The Forrest McDonald Band – Stand My Ground | Album Review

The Forrest McDonald Band – Stand My Ground

World Talent Records

13 songs – 54 minutes

Forrest McDonald delivers another outstanding collection of modern blues with a Southern soul feel with Stand My Ground. But that should come as no surprise to anyone who’s been following the career of the skillful guitarist/songwriter. Aided by smoky-sweet vocalist Becky Wright, he delivers more of the good-time music that’s kept him busy for the past five decades.

A native of Austin, Texas, but a member of the Boston Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall Of Fame, McDonald grew up in southeastern New England immersed at home in music. His love for the blues began at age seven at the Newport Folk Festival when he experienced Josh White on stage in the early ’60s. Later, he hitchhiked to New York, where he got to meet Muddy Waters, and he was a member of two popular regional bands before joining Boston Rock Symphony, an 11-piece ensemble that fronted Arthur Fielder and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, later in the decade.

Around the same time Forrest joined Wadsworth Mansion, a group that toured with Edgar Winter and also appeared on American Bandstand, thanks to their Top 20 hit, “Mary’s Coming Home.” But major fame came after he moved to the West Coast, where he played behind Bonnie Bramlett and Kathi McDonald and where he was a first-call studio musician.

A man who’s relocated frequently, McDonald was in Alabama to visit his father when his dad suggested they stop by the nearby Muscle Shoals Sound Studio “to see what was going on.” Friendship with studio personnel quickly resulted when he dazzled them with his playing after they asked if he’d brought along his axe. That brief encounter led to Forrest laying down the guitar part for Bob Seger’s monster hit, “Old Time Rock & Roll,” a few weeks later and Bobby Womack, and it also led to a stint in the legendary Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section.

McDonald launched his own World Talent Records in 1991 and has been pursuing a solo career ever since with 13 CDs and frequent studio work to his credit. Now based in Virginia, he rips and runs throughout Stand My Ground, but doesn’t hesitate to fall into the background in support of Wright, who supplies all of the vocals on this one, which features 11 originals and two covers.

They’re backed by a veteran ensemble that includes Pix Ensign on harmonica, Lee Gammon on bass and John Hanes on drums. They’re augmented by drummers Jon McKnight and Rob Robertie, guitarists Barry Richman and Valery Lunichkin, harp player Little Ronnie Owens and Jon Liebman, organist Rich Ianucci, and sax players Jeff Shellof and Chuck Williams.

Simple solitary strumming opens “Guitar String Blues,” which quickly erupts in a syncopated walk as Becky describes the feelings she has after her man’s left — and taken everything with him, including the strings off her guitar. Forrest’s brief mid-tune solo and tasty responses to her vocals throughout put his talents on display. “Chicken Scratch Boogie,” an uptempo pleaser, describes the singer’s love-making talents before a cover of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ classic, “I Put A Spell On You,” delivered as a burning ballad.

A military drumbeat and accompanying harp line introduces the title tune “Stand My Ground,” which deals with having to leave town to get away from a man who puts the singer down, while “Turnaround Blues” describes the pain a woman feels after learning her guy loves her no more. McDonald shines on “Certified Blue,” a slow-tempo number that continues the message forward. This time, the lady feels she’s being used. Apparently, all the abuse above leaves the lady feeling that “I Am A Stone,” the next tune. But she recovers well as stated in “The Feeling Is Gone,” which follows.

An uptempo cover of Big Joe Turner’s “Piney Brown” is up next, driven by Liebman’s harp intro, before another ballad, “River Of Tears” — the only thing the singer has left after crying over the man who broke her heart. The rapid-fire “Take It To The Top” sings praise of someone who’s proven himself to be more than a one-night stand. The good feelings continue as the couple plan a night of dancing in “Till The Morning Light” before “Riding On The Blues Train” pulls into the station and brings the CD to a close.

Stand My Ground is a rock-solid, well-paced group effort. McDonald’s an immensely talented string bender who’s comfortable enough in his talent to give plenty of space to his singer and fellow musicians throughout, and his songwriting talents put new spins on familiar themes throughout. And Wright is just as talented on vocals. Available through CDBaby and direct from the artist’s website (address above), it’ll be a welcome addition to anyone who wants their blues modern with an old-school feel.

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