Roadhouse Album Review: Doug MacLeod keeps it very personal with “A Soul to Claim”

Doug MacLeod — “A Soul to Claim” — Reference Recordings

Doug MacLeod is one of those singer/songwriters of the blues who pulls his inspiration from deep within himself and turns it into music that aims deep within you.

And it works.

It especially works in person, where MacLeod’s boyish charm, sly humor and soulful sincerity blend perfectly to produce music that roams from joyous to solemn, from playful to passionate. Music that’s personal to him and becomes personal to you.

But if you can’t find his personal music in person, you can hear all of those qualities on his latest album, “A Soul to Claim.”

The album, an acoustic production that echoes the intimate feel of his shows, runs an emotional gamut from the title track’s theme of “beating addiction and abuse,” as MacLeod describes it, to the salacious whimsy of “Dubb’s Talking Disappointment Blues.” (Just as an interesting sidelight, the title track opens the album, something that’s not too common, but a welcome way to set the tone.)

The second song, “Be What You Is,” is a bit of whimsical advice for those who are having a tough time being themselves, saying that they should follow the rest of the animal kingdom in just accepting “who they is.”

Next is the joyously philosophical “Money Talks,” filled with typical MacLeod wordplay, producing this memorable line “Me and my money jus’ conversated; my money jus’ said goodbye….”

Doug up close and personal in 2020.
(Jim White photo)

There’s also a tribute to MacLeod’s new home in Memphis, where he moved recently from Los Angeles, a change that seems to have made an impact on his life.

The place is Mud Island in Memphis, and song is “Mud Island Morning,” and in the liner notes he says of the place: “We live on Mud Island, a sand bar in the Mississippi River. There’s a feeling that rolls along with that river. I’ve tried to capture that feeling the best I could with this song.” Which he does, quite nicely.

Another favorite is the electric rhythm of “Smokey Nights and Faded Blues,” and lyrics by Danny Jesser evoking late-night barroom memories.

There is plenty of great music in between, but he saves the emotional “There Is Always Love” for a closer. It’s an ode to the love inherent in his lonely struggle to understand his son Jesse’s eventually successful battle with cancer. It’s beautifully constructed and eloquently performed. What more can you ask of any song?

MacLeod’s lyrical wordplay is on display throughout; his literate storytelling fills each song. His vocals crackle with humor or simmer with emotion. Musically, his usual impeccable solo acoustic style is enhanced by a trio of unobtrusive backers — Dave Smith on bass, Rick Steff on keyboards and Steve Potts on drums.

Put all of this together and it’s more thoroughly enjoyable music from a true troubadour of the blues.

Here’s the title track, “A Soul to Claim”:

Here’s the track list, with comments by MacLeod:

1. A Soul To Claim
This song is about beating addiction and abuse. Those of us who have been abused or have been addicted know that we come from hurt. We have ways of repeating the same mistakes and perpetuating the negative cycle. This song talks about finally stopping that negative cycle.

2. Be What You Is
After all my years on this planet I’ve been noticing that many human beings have a hard time being themselves. In fact some are having a hard time finding and accepting who they are. Well, I got to thinking animals don’t have that problem. Animals are happy just being what they is. I see a lesson in that, so I wrote this song.

3. Money Talks
It sure does.

4. Where Are You?
As you might know I am a veteran, albeit not a combat veteran. But like so many vets I’ve known combat vets. It breaks my heart to see homeless vets begging for their lives while waiting for our government to be there for them like they promised. And it breaks my heart even more when I think of my vet friend who just couldn’t wait any more and left this world on their own. I hope one day we will finally take care of them. They protected us, it’s time for us to protect them.

5. Dodge City
Dodge City, Kansas? Nope. Washington DC, or Washington-Dodge City, or Washington D-Ceive if you will. I am fed up with politicians who simply lie to my face with no shame. Politicians who will not give a direct answer to a direct question. They make a flim-flamming used car salesman with one eye not trusting the other look honest.

6. Smokey Nights And Faded Blues
Danny Jesser wrote the lyrics and I wrote the music on this one. Danny got the idea for this song back in the early 80’s when my electric band was playing at a club called Ruebens in Redondo Beach where George “Harmonica” Smith and Pee Wee Crayton often dropped by to sit in.

7. Only Porter At The Station
Sometimes we can fall in love with a person who comes to us with alot of hurt and pain. A lot of baggage if you will. They arrive at the station with all that baggage. You look around for some help, but you are the only porter at the station. So you help with the bags. Love will make you do that.

8. Mud Island Morning
We live on Mud Island, a sand bar in the Mississippi River. There’s a feeling that rolls along with that river. I’ve tried to capture that felling the best I could with this song. A lagniappe for you – some ’Bonus Tones’. You’ll hear the chair creaking and my rear end sliding across it.

9. Dubb’s Talking Disappointment Blues
Back in my lady trolling days, I found myself in some rather interesting situations. Now, of course, they weren’t quite as interesting as this song depicts… but I got a feeling you’ll get the point. As George “Harmonica” Smith would say, ”Sometimes things don’t always appear to seem as they might be.”

10. Grease The Wheel
This song comes from a simple truth that can take some of us a long time to get a handle on. If you want or need things to change in your life you got to take charge of your life. You got to grease the wheel.

11. Somewhere Down A Mississippi Highway
Years ago when I was in the Navy I was stationed in Millington, TN which is just north of Memphis. I couldn’t get the gals in Memphis to go for me so I decided to head down to Mississippi and give that a shot. I had no luck there either. But one night I fell into a place down around Tunica. I had a great time with some good music and good food. Heck I didn’t even miss the gals! In fact I had such a good time I still can’t recall exactly where it was.

12. There Is Always Love
After a first battle with cancer, our son Jesse was diagnosed with stage IV melanoma. His only hope, and a slim one at that, was a clinical trial in Los Angeles. I was on tour staying with friends in the Philadelphia area. The Sunday night before my wife Patti Joy and Jesse saw the doctor to see if he even had a chance of survival was the toughest night of my life.
I couldn’t sleep. My friends lived in the country and there was a deck outside the room where I was staying. I went out to that deck that night and talked to the night. What I learned is in this song. The next day they saw the doctor and the doctor said not only did we have a chance, but a good chance. Now as I’m writing this, nearly two years later, I can tell you he has beaten cancer for the second time. So I want you to know that, no matter how dark things are for you – remember, There Is Always Love.

Doug MacLeod, guitars, vocals
Dave Smith, bass
Rick Steff, keyboards
Steve Potts, drums
Recorded January 13 and 14, 2020, at Bessie Blue Studio, Tennessee, USA
Producer and engineer: Jim Gaines

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