Saturday, September 11, 2010

Doug MacLeod at the DC Blues Festival

I first heard about Doug MacLeod through his album, "No Road Back Home," an album that certainly holds up decades after it was originally issued. One of the tracks, "Its the Blues," which opens as he recalls being with George 'Harmonica' Smith and William Clarke in Oakland and staying in this fleabite hotel before launching into the song about that night's performance. While that recording featured Doug with a band, and today he plays solo, the core of his music is there: his storytelling, conversational introductions and interaction with the audience and his vocal delivery which exemplifies the notion of "relaxed intensity," that I believe Bruce Bromberg first employed about Lightnin' Hopkins.

"No Road Back Home," also included perhaps his most famous composition, "Nightbird," which was a favorite of the late Washington, DC radio programmer, Jerry "The Bama" Washington. perhaps that is where the late Eva Cassidy heard it, and her version is one that Doug feels is the best. So much so, that he no longer performs it, but a recognition of how strong her rendition was.

At the Carter Barron on September 4, Doug spun his stories and played some mighty fine acoustic guitar. As I was photography the festival, I was not carrying a notebook or recording song titles. But one song he did perform, "The Long Black Train," that was on his first album, and also on the more recent (2008) Black & Tan album, "The Ultrecht Sessions." On this recording he is joined by bass and percussion on some tracks, but not this one. But back to Doug's performance, one is struck by his soulfulness, his strong musicianship, and the humor. And while he is a masterful acoustic blues player, at no point does his playing overshadow his songs or his vocals.

I do not recall the last time Doug had been in the Washington DC area, and in any event he should be on the left coast of states more frequently. I actually purchased "the Ultrecht Sessions," after his performance and it is a superb reminder of this terrific performance.

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