Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Mississippi MacDonald - Do Right, Say Right

Mississippi MacDonald is a blues aficionado, a devotee.  “You think you’re from Chicago,” goes a line in his song ‘I Heard It Twice’, and listening to his latest album Do Right, Say Right, you could easily be convinced he’s from the Windy City.  Or maybe Memphis. Either way, you'd be wrong – he’s from London.  But having immersed himself in electric blues and Southern soul since he was in short trousers, that’s the kind of sound he produces.
Mississippi MacDonald - eyes down for a full house of blues
The style of Do Right, Say Right is easy to sum up.  This ain’t no blues-rock, boys and girls.  Rhythm guitar riffing is conspicuous by its absence.  The pace rarely threatens to break a sweat.  The rhythm section values groove over flash, with cool organ adding to the foundations, and horns wafting rather than bursting into earshot here and there. Meanwhile MacDonald adds flurries of guitar notes in between his soul-inflected vocal lines.  I can easily picture him hoisting his guitar behind his back à la BB King, while he sings about classic blues subjects like back door men, cheating wives, and it being five o’clock in the morning and needing to clear his head.
Now, if all that sounds like the nine songs here might get a bit samey, well yeah, you might have a point.  Thing is though, that really doesn’t matter, because it’s so well put together.  All the pieces are assembled with hand-crafted precision and, one imagines, no small amount of luuurve.
Take the opening ‘I Was Wrong’, fr’instance.  It’s laid back, easy going, the organ backing is subtle, with wiggling bass from Elliott Boughen over a steady beat from Mark Johnson-Brown, while MacDonald’s vocal displays impressive, conversational phrasing, and he knocks out a couple of stylish, relaxed solos in addition to his flutterings elsewhere.
‘Drinker’s Blues’ is a straight-up slow blues, with MacDonald chucking in bendy guitar notes galore over subtle piano strokes from Phil Dearing, while his soulful vocals interact with both the piano and his guitar playing, and Lucy Dearing adds some swells of gospel-ish backing vocals.  It’s a well-constructed tune all round.
But if languid, contemplative, turn the lights down stuff is MacDonald’s métier, he still finds room for a couple of shifts of gear, albeit raunch-free ones.  ‘I Heard It Twice’ bops along pleasantly, propelled by Boughen’s walking bass, while MacDonald delivers a series of nifty guitar breaks.  Meantime ‘That’s It, I Quit’ is an enjoyably energetic stroll in the company of swinging drums and carefree bass, punctuated by some stops and starts to underline the witty lyric, and 'It Can't Hurt Me' is loose and kinda funky.
MacDonald is at his happiest when he’s taking his time though, on the likes of ‘If You Want A Good Cup Of Coffee’.  Its tone is set by sedate, sparse piano and long organ and horn notes, while MacDonald gets down to some biting guitar work, with teasing passages of tension and release.  And ‘Keep Your Hands Out Of My Pocket’ is a dreamy old thing, with quivering guitar and late night piano musings.  It’s a good vibe, well captured, and they let themselves spread out on it a bit, MacDonald flinging a variety of discordant and well-bent notes into the mix.
One could say that the sound of Do Right, Say Right is old-fashioned.  But with all but one of the tracks on the album self-penned, I prefer to think of it as Mississippi MacDonald stirring together all his songwriting, six-string and vocal influences, and putting his own personal stamp on them.  At a time when blues covers albums by big names seem to be all the rage, full marks to him and his gang for doing their own thing, and pulling it off.
Do Right, Say Right is released on 19 November, on APM Records.

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