Roadhouse Album Review: Mississippi MacDonald digs deep into his soul with “Do Right, Say Right”

Mississippi MacDonald“Do Right, Say Right” (Another Planet Music Ltd.)

Every once in a while, a new album (and an artist that I’m hearing for the first time) comes along and nourishes the hole in my soul that can only be filled with a tasty, satisfying musical meal.

This time it’s a sharply cut gem of an album from England’s three-time British Blues Award nominee Oliver “Mississippi” MacDonald, titled “Do Right, Say Right.” He does both, extremely well. (The “Mississippi” handle came from schoolmates, because he was the only kid they knew who had been to America. It stuck.)

It’s filled with gritty, soulful vocals backed with fiercely melodic guitar runs, juiced in just the right places with kick-ass horns. It’s also filled with eight finely tuned original songs that sound as if they’ve been dredged from a primeval soul swamp, plus one very classic cover.

MacDonald’s backers are a razor-sharp unit, with producer Phil Dearing on keyboards and guitar, Elliot Boughen on bass, Mark Johnson-Brown on drums, and Lucy Dearing adding backup vocals. They all come together to create a sound that’s faithful to its deep soul/blues roots, but also channeled through MacDonald’s musical sense of the life he wants his own music to live.

“It’s modern, it’s not musical archaeology,” MacDonald says. “It celebrates a fantastic tradition. It’s soul-blues, and you’ve got to put your best into it.” In order to touch that tradition, MacDonald has been to Al Green’s church and heard him preach. He’s been to Willie Mitchell’s Royal Studios in Memphis, where the great records on the Hi Label were recorded. He’s met B.B. King and Pinetop Perkins, Otis Clay, and Sam Moore. Big Joe Turner told him to listen to Albert King.

Out of all that, and much more, obviously, came MacDonald’s authentic feeling for the music that he delivers here with such skill, power and passion. There’s not a false note on this terrific, heart-felt effort; in fact, it’s just the opposite: every note rings true to the soulful spirit MacDonald is invoking.

The tough-enough opening track, “I Was Wrong,” is one of my favorites, with horns adding the proper soulful subtext to this lover’s lament. As with all of his original tracks here, MacDonald avoids lyrical and musical cliches; he sings and plays with a fierce authenticity.

Some of the other songs that stood out for me include “I Heard It Twice,” “It Can’t Hurt Me,” “Drinker’s Blues,” the low-down, piano-first blues “If You Want A Good Cup Of Coffee,” and the album’s only cover, “Your Wife Is Cheating On Us,” a torchy reading of the Little Milton version of the slyly salacious Denise LaSalle chestnut, “Your Husband Is Cheating On Us.” The rest are all equal evidence of this fine talent.

But my absolute favorite track, driven by its lyrical intensity and soaring guitar, is “Let Me Explore Your Mind,” a masterful six-and-a-half minutes of soulful pleading for meaningful human connection. It’s a beautiful, powerfully crafted piece of music-making.

What more can I say? This is an excellent album. Enjoy it soon and often.

Here’s the very, very fine first track on the album, “I Was Wrong.”

1 – I Was Wrong
2 – I Heard It Twice
3 – It Can’t Hurt Me
4 – Drinker’s Blues
5 – Let Me Explore Your Mind
6 – That’s It I Quit
7 – If You Want a Good Cup of Coffee
8 – Keep Your Hand out of My Pocket
9 – Your Wife Is Cheating on Us

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