By Mike O’Cull
Contemporary British bluesman Mississippi MacDonald proves he’s as legit as they come on his hard-charging new record Heavy State Loving Blues.
Set to drop January 27th, 2023 on APM Records, the album is a mostly-original set of cracking blues tunes with a distinct soul influence. The combination delivers the emotional intensity of raw blues with the hip-shaking goodness of classic soul and R&B. The sessions were produced by Phil Dearing (Eliza Carthy, Gretchen Peters, Kris Drever, Laura Cantrell) and his input and arrangements brought MacDonald’s fire and fury to the surface. The song sequence features two cool covers dispersed among eight new originals and all the selections work well together. Heavy State Loving Blues is Mississippi MacDonald’s eighth album.
MacDonald is a leading light in today’s British blues scene and displays the same fervor for American music that old-school English players like Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Keith Richards did in the 1960s. He’s an electrifying performer, in possession of vocal and guitar skills he uses to attack his songs and pull the truth out of them. He’s been nominated for three British Blues Awards, topped the UK Independent Blues Broadcasters Association’s charts, and built a loyal following that loves his tight songwriting and bold guitar work. He’s attained the sound and spirit of a master and can acknowledge his roots without imitating them.
Mississippi starts the record with the blazing “Howlin’ Wolf.” It’s a tough-talking rebuke of shallow music fans set to a popping bass and drum groove courtesy of bassist Elliot Boughen and drummer “Texas” Joe McRoury. MacDonald unleashes his everything on top of their pocket and absolutely goes to town. His vocals are emphatic and alive and his guitar licks could knock down walls. If you’ve never heard MM before, this cut, alone, will make you a fan.
The title track, “Heavy State Loving Blues,” is funky and laidback in a most excellent way. Horns and organ smooth out the sound and add to the song’s slick presence. Again, MacDonald takes us to school on guitar and vocals, putting down performances on both that are incredibly well-phrased and long on subtlety and suggestion. MM has clearly learned his blues deeply and has forged his own authentic style in a genre where imitation often rules. The closer you listen, the better he gets.
One of the hottest numbers on Heavy State Loving Blues is “Blind Leading The Blind,” a killer duet that pairs MacDonald with Memphis vocal queen Vaneese Thomas. The two singers trade jabs about romantic party fouls over another pumping groove from Boughen and McRoury that drives their tale of love trouble into the night. It’s just the kind of sweat-drenched, dance-til-you-drop catharsis you need when you’ve had enough of someone’s mess. Crank it up and let it heal you.
MacDonald does a fine job covering gospel/soul giant O.V. Wright’s 1973 gem “I’ve Been Searching.” Mac channels Wright’s vibe in a pure way that’s meant as a tribute to this criminally-overlooked American musician. The entire band gets way down into the funk of it but never trample on the song’s profound lyrics and intention. It’s a sublime moment for everyone involved and one of the record’s most vital moments.
The haunting swamp blues “The Devil Wants Repayment” is lazy, mysterious, and laced with voodoo. It gets down to an emotional place that’s chilling, unsettling, and not for the faint of heart. This is part of the serious, sobering side of blues music that lurks underneath the party side. Many modern artists avoid this part of the blues tradition but MacDonald faces it head-on.
Highlights are numerous on Heavy State Loving Blues and include the wide-open soul of “Heading South” and the smooth “(I Ain’t Gonna) Lie No More.” Mississippi MacDonald is a compelling, engaging artist who is going to make a lot of new friends with this record. Make sure you’re one of them.
Pre-order Heavy State Loving Blues Here
(I Ain’t Gonna) Lie No More