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Mac Arnold & Plate Full ‘O Blues - Country Man

Vizztone Records

13 songs; 51:11 minutes

At times, the blues can feel so welcome and familiar, like a favorite chair at the end of a long day or a shot of your preferred poison after hours of jamming. Country Man is a disc of warm, familiar blues that transports you out to the South Carolina piedmont, the red soil, the kudzu and the chugging of a rusty old Ford tractor.

Mac Arnold cut his teeth in the Chicago blues scene of the 1960s, playing bass with saxophonist A.C. Reed and later, Muddy Waters’ band. After spending time in Los Angeles in the 70s (including working on the set of Soul Train), he settled in South Carolina on an 80 acre farm that would allow him to blend together his love of farming and the blues.

Country Man is the second disc for Mac and Plate Full of Blues, and they play together like old friends, tight when they need to be, loose at times and always sharing the same groove.

The disc begins with “I Ain’t Sugar Coatin’”, a bluesy cautionary tale played with a country twang. The tune showcases the tightness of the five piece band, Mac’s deep voice and their penchant for songs that try to do a little Sunday-morning moralizing.

“This ‘Ol Tractor” features Mac playing a gas can guitar built by his oldest brother Leroy. The rolling beat of the song serves as the foundation for the raw, treble guitar wails that seem to bring you back in time. This song also showcases another thematic element in Mac’s original songs: the love of old style “country life.” On one hand, it can seem dated and trite, but on the other, it’s Mac writing about life in his own corner of South Carolina, where the anchors of deep rural life haven’t really changed that much at all over the decades.

“Country Man”, the title track, continues on the same theme, and features a tight traditional blues progression, heavy on the harmonica. This song captures both the best and worst of the disc. At its best, it’s a tight band playing an original song that paints a sincere “everyman” portrait of rural life - at its worst, it displays the limited range of Mac’s vocals and predictable lyrics, played against a musical backdrop we’ve heard a thousand times before.

The standout track on the disc is “Screamin’ And Cryin’”, a duet with producer Bob Margolin (who also plays slide guitar). The traditional blues song brings out the best in Mac’s voice, and the play between Mac and Bob feels like they are just performing a pick up song on Mac’s front porch.

Country Man is a solid blues album by a tight, experienced band. Too often, however, they end up sounding more like a good bar band that you’ve heard a dozen times before - and lyrically, the original songs are far too predictable. Mac Arnold, however, is the real deal, in these songs, you are treated to a glimpse inside his world - the rugged farm land of South Carolina, where a blues man works hard, loves hard and cares for his tractor as tenderly as his wife.

Reviewer Paul Schuytema is a lifelong blues enthusiast who grew up in Chi-town. He cut his blues teeth at shows by Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon. He now lives in the cornfields and puts on the Deep Blue Innovators Blues Festival every fall.

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