The Mackenzie Blues Band – Slam! Bam!
Self-Release – 2014
12 tracks; 52 minutes.
The Mackenzie Blues Band comes from Ontario, Canada and has competed twice at the IBC’s. This is their second CD release and the songs are all written by the band apart from one contributed by Drew McIvor who plays some keys on the album. The band is Tara Mackenzie on vocals, Trevor Mackenzie on guitar, Joel Dawson on bass, Wurlitzer and B/V’s and Mike Weir on drums and B/V’s. Drew McIvor and Rob McLean add keys, Chris Murphy sax and Rod Ramsay harp. Tara has a strong voice which at times recalls Janiva Magness and the material gives her plenty of opportunity to demonstrate her 3.5 octave vocal range. The album is interestingly presented with a comic book style story line featuring the band and a credits page built into the sort of advertising copy one had in the 1950’s.
After a short choral “Prelude” the CD opens with “Down With Love” which is also subtitled “Slam! Bam!” so can be counted as the title track. This one is an upbeat rocker with harp added to the guitar-led band. “Sweet Stuff” again has the harp in the mix on a more conventional blues shuffle, sax comes in after the first verse and a swinging guitar solo fits the song well. “Move On” opens with a classic rock riff from Trevor and this one is definitely more rock than blues. “Bone Cage” again opens with some choral vocals before Tara sings of being “thrown down in the bone cage, left me there to die” – pretty dramatic stuff and the music reflects that dark feeling as the band sets a slow, mournful rhythm behind Tara. An epic guitar solo would have fitted the song well but does not appear, leaving the song a little repetitive. “Burned When You Play With Fire” on the other hand is very much guitar-led, another mid-paced number. A ballad “On The Other Side” follows, a song with a spiritual aspect as Tara sings of a currently unsuccessful relationship: “if I get to heaven don’t want to see you on the other side”.
“Ain’t Tryin’ To Hide” is keyboardist Drew’s song, a slow blues in classic style as Tara emotes and Trevor takes a strong solo. The longest track on the album is the slow-burner “I Feel A Storm Coming” which opens with discordant guitar and harp before Tara joins in, first at the lower end of her range but soon after she gives full vent to her vocals. This one at 8 minutes feels like it needed editing; the extra space allows too much over-indulgence from the band, especially Trevor whose extended solo is a bit tiring.
The band clearly has a spiritual side to its material and the final three tracks all demonstrate that. The fast-paced “Up! Up! Up!” pounds along well in a very simple but effective arrangement; “Higher Road” takes a soulful approach with strong organ accompaniment, some nice harmonies and a fine solo from Trevor; “Spiritual Power” is overtly gospel. With Trevor in restrained mood the gospel feel of this one suits Tara’s voice perfectly as she sings emotionally about a friend’s struggle with cancer – the outstanding song on the album.
Overall this is a CD that has some good moments but also some overwrought playing and singing on some numbers. Tara has an excellent voice and it is a thing of splendor. Trevor shows that he is a fine player on several tracks, but also has his moments of ‘going over the top’.