Arnold & Plate Full O’ Blues - Backbone & Gristle
15 songs; 78:40 minutes; Suggested
Genre: Down Home Blues, Chicago Blues
Remember the old “Big Mac Attack” burger ad? Well, Big Mac is back with a Blues attack! With artists like 66-year-old Mac Arnold back making good music, why do we suffer Blues pretenders? Arnold sings with confidence from years of experience, and that confidence is summed up in the title, Backbone & Gristle.
Mac Arnold has a long Blues pedigree including being in a band often joined by a young piano player named James Brown to a stint in Muddy Waters band to recording with Otis Spann and John Lee Hooker to working as a producer on Soul Train to fronting his own band, Plate Full O’ Blues. Mac now resides in Pelzer, SC, where at age ten he got his first taste of the Blues when he learned to play his brother William Leroy Arnold’s home-made gasoline can guitar. This album is dedicated to this older brother.
After getting back in the game and going back to his roots with 2006’s Nothin’ To Prove, Arnold serves up another tasty mess of Down-south-deep Blues and Chicago Blues in fifteen original songs written, arranged, and produced by the entire band. Arnold’s wearied but powerful baritone voice leads on all songs.
Mac Arnold is featured on all leads vocal, gas can on a couple, and some bass The more than competent band backing is Danny Keylon on main bass; Austin Brashier on guitar and harmony vocals; Max Hightower on keyboards, harmonica, and rhythm guitar; and Mike Whitt on drums. Special guests are Mark McMakin and Mike Murray on bass, Jim Peterman on Hammond B3 organ, and Steve Keeter on piano.
Studious notes from Brashier’s guitar in front of Hightower’s piano and Peterman’s organ open track one (“Love & Relations”), followed one minute later by Arnold singing some sage advice for lovers, “...just hold each other’s hand, open up your mind, just be truthful when you speak, don’t waste each other’s time.” And, off you go into seven minutes of wonderful, yes!, THIS-is-the-Blues
The second cut picks up the tempo slightly for Arnold’s heartfelt but humorous lyrics about meeting a young lady looking for genuine affection. Is the protagonist ready to provide? “U Dawg Gone Right,” sings Mac while plucking some notes on that gas can seen on the album’s back cover.
The title track (Cut three) opens with Brashier peeling off mean guitar licks to set the tone of Arnold’s story about his share cropping father’s advice born of hard work. “Son, if you listen to me, and do as I say, you’ll be a man we can depend on one day. But right now your backbone ain’t nothin’ but a gristle.” On the first guitar solo, Brashier flourishes on top of Danny Keylon’s steady pumping bass and pocket partner Mike Whitt on drums.
The instrumental “Blow Till You Blow” finds Max Hightower’s harmonica blasting and trilling in the finest of tradition.
By track 6, Mac relates a spoken word tale of the “Gas Can Story” and then proceeds to play rhythm on the barely-in-recognizable-tune instrument for “Gonna Move To The Other Side of Town.” Now, that’s as down home as coarse ground cornbread and greasy collard greens.
Mac can’t understand excess in “Things I Don’t Need” with Hightower leading on piano and Brashier slowly punctuating the mood with single guitar notes. A similar theme is found in the starkly arranged “The Garden Song” with only harmonica and guitar backup.
Most tracks run four to eight minutes with tracks 14 and 15 recorded festival live. Bob Margolin and Willie Smith show up nicely on 14. The set closing track 15 is a faster, uplifting eight minute live alternate version of the slower inspirational, studio track 10, “I Can Do Anything.” Both versions feature guest children on background harmony vocals.
Welcome back, Mac. First, you didn’t have Nothin’ To Prove, but, now, you done did prove Blues is alive and well in the Carolinas, and thanks to your CDs, all points beyond!
Reviewer James “Skyy Dobro” Walker is a noted Blues writer, DJ and Blues Blast contributor. His weekly radio show “Friends of the Blues” can be heard each Thursday from 4:30 – 6:00pm on WKCC 91.1 FM in Kankakee, IL