WES MACKEY: Life Is A Journey
Footsie FOOT10813 (58:14)

Blues and Rythmn Magazine, Britain
Norman Darwen

Journey/ Thank You Carolina/ Shine A Light (Dark Night Blues)/ Ganges Blues/ Blue In Paris/ I Got The Blues/ Lines (Remix)/ Hellhound On My Trail/ Rapperswill/ Footsie Brown/ Blues Rules/ Dancing With The Angels/ Train/ Blues Carry Me Home/ Life Is A Journey.
In his early 70s and originally from Yemassee, South Carolina, singer and guitarist (and bass pedals player – hence “Footsie Brown”) Wes Mackey traveled widely before ending up in Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada, where he is currently based. He learned the blues in Charleston and picked up tips from Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker, among others, whilst playing in Georgia. He has played jazz and country along the way, though these days he works primarily as a blues man – but with a rather distinctive and cosmopolitan outlook, as this set shows.

Most obviously, this comes to the fore on ‘Ganges Blues’, a surprisingly successful duet with sitar player Andrew Kim very much in the style of the blues-Indian music collaborations that are becoming a small sub-sect of the blues – particularly in Canada, it seems (and this track has been released before by Kim). ‘Blue In Paris’ sports a French styled accordion but is otherwise a moody blues performance in the style of Bobby Bland’s early 70s “Dreamer” album. ‘Rapperswill’ is about the Swiss-German town of Rapperswil, though with some rather obvious lyrics (“dancing there beside the lake, with all of the friends they will make”) and set to a funky jazz-tinged blues arrangement, again in an early 70s style.
‘Shine A Light’ is melodically distantly related to ‘St James. Infirmary’ and sports some fine electric guitar playing. ‘Thank You Carolina’ is a subtle autobiographical number with Wes’s lived-in vocals and some fine electric guitar work over a vaguely reggae-tinged blues backing, whilst ‘I Got The Blues’ is a powerful, ever-so slightly rock-tinged number. ‘Hellhound On My Trail’ is indeed Po’ Bob’s number, though this is not that obvious unless you listen closely to the lyrics; Wes treats it as a soul-inflected blues, which is a very pleasant change. ‘Footsie Brown’ is a fine shuffle and ‘Blues Rules’ is a nicely grooving number, ‘Train’ is musically a fairly conventional train song – with banjo and again some strongly autobiographical lyrics, and ‘Blues Carry Me Home’ is an excellent slow-burn number, beautiful guitar break too. The opening and closing numbers are the same song, and not in a blues format at all – “singer-songwriter” seems the best description for the opener, though the closer is more soul tinged, with slight hints of Paul Simon’s approach to world music .

Wes does deserve to be better known and although he sometimes strays well away from a 12 bar format, these days that seems to present no difficulty. This CD should appeal to those who appreciate the likes of Taj Mahal, Eric Bibb, Corey Harris – or who just appreciate classy modern blues.