CD Review – Scott MacLeod “Right as Rain”
I like Scott MacLeod. I’d like to think that we grew up parallel bedrooms, hiding from our chores and listening to the same soundtrack because whenever I talk to him we end up going on forever about the music we like. The last time I saw him, he talked about one of my favourite subjects, singing, for ages. It surprised me, because I thought he was a singer-songwriter who spent most of his time on the latter. Turns out he used to put on the albums he liked best and, like me (and probably most of us), tried to mimic singers’ voices that he admired.
Those attempts are evident on Right as Rain, MacLeod’s third album. He also appears to be a little pissed off this time around. After the opening track, “Grey Skies”, on which he seems his usual cheerful, slightly melancholy, and just-a-twinge-sarcastic (it passes you by if you’re not paying attention) self, he takes a rather abrupt stylistic turn. Suddenly the guy who claims to marvel at Jim Cuddy’s falsetto is an angry student of Bruce Springsteen, fighting against a demanding partner in “Out of Line” and admonishing the ‘Queen of Kensington’ who calls him a drunk in “Kick Me When I’m Down” in a new, raspier voice. Sandwiched between these two is “Best I Can”, a song that captures the tortured realization that a relationship might not be working out as one might have hoped, and within 10 minutes, he’s run the gamut of emotions. It wakes you up.
Despite the surprises, I like the middle of the album a lot better than its beginning or end. MacLeod has found his stride by track five, “100 Years”; his performance is more relaxed and the songs feel like he’s put on his most comfortable sweater. Some of the anger from earlier has disappeared and these next songs are more reflective and confident. That’s not to say the edginess of his urgent performances should have been left off the album, but the next section balances out what could have been too much angst if it lasted.
“Forever Searching” is a nostalgic rumination on the potentially destructive, optimistic young thinking, contextualized in his own childhood in Eastern Canada. The sentiment of the lyrics is underpinned by a well-placed pedal steel that continues in a more traditional country-rock fashion in the next track, “I Can’t Deal”. The title track builds throughout in an effective contrast to the other songs on the album, going through the first section without drums; the bass never does appear. The sweetness that characterizes much of MacLeod’s work emerges again on “Straight Until Morning”, another sparse acoustic song that doesn’t rely on a heavy arrangement for its effectiveness.
The longest track on here is 4:11. You know, there’s something to be said for songwriters who can package their message up in less than four minutes. Just as many appreciate concise writing, say in blogs (what? was someone talking to me?), audiences still seem to want the song that wraps up quickly and with no ambiguity. Maybe producer Jon Wood has something to do with the compact arrangements, or maybe it’s the result of MacLeod’s cache of great side players. In any case, the ability to negotiate complex emotions in a tightly woven collection of songs is evidence of MacLeod’s maturity as a songwriter. A great listen from start to finish.
Check out his website for songs, videos, and the new album.