Brand New Eyes

Fresh! - FR703

What’s remarkable about Doug MacLeod’s music is the stuff you don’t hear. MacLeod does not dabble in filler or extraneous patter. He’s a master of direct, Delta-inspired storytelling, with an audible foot tap present throughout and a National Reso-Phonic guitar upon his hip speaking in steel-timbered tongues. MacLeod’s creed of “play what you know” and “play the notes you hear,” passed on to him from mentor and Piedmont guitarist Ernest Banks, is practiced on MacLeod’s Brand New Eyes disc.

MacLeod exudes credibility, passion, and a quiet fire of artistic expression. His real-deal presentation has garnered him sideman gigs with folks like George “Harmonica” Smith, Pee Wee Crayton, and Lowell Fulson, and his songs have been covered by greats like Albert King and Joe Louis Walker. MacLeod’s sense of optimism is evident from the get-go with the album’s title track. “I’m looking at the same old world, seeing with brand new eyes” he attests, while seeming to sprout a couple of extra fingers on his right hand in a cyclone of picking—Piedmont-meets-bluegrass-style shredding that is no doubt a hot topic at his guitar workshops. Something Dark Is Walking is a bare-bones, John Lee Hooker-at-his-scariest voodoo tale, where McLeod’s whispery inflection tells the listener this is a bad place to be.

The Train of Change could be summed up as Delta gospel, with righteous quips like “I saw people of different colors, different neighborhoods/coming together for common good” and lyrical guitar lines that sit atop an upright bass and drum brushes. Similarly inspirational is Some Old Blues Song, recorded as I Can Count on My Blues by Son Seals on his 1984 Bad Axe record. The Sunday morning– style promise in MacLeod’s sturdy voice, which brilliantly segues into a soft falsetto for added effect, is also evident in the space and steely echo between guitar passages. He hits home with the line “there’s so damn much that the blues can do.”

Doug MacLeod conveys shades of dark and light through his fingers. His labyrinth-like slide/picking hybrid is eclipsed only by his honesty, which is ingrained in every song he sings.

- Mark Uricheck


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