Like J. B. Lenoir, Doug MacLeod doesn’t need whiskey or women to get his point across. Racism and Vietnam proved inspirational to Lenoir, and MacLeod keys off such a legacy with songs addressing his own causes for discontent.
This is music with a message—the bête noire of most modern film that focuses on romance and mayhem. The cover photo of Doug MacLeod’s son, Jesse, has that Henry Fonda look, so what better message movie than The Grapes of Wrath?
Anyone who has been an avid fan of both the blues and vinyl LPs for any significant length of time likely knows about Doug MacLeod. Although he started recording at the beginning of the compact-disc era (and created a fair share of CDs for labels wedded to that format), he boasts a long and proud history of not only releasing vinyl but issuing some of the best-sounding LPs of their time.
MacLeod has performed and recorded in several genres of blues, but his emphasis is as a storyteller of country blues. Born in New York, and long settled in Los Angeles, MacLeod worked his way across America, moving as a child to North Carolina and St. Louis along the way. He’s played with many blues legends; written songs covered by everyone from Eva Cassidy to Albert King; been one of the most in-demand Los Angeles session musicians for decades; and issued dozens of recordings as a leader. Back in the 1990s, when AudioQuest made LPs, he recorded four excellent and great-sounding LPs that are now collector’s items. Analogue Productions, which boasts a strong track record of supporting blues artists, reissued one of the AudioQuest LPs, Come to Find, and released a disc of MacLeod recordings in its direct-to-disc series. He now calls Reference Recordings home.
On the particularly personal Break the Chain, MacLeod plays all-original material. The title track, written by MacLeod and his son, deals with his childhood experience of abuse and his work to “break the chain” of such mistreatment in his family when his son was born. It’s the kind of music best spread across four sides of vinyl. One side is plenty to take in at a listen because each track makes you want to slow down and absorb what just happened. This aspect of the blues continues to lure me. I never tire of listening to Pink Anderson or Tampa Red or Skip James. The same qualities resonate in MacLeod’s songwriting and delivery.
MacLeod is backed by Jimi Bott on drums, Denny Croy on bass, and Oliver Brown on percussion. The liner notes detail the meaning of each song and describe what guitars are used—as well as their key.
Break the Chain was recorded “live” to 24-bit/176kHz high-res digital at Skywalker Sound in Marin County by Engineer Keith O. Johnson, who also mixed and mastered the album. Paul Stubblebine cut the lacquers from Johnson’s high-res files at half-speed at 45 RPM. The sound is stunning. Instruments and vocal deliveries are well placed in space and emerge from a quiet backdrop that defines blackness. On the acoustic-based numbers, when MacLeod takes a breath, if you hear anything in the background, it’s almost certainly noise from the phono section of your stereo. The aural trait makes the excellent dynamic range of the recording seem all the more potent.
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