Roadhouse Album Review: Mississippi MacDonald offers a passionate “Heavy State Loving Blues”

Mississippi MacDonald — “Heavy State Loving Blues” — APM Records (Jan. 27 release)

When I first heard Mississippi MacDonald’s last album. “Do Right, Say Right” (my review here), I was very impressed with this Londoner’s grasp of American blues, his gritty vocals, and his sharp guitar work.

He’d been doing it for a while though (He’s a three-time UK Blues Awards nominee and three-time US Independent Blues Awards nominee), it’s just that “Do Right” was my first listen. My loss, of course. He’s an exciting blues talent.

His latest album, “Heavy State Loving Blues,” continues and amplifies his musical journey with ten more songs carved from the blues roots that MacDonald seems to tap with amazing skill and emotional intensity.

MacDonald’s blues ring with authenticity — quite an achievement considering it’s mostly original music. He’s a powerful, soulful vocalist, and his guitar work is stunningly simple — he lets the music breathe in between the notes.

This album, like the previous, was produced by Phil Dearing, adding Lucy Dearing on backing vocals for a richer sound.

He kicks off this session with “Howlin’ Wolf,” a funky, high-energy shoutout to pretenders in the music world, kind of a bluesy take on “something is happening / and you don’t know what it is / do you, Mister Jones?” heavily fueled by some crackling horns,

The title track is torchy and soulful, with MacDonald’s guitar lines inspiring the vocals, and Dearing’s backup adding emotional punch. “Blind Leading the Blind” is a gritty duet with Vaneese Thomas and her gorgeous Memphis musical attitude.

“Heading South” is more soulful pleading with MacDonald’s stinging guitar in a powerful call-and-response conversation. “(I Ain’t Gonna) Lie No More” follows, a softer but still soul-filled moment. The first cover is O.V. Wright’s “I’ve Been Searching,” with Mac following his horns into another soul-drenched side.

It’s here, for me, with “I’ll Understand,” that MacDonald starts to push the album deeper into the intensity of the blues. His voice aches for the hope of lost love returning, and a guitar solo midway echoes that beautiful pain with primal urgency. A haunting vocal background surrounds it all. Love this song.

Another cover, from Zack Logan, “Trouble Doing the Right Thing,” has a slight country tilt, and lopes along in the blues. “The Devil Wants Repayment” takes us down to the crossroads for what could be a visit from a midnight rider looking for payback.

The fiery closer is “Blues for Albert,” an instrumental with Mac’s spoken interlude explaining how his love of Albert Collins‘ blues first shaped his music. It’s a stinging, heartfelt, six-minute ode to the Master of the Telecaster and shows that MacDonald has absorbed his lessons well. (More about Albert Collins below.)

This is another fine album from the very talented Mississippi MacDonald, who continues to demonstrate his passion for the music and his ability to create authentic blues born from that passion. His songwriting rings true, his vocals are tough and tender, and his elegant guitar work says that he’s learned one of the basics of the blue notes — less indeed can be more.

Here’s a Roadhouse digression with one of my own Albert Collins stories:

Collins appeared fairly often at Mancini’s Lounge in McKees Rocks, a Pittsburgh-area club that featured the blues in the late 1970s and early ’80s while I was still a Pittsburgher. We joked that he sometimes seemed to be the house band (although Muddy Waters put in four appearances in ’80 and ’81!).

Albert would piece together a guitar cord (long before wireless) and roam through the club and out onto the sidewalk. His band, the Icebreakers, featured the soaring sax of A.C. Reed. Albert’s guitar work was always passionate, innovative and exciting to watch.

Here’s a grainy picture I took at one of those shows, and later got autographed. It says “Peace & Love” From Albert Collins. Indeed.

Here’s a video of “(I Ain’t Gonna) Lie No More”:

Track list:

  1. Howlin’ Wolf (04:10)
  2. Heavy State Loving Blues (04:19)
  3. Blind Leading the Blind (04:08)
  4. Heading South (03:07)
  5. (I Ain’t Gonna) Lie No More (04:10)
  6. I’ve Been Searching (03:32)
  7. I’ll Understand (05:17)
  8. Trouble Doing the Right Thing (03:35)
  9. The Devil Wants Repayment (02:55)
  10. Blues for Albert (05:58)

And just for fun, here’s Albert Collins from the time that I remember him, including saxman A.C. Reed in his band:

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