A Soul to Claim
Perennial BMA Award-winner for Acoustic Blues, Doug MacLeod, returns with his 22nd album and his fifth album for Reference Recordings, A Soul to Claim. Up until now, the former North Carolinian MacLeod has lived in Los Angeles with his wife Patti Joy for the past 30 years, but having recently moved near Memphis, he rather naturally teamed with famed producer Jim Gaines (Stevie Ray Vaughan, Santana, Luther Allison and many more). Take it from one who knows, it is not easy to move at the age of seventy plus but MacLeod, having spent so much time hear Memphis both when in the Navy and the many annual trips to accept his BMA wins, says “it just felt right.” The change in locale, as much as anything else, makes this album a slight departure from his others. MacLeod delivers twelve originals in his half spoken, half sung trademark storytelling styles. While his guitar, the only one he used, his trusty acoustic P-Nut, is front and center, on half of the tracks he is joined by renowned Memphis sessions musicians Rick Steff (keyboards), Dave Smith (bass), and Steve Potts (drums). One tune is a solo guitar instrumental, and five others feature MacLeod accompanying his vocal only with guitar.
He leads with the title track, accompanied by the band, in a tune about beating addiction, similar in theme, and in the talking blues sense to Kris Kristofferson’s “To Beat the Devil.” The hitchhiker looking for soul is a metaphor for the demons locked inside us as the line “a soul to claim” becomes rather indelible, a natural extension of his bluesy guitar.” “Be What You Is,” sure to be a crowd pleaser, speaks to relatable fact that many humans adopt pretentious personalities or take on different ones due to insecurities. His lyrics will make you smile as he describes multiple animals who don’t have such a problem. Steff’s ragtime-like piano solo adds to the upbeat vibe. “Money Talks” has a solo John Lee Hooker-like boogie structure punctuated with impressive guitar picking, a passionately delivered treaties that takes on even more gravitas in these inflationary times.
As a veteran who never saw combat, MacLeod has met many who have. He delivers his heartfelt “Where Are You?” for them in the hopes that we as a society do a better job of taking care of our vets –“I am your veteran. I am your warrior too. Where are you?” The tune is bathed in Steff’s church-like B3, giving it an appropriate hymn-like quality. He then moves from the tender to the scathing in his solo rant against lying politicians in “Dodge City” with some clever wordplay between the title and the “DC” subject at hand. “I ain’t talking Kansas, I’m talking Washington DC.” He reminisces on old pals George “Harmonica” Smith and Pee Wee Crayton in “Smokey Nights and Faded Blues” with the full band, propelled by Potts’ snappy rhythms.
“Only Porter at the Station” is another solo boogie, imbued with slide guitar, about loving a person with lots of hurt and pain, metaphorically describes as the sympathetic lover as porter who graciously carries the baggage at the station. The instrumental “Mud Island” is titled for where he and his wife now make their home on the shores of the Mississippi River. Humor kicks up again in the hilarious “Dubb’s Talking Disappointment Blues,” a tale about some interesting situations. The band returns for the easy rolling, organ-fueled “Grease the Wheel,” about the need to take charge of one’s life – “if you want the car to move, you’ve gotta grease the wheel.”
MacLeod goes out with two solo tunes. “Somewhere on a Mississippi Highway” is about a great night he had somewhere in Tunica, MS in his youthful days after having had no luck with the gals in either Memphis or Mississippi. He tells the story as only he can. He brings this stirring set to a close with the tender “There Is Always Love,” for their son Jesse, initially diagnosed with Stage 1V melanoma cancer, only to have beaten cancer twice. So, appropriately at the end of this album, prayers are answered and light shines through the darkness. His is a sentiment to forever cherish.
MacLeod is a true master. Put this among the best of the many excellent albums in his catalog.
- Jim Hynes