Doug Macleod, “Whose Truth, Whose Lies” [Audioquest Music AQ-CD1054]

Sweet and Tart

July, 2005

Let’s talk about obsession for a moment. When you hear this sizzling gem of a recording, you too will be struck with the driving, compulsive feeling to hear these churning blues and folk tunes over and over again, as I have since being introduced to Macleod’s music by my kind mentors, Stereo Times’ own Clement Perry and Virtual Dynamic’s President, Rick Schultz, over an informal listening session held before HE 2005. What we have here is a recording that will test every ounce of your system’s ability to render a fabulous soundstage wide and deep, as well as a recording which snares the distinctive sound of both recording venue and the body of the instruments employed with uncanny accuracy. Add to this Macleod’s ability to combine searing humor, political barbs and lyrical insights with deep, pulsing guitar lines, and you have a recording gem that will shake, rattle and roll you long into the night.

Macleod’s music has its origins in his Cajun roots, extending from the cold Maritime Provinces in Canada down to the humid warmth of the Bayous of Louisiana. His themes echo the harsh realities of oppression and loss of love which his French Acadian ancestors experienced when they were literally hunted down and deported from their lands in Nova Scotia in 1755 by the then-British governor Charles Lawrence. Lawrence exiled the Acadians to places all along the Eastern seaboard and they wandered for many years until they found a home amongst the French in Louisiana. Once in Louisiana, the Acadians settled in the swamps and bayou country and became famous for their fishing, woodworking and distinctive Cajun musical culture. Macleod takes this rich heritage and spins a creative, humorous and scathing musical vision skeptical of the establishment and all of its modern agents, while also holding out love and genuine friendship as the redemptive healing power in our lives.

From the first pulsing strums of the title track, utilizing Macleod’s Taylor 712 guitar feeding a “beat up Fender Princeton amp,” we are treated to a marvelous rendering of the recording venue and immediately immersed in a wide, deep soundstage with shimmering maracas and bass lines deep and taut. Macleod growls and maneuvers his distinctive baritone over his percussive guitar lines, delivered with great warmth and energy. On “Plaquemine,” Macleod launches into a swinging tempo, accentuated by the great stick work of drummer Dave Kida and the swashbuckling mandolin of Rich Del Grasso. On this tune, your system will be tested to its limit to keep up with the rapid stickwork on drum, the accurate rendering of the mandolin’s colors and Macleod’s shining yet distinct strumming. This recording is a gem for its transparency and ability to capture the tonal accuracy of acoustic instruments, including guitar, mandolin and harmonica. Speaking of harp, watch out for the blast of a solo taken by James Harman on “’Splain It To Me,” a brilliant show of up front and in your face blowing, backed by taut, pounding bass provided by Denny Croy. From this killer groove, we are treated to the serene air and space of “Norfolk County Line,” where Macleod is joined by the sweet, spine-chilling vocals of Janiva Magness, accompanied by Harman’s harp wisping through on the left side of the stage. This cut is my current favorite for capturing ambience and low level detail in a recording, as it brilliantly captures the detail of Kida’s gentle lingering brush strokes and the moving, emotional delivery of this simple song of love and remembrance. As is Macleod’s genius, he moves from this serene and deeply moving piece to “My Black Pony”, “St. Louis On My Mind” and “Goin’ Down The Country,” cutting up the place with intense, warm blues guitar work, howling vocals and the tightest, deepest bass you should hear in a while. Get out while you can because if your system is up to it, you will never get out of this baby without movin’ and churnin’ way into the night. Macleod’s beautiful and complex slide work is portrayed on the gospel-tinged “Rise Up,” and “Sweet Ride” brings us a slow burning number (“If you think this is about a car, well, your in a world of trouble”). This masterpiece ends with the pleading of “Time For A Change,” where Macleod unleashes a brilliant shower of slow solo slide work, punctuated by dynamic strums, plucks, finger taps on guitar body and achingly beautiful vocals. This number literally explodes with emotional energy from a silent background, with a lingering decay of strings and Macleod’s hope for a better day.

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Nelson Brill