the benefit of overdubs, special effects or other studio tricks. The performance varies from solo, spoken word, duo, trio and quartet formats with MacLeod assisted by his guitarist son Jesse, percussionists Jimi Bott — the Blues Music Award-winning drummer — and Oliver Brown — a founding member of KC And The Sunshine Band who’s worked with Fleetwood Mac, Al Jarreau, Nancy Wilson and others, and famed bassist Denny Croy, director of McCabe’s Music School in Santa Monica, Calif., who cut his teeth jamming with T-Bone Walker as a teenager.

Now in his early 70s, Doug is a New York-born child of abuse who suffered with a chronic stutter. He turned to music as a teen to overcome those issues — with resounding success. His homespun vocal delivery belies his birthplace and hints at other lengthy stops along the way, which includes time spent in St. Louis as a youth and Naval service in Virginia.

One of the most honored acoustic players in the blues, he toured as bass player for George “Harmonica” Smith — the legendary chromatic player who also schooled Rod Piazza — for years before launching a solo recording career in 1983. And his guitar play, augmented by his left foot, still displays a steady, heavy beat.

MacLeod’s in open D tuning on his ax called Moon on the opener, “Goin’ Down To The Roadhouse.” It’s an uptempo shuffle with Bott and Croy on the bottom and promotes leaving the house to hear live music. They’re also present for “Mr. Bloozeman,” a no-so-tongue-in-cheek, humorous stream of consciousness about blues music poseurs, guys who “have 32 harmonicas strapped around your chest and waist/But can’t play one of them with any taste” and guitarists who play “wa-a-ay too loud/Spewing a lot of empty notes/Trying to thrill the crowd.”

Next up, Doug turns to a National Steel guitar he calls Buckwheat and a tuning he terms “Too Many D’s” for “Lonesome Feeling,” a solo ballad about losing at love because of a foolish mistake. It dovetails into the uptempo “Travel On,” which brightens the mood, aided by Croy and Brown, as it states that, in life, every mountain has a valley; you simply have to keep moving.

The ultra-personal “L.A. — The Siren In The West” is delivered on 12-string aided by bass as it recounts a time when MacLeod had abandoned the blues only to realize he wasn’t being true to himself as he watched on as other folks destroyed themselves in similar manner. “One For Tampa Red,” a tribute to the blues superstar of the ’30s and ’40s, follows before “What The Blues Means To Me,” a three-minute monologue that details Doug’s history and the necessity of packing your sense of humor each day to overcome adversity. The syncopated “This Road I’m Walking” provides another lesson — not to look for the perfect woman — before “Who’s Driving This Bus?” questions all of the things happening in the world today that simply don’t make sense.

MacLeod tips his hat to the good times he experienced in Norfolk, Va., with “Church Street Serenade” before delivering “Going Home.” It’s basically a field holler that deals with the reality that everyone on Earth is simply visiting and our time to depart is drawing near.

Another deeply personal number, co-written with Jesse, who recently beat a bout with cancer, accompanies Doug on guitar with Oliver and Denny on the bottom. Entitled “Break The Chain,” it deals with child abuse and the realization MacLeod achieved through therapy that youngsters who’ve been victimized often do the same to their children when they become adults.

Available through Amazon and other online retailers, Break The Chain is another gem in MacLeod’s long chain of recorded jewels if you’re a fan of intimate acoustic blues. If you’re a fan of the musicians Doug describes in “Mr. Bloozeman,” however, you’d better off looking elsewhere — this one’s definitely not for you!

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