Spencer's website biography tells us "He has an insightful musical expression emerging from his body, and the only explanation is an old soul residing within. He has a deep, soulful, true to the blues sound, with an electrifying twist which captivates his audience". Spencer released his debut album 'Infected' to rave reviews in 2016, was a 'New Artist of the Year' Maple Blues Award winner in 2017 and has played numerous gigs and festivals over the past four or five years.
That all bodes very well and still only 18 years of age and its time for his second record, the ten track 'Cold November'.
Spencer supplies guitar and vocals throughout and is joined by a stellar band of musicians, unfortunately too numerous to mention individually here, that add piano, organ, keyboards, bass, drums, extra guitar, trumpet, trombone, sax and background vocals.
Eight of the songs here are Spencer co-writes with his Father Richard Mackenzie and covers of Robert Cray's 'You Move Me' and Gary Clark Jr's 'Next Door Neighbour Blues' make up the album.
Opening track 'Fine Place to Start' is indeed that, with its beautifully toned guitar riff, horns and bumping bass before Spencer's vocal drops in. He does not have an archetypal blues voice given its quite high register, but it is robust and tuneful, serving as a great foil to the star of the show, his guitar playing.
'Move on Down the Track' starts with some dirtier, harsher, shuffling guitar before the song sort of falls over and morphs into a 'Folsom Prison Blues' rhythm piece with an 'Elvis' phrased vocal from Spencer before the advent of a great overdriven guitar solo.
'Shut the Door (Baby Don't Look Back) is an altogether funkier affair whereas title track 'Cold November' is much slower and spacey with Spencer's vocal sitting fully on top of the mix to good effect. The CD liner notes say this song is dedicated to victims of the November 2015 Paris attack and all those affected by terrorism and hate in the world.
'Voices Echoing' showcases another sweet toned, riff based song with some particularly fine guitar interplay, 'Haunt Me' is a taste of more traditionally structured electric blues and 'Your Mama's Crying' is back to Spencer's dirty guitar tone and great ensemble playing.
'She Don't Care' is the last of the Mackenzie and Mackenzie originals and is a mid tempo, sleazy little song with some great horn fills and effects.
Robert Cray's 'You Move Me' is given a fairly faithful rendition and Spencer adopts his slightly spiky, brittle guitar tone to good effect whilst Gary Clark Jr's 'Next Door Neighbour Blues' is smoothed out a little and doesn't have that raw 'Son House' type groove of the original, but a great version none the less.
Whilst the tradition can be heard in Spencer's playing, his blues sound does feel both contemporary and current and he is undoubtedly a very fine player with a great ear for matching his guitar tone to the song. One slight reservation though, as despite the great riffs and strong melodies of the original songs, too often they are unconvincing lyrically. I think it should be the task of contemporary blues musicians to move the genre on from archaic couplets and the perennial 'my baby done me wrong' clichés and although Spencer tackles weightier themes on a couple of tracks, a bit more work to get beyond the obvious is needed. For me, this is the only part of the record where Spencer does not entirely convince
There is a lot more positives then negatives here though, and what does stand out is the overall quality of the recording, production and faultless band playing throughout, with a particular nod to the engine room of drum and bass.
So, another release in the bag for Spencer Mackenzie and the second of what I imagine will be many, in a long and successful career.
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