Spencer Mackenzie – Preach To My Soul | Album Review

Spencer Mackenzie – Preach To My Soul

Gypsy Soul Records – 2022


10 tracks; 40 minutes

Still in his early twenties, this is Canadian Spencer Mackenzie’s third album since his debut release in 2016. A left-handed guitarist and singer, Spencer wrote most of these songs, mainly in collaboration with his father, Richard, and there are two covers, a Paul Simon tune and one by the far less well-known JJ Julius Son, lead singer of Icelandic band Kaleo. Recorded in Toronto, the core band is Spencer on guitar and vocals, Miles Evans on keys, Adam Cannon on drums and Steve Pelletier on bass (replaced on two tracks by Stacey Shopsowitz). Additional musicians include backing vocalist Chantal Williams, sax player Julian Nalli and trumpeter Stephen Dyte and producer Ross Hayes Citrullo who adds guitar to two songs; Steve Strongman guests on lead guitar on one cut.

The album includes some blues-rock material but also some gentler, more soulful pieces. Spencer’s vocals are good, flexible enough to cope with all the material here and his guitar leads are crisp, his rhythm work solid. A solid drum beat introduces the moody “Baptized By Cold Water” which chugs along well, aided by excellent backing vocals on the strong chorus, and featuring slashing guitar work, a good start to the album. “No Good” is the song by JJ Julius Son and it has a Delta feel with the prominent drum sound, surrounded by Spencer’s rhythm and lead work. The title track is a good example of Spencer’s more melodic approach, his guitar fills well supported by electric piano as he sings of his approach to making music: “For my inspiration, honey, I look to the sky and preach to my soul”. In contrast to the angst of that song, on the next one Spencer plays around with lyrics relating to our canine friends: “Commute my sentence, an early release, don’t treat me this bad, let me off your leash”. The solo here sounds angry, certainly making us understand that Spencer “Don’t Wanna Be Your Dog”!

“Test Drive” rocks along, driven by Spencer’s rapid-fire rhythm work as he extols the virtues of a girl who stays on his mind. “Can’t Do Right” is a funky shuffle credited solely to Spencer before the Paul Simon cover, “Paranoia Blues”, which features Steve Strongman. A stripped-back performance has slide and guitar jostling for our attention over another prominent drum beat, the slide adding a Delta feel which contrasts well with the twinkling piano. Horns embellish the mid-paced “Your Turn To Cry” which Spencer sings really well and underpins his vocals with some tasty, soaring lead lines. The pace drops for “Two Doves”, a gentle ballad with weeping dobro and choral vocals, a good contrast with the uptempo tunes before the album concludes with the anthemic “Battle From Within”, a standout cut for guitar lovers as Spencer plays some great lead lines as Ross takes on the rhythm duties. Lyrically it’s a strong song about knowing when to seek help: “I feel I’m falling, know it’s not a game. You’ve been there before and that’s why I’m calling”.

A good album with several strong songs and fine performances from all the musicians involved. Spencer’s previous album Cold November was also very listenable, but this one is a definite step forward.

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