Thursday, October 21, 2010

Mac Arnold's Meaty Blues

A short stint on bass with Muddy Waters several decades ago along with other gigs including John Lee Hooker, constituted Mac Arnold’s musical resume until a few years back when he debuted to critical acclaim. His second CD with the Plate Full’O Blues Band, “Backbones & Gristle” (Plantation #1) is the follow-up. Arnold  has an appealing baritone with a natural  delivery, and he gets solid support, although sometimes the backing rocks out a bit like the long blues-rock guitar jam that is part of the opening track “Love and Relations.” The next track, “U Dawg Gone Right,” has a nice vocal and a stinging solo by Arnold on his Gas Can guitar, constructed by his older brother.

The title track has strong down home flavor as Arnold recalls growing up and the advice his daddy gave him when Mac did wrong.  His dad told him Mac had a hard head and his backbone was nothing but gristle. The track has nice guitar from Austin Brashier.  Max Hightower, who is on piano on much of this album, plays harp on a high octane, supersonic, harp ripper, “Blow Until You Blow,” on which Mac plays bass and Steve Kester plays piano. Following this is a late night blues “I Refuse,” as Mac recalls the time he refused to listen to his good friend telling him about his women being with another man and how Mac ignored the warning signs until his women, crying, tells him she will always will love him, as she runs away.

On “Gas Can Story,”Mac recalls his brother making a gas can guitar and winning a contest at school. Another highlight is “Things I Don’t Need,” with a doomy bass riff and stinging guitar as Arnold sings about having a one room shotgun shack in the middle of a cotton field and not needing a grocery store. He has a three-acre garden and does not have to spend his life chasing the wind so Mac is satisfied with his family and friends. Blues meets Doobie Brothers for the uplifting message, “I Can Do Anything,” which has a church choir joining Mac as he sings about getting his education, how getting an education worked for Mac and can work for you.

Mac unplugs for “The Garden Song,” with nice harp from Hightower, “Where I’ve Been,” is a semi-autobiographical song about where Mac has been around the world singing the blues. Its the final studio track, and the album closes with two live tracks originating from the 1st Annual Mac Arnold Cornbread & Collard Greens Blues Festival. On “Mean to Me,” which Mac recorded on his first CD, Bob Margolin adds slide guitar and Willie Smith handles the drum chair. This is  a really nice slow blues with Brashier adding  nice guitar fills before Margolin takes a lengthy Muddy Waters-styled slide solo. The live version of “I Can Do Anything,” features a school choir and marching band helping Mac deliver his uplifting message that provides a solid conclusion to this generally strong recording . It may have a few bum moments, but is full of intriguing originals (mostly by Arnold), heartfelt singing and songs, and first-rate musicianship. Arnold’s website is and this disc is available from amazon, cdbaby, and other outlets./

This review originally appeared in the June 2009 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 317) and I have made some minor edits and stylistic changes. It is the second of three albums Mac has produced.  My review copy was likely supplied by a publicist for this recording.

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