John McDonald & Mark Maxwell – Touched By The Blues
John McDonald has been making music for nearly 50 years.
Originally from Massachusetts, he moved in 1970 to Bloomington, IN, for school, and opened for Muddy Waters at the Bloomington Blues Festival in 1974. He then want to Davis, CA for graduate school and later moved to Athens, GA in 2000 for what he calls a “day job;” he was the Head of the Genetics Department at the University of Georgia. He always played music, but in 2017 he got serious again in performing and started recording in 2019. His website shows a few EPs and this looks like his first album.
Joining McDonald is Mark Maxwell. He’s run studios and produced music since 1984 in Georgia. He has got a number of albums to his name and is a great musician in his own right. He plays electric and bass guitars here to McDonald’s acoustic guitar and lead vocals. Janis Maxwell handles the backing vocals. Mindy Towe plays sax, Mason Towe handles the drums, Russ Bell is on Hammond organ while Glyn Denham is on harp and Jason Fuller is on piano. Mark Maxwell plays anything else that is heard.
“Help the Poor” gets things rolling, an old BB King song (incorrectly credited to Robben Ford). It gets a good covering here. “House of the Rising Sun” is next, and John and the band give it their all. “Next up is “Come Back Baby,” an old Walter Davis cut done by many famed bands. Here McDonald stays mostly true to the original and we also get a nice little sax solo. “Route 66” follows, Nat King Cole’s original song written by Bobby Troup (who served as a Marine in WWII). This version slows the tempo a bit as McDonald and company slowly swing to this classic.
“Key to the Highway” is classic Big Bill Broonzy and here McDonald gives it a bit of a country feel with his vocals. A low keyed guitar solo is also featured here as the band strolls through this classic. T Bone Walker’s “Stormy Monday” is up next and gets a slow tempoed cover here with some call and response, and some organ that takes us to church. Another thoughtful guitar solo is offered up here. “See That My Grave is Kept Clean” is a Blind Lemon Jefferson tune and McDonald sings as Maxwell blows some harp. We get another good guitar solo here, too. “I’m A King Bee” gets a straight up cover that is pretty true to Slim Harpo. Guitar and harp are featured here as guitar and sax both solo.
The hit “The Thrill Is Gone” gets a thoughtful cover here. Blind Willie McTell’s “Broke Down Engine” also gets covered well; the band gives us some harp and guitar solos here. It’s back to BB King with “Bad Case of Love.” The organ again takes us to church and the harp and guitar again get featured. “Samson in New Orleans” concludes the set, a song penned by Leonard Cohen (Hallelujah” fame). McDonald’s version is perhaps more bluesy and country with a solemn delivery, nice fiddle work, and harmonies.
The album features a fairly subdued set of performances as McDonald and the band approach each song thoughtfully. They approach each tune in a measured and metered manner. It’s an interesting album of tunes that the band obviously enjoys singing and playing. It’s a classic set of covers and might be worth your time if you are looking for something thoughtful in approach.