John Valenteyn Toronto Blues Society
Wes Mackey's second album is an extremely satisfying CD of contemporary blues, with a varied program of originals and covers. The originals are particularly strong with "Who Do Da Voodoo?", "AngelGirl", "In My Neighbourhood" and especially "Mr. Blues" very much the equal of some of the more famous numbers here. "Mr. Blues" has a lyric worth quoting: "Mr. Blues, sorry but you have to go. Just got a letter from my baby and you can't stay here no more." Mackey is in top T-Bone Walker mode and it is good! An easy-going vibe permeates the CD and three Jimmy Reed songs take advantage of this. This style is not as easy to play as it seems but the band does just fine here. The choice of "I'll Play The Blues For You" for the album would normally be criticized but it fits the mood of the CD like a glove. Oliver Conway co-produced with Mackey and adds harp where needed. Kenny `Blues Boss' Wayne is on keys and either Chris Nordquist or Alex McKinnon on drums for most of the songs. Other players are here as well contributing mightily to a highly recommended CD.
REAL BLUES"Andy Grigg
WES MACKEY: MR. BLUES (BLUESLINE)
One of the most common complaints heard in conversation between veteran Blues fans (those who remember the 1960s/70s Blues scene as the High Point) is the `homogenization' of contemporary Blues where the norms and standards seem to be set by young White `Blooze' musicians. There seems to be less-and-less focus on older African-American artists and I recall hearing, to my amazement, someone at a recent Blues Festival make a comment that went something like “This old guy (Snooky Pryor) is o.k. but John Mayall could blow him off the stage…” In the last several years especially, I've come to realize that things have changed drastically regarding what the audience wants/expects and I wonder if 1960s Blues Stars such as John Hurt, Skip James, Bukka White and even Jimmy Reed would stand a chance with the under-40 Blues crowd. (I guess the artists mentioned would have to learn “Mustang Sally”!) The reason I bring this up in regards to this superb CD is because Wes Mackey is very much a `throw-back' Bluesman with a very subtle and low-key approach that will appeal to all those serious veteran Blues lovers who long for music with substance and are allergic to both Hip Hop Blues and Rock Blooze.
Given that Wes is from South Carolina, his laid-back smooth and mellow approach shouldn't surprise those who are familiar with the `low-key' stars from the Carolinas. Wes has been all over the U.S. and Canada (as well in Britain, Malaysia, Iceland, Russia…) and spent some time in New Orleans before taking-up residence in Vancouver (home to dozens of ex-American Great Blues/Soul/Gospel artists) and he's had a couple of CDs prior to this one. This CD however, has stellar production and is fully realized as Wes has finally put it all together in a big way.
He's got a smoky, gentle, world-weary voice that I find to be a breath-of-fresh air. I've read several other reviews by North American reviewers and I have to shake my-head for their lack of understanding of the Blues Idiom in general and Wes Mackey's Blues in particular. I don't put much stock in 90% of the North American reviewers as the European writers/fans love this CD and that's what I find myself telling North American Black artists i.e. “Don't pay any attention to North American reviews; look to the European/Japanese Press”. Sad but true.
Wes assembled a dynamite West Coast band for this recording and the results are Tops. Wes is on lead/rhythm guitar with Kenny Wayne (piano/organ), Alex McKinnon (drums), Oliver Conway (harp), Dave Webb (piano), Bob Popowich (bass), Chris Nordquist (drums), Russell Jackson and Dennis Marcenko (bass) and Laura Fisher and Leslie McMann on background vocals.
Wes Mackey's guitar-playing is definitely unique and refreshing in 2006 as it's clean, single-string leads that evoke memories of vintage B.B.: sweet and tasteful.
“Who Do Da Voodoo” is Wes's tribute to his favorite city (after Vancouver) and it's an up-tempo number that has little in common with the rest of the album in terms of tempo. “Baby Done Gone” is a medium-tempo shuffle, which seems to bring-out the best in Wes's vocals. A Southern-style Blues that really sets the mark. Jimmy Reed's “Baby What You Want Me To Do” is well-suited to Wes's laid-back, smokey voice and the band really keeps it `Down Home' (nice harp from Oliver). “Angel Girl” is more a modern B.B.-style number that's one of the finest Blues I've heard in a long while. Moody, low-key, brooding intensity is conveyed and it's proof that Wes Mackey deserves respect and fame as a True Blues Man. “Born In Carolina” is a paean to Wes's home that dances along.
“Ain't That Good News” is a Gospel-charged Sam Cooke cover that's followed by a fine, soulful version of “A Change Is Going To Come” that sadly has gained renewed meaning thanks to the New Orleans Genocide. Beautiful Dave Webb organ and fine guitar from Wes.“Shame Shame Shame” is another good time Jimmy Reed number that should get Shag scene radio play for all those dancers in Myrtle Beach.
As with Wes's take on Willie Dixon's “Nervous” one would think that this CD came out of Chicago given the Jimmy Reed influence and the ability of everyone involved to play Windy City Blues in-their-sleep.“Mr. Blues” the title track, has that 3:15 am low-down sound thanks to Kenny Wayne's Hammond B-3 organ work and Wes's under-stated guitar work. Really nice stuff. “I'll Play The Blues For You” might scare a few people off as the song has been done-to-death but Wes's version is totally inspired and different in many respects.
In summing-up this CD, it's very obvious that we have a Bluesman who has a totally unique, individual sound and identity and very few emerging artists can lay claim to those very important and refreshing traits. Wes Mackey has definitely paid-his-dues in full and he's got a special gift that he wants to share with us. 5 Bottles for a CD that does much to gain Wes Mackey accolades, an audience and heaping respect. After all, we know what Real Blues should sound like, right? Wes Mackey has arrived.
Deep Rout CALL HIM MR. Blues
Wes "The Bluesman" Mackey is at the Blues On Whyte this week debuting his new CD, Mr. Blues. It’s a great follow up to Second Chance, the disc that put the veteran bluesmaker back on the map and which made numerous top 10 Canadian blues lists in 2003 Mackey learned to play guitar in South Carolina, where he grew up, and worked in bands backing Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, John Lee Hooker, and a host of others. The longtime Vancouver resident–who has played from juke joints to concert halls around the world–has 45 years under his belt as a performer.
Mr. Blues shows off Mackey’s smooth, rich vocals and fluid guitar work on standards by Jimmy Reed, ("Baby what You want Me To Do," Shame, Shame, Shame," "Bright Lights, Big City"), Willie Dixon ("Nervous") and Sam Cooke ("Ain’t That Good News" and "A Change is Gonna Come"). The album also features a pair of autobiographical originals–"Born in Carolina" and the title track
While the lyrics reflect that standard of the blues–losing your lover and/or getting then back–the approach is lighthearted, therapeutic, and a reminder that the blues is not about being down on yourself; it’s about using the music to lift your spirit and celebrate life. Mackey brings his vision of the blues to the CD, and while there are few surprises, the joy, class, and talent that Mackey brings to the music is front and center.
Through Saturday at the Blues On Whyte, a band led by local-guitarist Jimmy Guiboche will join Mackey. Pick up a copy of Mr. Blues while you're there; it’s an early runner for 2006’s top ten lists of Canadian blues releases.
Wes Mackey est originaire du Sud profond. De Yemassee, en Caroline du Sud très exactement. Ce musicien est aujourd’hui âgé de 61 balais et il y a déjà 40 ans qu’il sévit sur les scènes locales, arpentant les vieux juke joints de sa région. Ce qui lui a permis d’accompagner, sur les planches, John Lee Hooker et Muddy Waters à Augusta, en Georgie. Ce chanteur/guitariste s’est quand même produit bien loin de chez lui. Et notamment en Russie, en France, en Islande et même en Asie : à Hong Kong ainsi qu’en Malaisie. Il s’est établi à Vancouver, au Canada, depuis quelques années. Il y a enregistré un premier elpee curieusement baptisé "Second chance", une œuvre nominée par la Toronto Blues Society, en 2003. Il vient donc de commettre son deuxième opus, bien plus judicieusement intitulé "Mr Blues".
Le disque s’ouvre par "Who do ya voodoo?". Le tempo est enlevé. La voix de Wes est feutrée, veloutée ; mais il est capable de la moduler. Et c'est sans douleur aucune qu'il pousse ses vocaux sur cette plage participative. Il tempère son ardeur pour aborder "Baby done gone". La musique est savoureuse. Tout est bien en place. La guitare de Mackay ne distille que les notes nécessaires, celles qui sont au service de son blues. Le piano de Dave Webb suit bien le mouvement. Wes reprend alors une des compositions les plus célèbres de Jimmy Reed : "Baby what you want me to do?". Le rythme est nonchalant. Son timbre se prête admirablement à ce style. De son harmonica, Oliver Conway apporte la petite touche indispensable qui fait la différence.
Incontestablement, MacKay est au sommet de son art, lorsqu’il chante le blues lent. A l’instar d’"Angel girl". Une tristesse infinie nous envahit lorsqu’il épanche son émotion contenue. La mélodie de "Blues Boss" est superbe. Elle est entretenue par le son du synthé de Kenny Wayne et parcourue par les petites grappes de notes empreintes de douceur, des notes distillées par les cordes. Wes chante son "Born in Carolina", une compo autobiographique. Il nous raconte sa jeunesse sur un ton allègre. Une impression qu’il communique à la tonalité de ses six cordes. Bien soudée, la petite équipe s'attaque alors au répertoire de Sam Cooke. Et tout d’abord à "Ain't that good news". Le rythme est très enlevé. Tout est mis au service du mouvement : les chœurs gospel, la guitare, le piano de Webb et la section rythmique, que se partagent Bob Popowich à la basse et Chris Nordquist aux drums.
eaucoup plus lent, "A change is gonna come" est un réel bonheur pour les oreilles. Sensuelle, la voix s’enflamme face à l'orgue Hammond qui prend son billet de sortie. MacKay adapte de nouveau Jimmy Reed, en exécutant une version très personnelle de "Shame shame shame". Le tempo est très soutenu, la rythmique débridée. Dave Webb accorde ici son meilleur solo au piano. Wes continue de s’approprier des blues signés par d’autres artistes notoires. Sa relecture du "Nervous" de Willie Dixon est un nouveau moment de bonheur. Webb est parfaitement dans le rythme. Il peut alors sortir le grand jeu. Ses notes sont particulièrement bien senties tout au long de ce downhome blues de grande classe. Et celle du "Bright lights, big city" de Jimmy Reed (NDR : sa dernière signée Mathias James) ne manque pas, non plus, de charme. Il y susurre les lyrics de son timbre envoûtant. Le titre maître nous ramène à "Angel girl". Blues Boss Wayne s'est assis derrière l'orgue Hammond. Mais ce sont les cordes qui sont particulièrement mises en évidence tout au long de cette plage empreinte d’une grande douceur ; des cordes qui accentuent le sentiment de misère véhiculé par cette musique. Wes se fend alors d’une version très personnelle du classique "I'll play the blues for you". L'homme est heureux. Les enfants conjuguent leurs voix en harmonie. Les chiens aboient. Il peut alors chanter en liesse un morceau consacré à son voisinage, "In my neighborhood". Un blues comme on n'en commet plus guère de nos jours. Ce titre clôture, par ailleurs, cet album d’excellente facture…