Reviews

Arthur Wood--Folkwax November 2002

 

Recognition is a fitting title as, following my recent comment in the reissue review of MacDonald's 1983 debut No Commercial Traffic, the man thoroughly deserves each and every plaudit he receives. This is Macdonald's third Florida album, or at least, the third that he has released since his mid nineteen-nineties relocation to the Sunshine State from New York City, by way of Pontiac, Michigan.

The opening cut, "You Who Sleep Beside Me," is a hymn in praise of finding true love, and MacDonald succinctly draws the conclusion that it's "a feeling of arriving at the place where I belong." During his student days Rod spent a summer working for Newsweek. "The Man Who Dropped The Bomb On Hiroshima" recalls that vacation, and in particular the occasion, on which he interviewed the pilot of the B-29 bomber on that fateful day, July 29th 1945. What comes across tellingly in MacDonald's lyric, is the pilot's comment "they never told us what we were carrying," and the fact that, later, that pilot felt compelled to visit Japan. After seeing countless airfields full of attack-ready suicide planes, as well as the devastation that he had caused, the pilot concluded, "I left there thinking we'd made that war end sooner." To date, America is the only nation on Earth to deliver an atomic device in a conflict situation. Almost sixty years later, in the world order of the early 21st century, "My Neighbours In Delray" is a 9/11 song that focuses fairly dispassionately upon the activities of some of the participants in the months leading up to the execution of their mission.Dispassionately - except for the closing verse where MacDonald offers "but if my neighbours in Delray are in Paradise today, it would very much surprise me."

Vincent Van Gogh failed to sell his portrait of "Dr Gachet," or for that matter any of his works, during his lifetime. Vincent's thirty-seven years {*] on Earth amounted to a simple and poverty stricken existence, but a prodigious outpouring of paintings. Eventually the painting "crossed some borders and the dealer made a profit." From the German businessman who purchased it, it passed to a US-based oil executive who loaned it to a museum for his lifetime. Eventually sold at auction for 30 million dollars, it now lives, hidden from the world, in an airless case in the home of its Japanese owner. MacDonald's lyric raises the issue of who did, or didn't,receive justice in terms of benefit - certainly its creator didn't.

The chorus of "For The Good Of America," the closing track [as listed on the liner], ends with the line "their lips are moving but they're doing you wrong." The latter is a historical reference to the repetition by countless American presidents of the palliative, "For the good of America just forget it, cause it's time to move on." John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald, Lyndon Baines Johnston, the Vietnam War, [General] Augusto Pinochet, the Iran hostage crisis, Ronald Wilson Reagan and the Iran-Contra scandal are either mentioned by name or alluded to, as MacDonald presents his take on American foreign policy through the latter half of the twentieth century.

Physical abuse within a marriage is the focus of "When Angel Gets Blue," the fantasy killing on-screen turns into intentional real life murder in "Video Game," while the entertainer in "Mickey World" clearly indicates that he'd much rather be someplace else. As it stands he has hours to go, imitating "Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Danny Boy, Elvis - a diver for yesterday's pearls." MacDonald co-wrote the gently reflective "Ireland, Ireland" - "there are so many songs about Ireland can there be anything left to say?" - with Steve Eriksson, and Susan MeKeown provides the harmony vocal. "137 Executions (Not One Innocent Man)" is set in Texas, a state with a statistical record to preserve !

The hidden track, "Mojo & The St. Luke's Flukes," has got to be close on two decades-old now, yet this is the first time that MacDonald has committed it to an official release. The song focuses upon the adventures of a softball team. With the bases loaded, the score tied, Mojo has the chance to break the deadlock...plus, he has a secret. Sorry, but you'll have to buy the album to find out what that secret is...

Across seventeen songs MacDonald paints a multi-faceted landscape of life in his homeland, circa the early 21st century AD, clearly making Recognition one of his finest works to date. Currently this album has only been released in Europe (Editor's note: the cd was released 6/1/03 in the US). It is available on the Internet from http://www.brambus.com, while Stateside readers can order the album from http://www.rodmacdonald.net

Note. [*] Vincent's brother Theo died six months after him. Initially buried in Utrecht, in 1914 Theo's wife, Johanna, had his body interred in the Auvers graveyard in the plot next to Vincent's. In addition, she had a sprig of ivy from Dr. Gachet's garden planted between the gravestones. That ivy now carpets Vincent and Theo's graves.

Arthur Wood is a contributing editor at FolkWax

By Arthur Wood in Folkwax

Thought-Provoking Honesty (07/06/05)

The American release of Rod MacDonald's A Tale Of Two Americas on Wind River Records contains eighteen songs - sixteen MacDonald originals (including a previously unheard pair from 20 years ago), one co-write, and a cover of an early Bob Dylan tune - while the Swiss Brambus Records version has one cut fewer. Both discs contain enhanced media, as well as links to a number of Rod MacDonald associated websites.

The opening cut, "Ray & Ron," recalls two Americans who recently died in the same week. Ray Charles passed at the age of 73 on June 11 last year, while President Ronald Reagan left from this mortal coil six days earlier, albeit with a two-decade head start over "The Genius." Across five verses, featuring the positives and negatives of both lives (and including the consistently silly public statements made by one in particular), MacDonald closes with the consensus that Ron should have the common sense (nay, the magnanimity) to suggest that "Ray had so much soul it filled him to the brim, instead of naming all this stuff after me they oughta name it after him." Yeah, right! MacDonald's 2002 studio collection, Recognition featured a pair of songs that referenced 9/11, namely, "My Neighbours In Delray" and "For The Good Of America." Between then and now, America has undertaken bloody, body-counting excursions in Afghanistan and Iraq and in "Terror" Rod delivers reflections upon those
events and their repercussions back in the homeland - "Using fear foradvantage you're doing more damage than even your enemy does." Later in this set, and drawn from the same well of inspiration, there's "Beloved Enemy" - which can be summed up by "if we didn't have any enemies, we'd sure as hell invent them (merely for the profit they bring)," while Rod
opens verse two of "Sacrifice" with "Ah but those who say you have to go and fight/Never send their own to battle," and later "As long as there's enough poverty/There'll be volunteers for the military/While the ones who run the show sit back and watch their millions grow."

While not averse to penning love songs, MacDonald's lyrical approach has consistently been one that reflects upon a broad spectrum of social issues at home and abroad. Track two, "Missing," is inspired by the photographs of runaways that are displayed Stateside on milk cartons (and on posters in supermarkets and featured in public service commercials). This single issue remains an ill in modern American society that simply won't go away, and around one million missing child
cases are filed annually. Abductions whether by family members, friends, or strangers are also an integral part of this issue (although statistics indicate they only contribute to 10% of the total), while 90%of the youngsters simply chose to run away because of difficult conditions within the family home.

"The Governator" is a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the current Austrian-born Governor of California, and that rib-tickling vein also threads its way through the "what if this world was a much fairer place to live in" scenario painted in "Smoke." Social issues apart, MacDonald is also adept at delivering an engaging lyric based upon his own
personal experiences. His 1999 song collection Into The Blue contained material inspired by his then-recent relocation from New York City to the sunny shores of Florida. Here, "I'm Your Dad" - "Hello there little girl, welcome to the world" - finds Rod reflecting with heartfelt affection upon the recent arrival of a small female person in his and his wife's life, while "The Lucky Ones" spotlights the hardships and the blessings that are integral parts of life, during the annual hurricane
season down on the Gulf. The spiritually slanted "Here I Stand" - "For just another man am I who stands here pressed against this sky/Raising his voice on high to you out there" - is the oldest MacDonald composition here and dates from 1981 and is followed by theself-explanatory title "True Love" from 1985.

Charles Dickens opened his 1859 novel, A Tale of Two Cities, with the words "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" and MacDonald employs that sentence as the foundation of the "A Tale of Two Americas" chorus - subjectively the song is an early 21st century snapshot of life in his beloved homeland, and features the war-mongeringbillionaire minority as well as the hard-pressed masses who are barely getting by. The penultimate cut, "I Am Bob Dylan," is a tongue-in-cheek number based around the premise of mistaken identity, and MacDonald closes his latest epistle with the still very relevant, though now
forty-year-old Dylan composition, "With God On Our Side." Time passes, one's life changes for better or for worse, but those major issues over which only governments retain control remain pretty much the same for
the ordinary man.

A new Rod MacDonald recording is always an event to anticipate an savour, since you know that his lyrics will challenge your perceptions regarding recent historic occurrences, even shared events in ones everyday life, and he consistently brings clarity to those issues. That his songs are always leavened with thought provoking honesty seems to me
to be a fair synopsis of his skill as a lyricist - think of a subtle version of Phil Ochs, if you've never heard a Rod MacDonald song. In terms of aural execution A Tale Of Two Americas is a stripped-down affair - wholly acoustic - on which Rod's voice and guitar are supported by the bass of long time musical associate and album co-producer Mark Dann, plus the mandolin, Dobro, and guitar of regular road warrior Steve Eriksson. Meantime, this disc can be purchased by North American readers
from the Folk Era site at FolkEra.com

 

By Kevin McCarthy

The elements in Florida must be agreeing with New York transplant and veteran folkie Rod MacDonald as, like last year, he has released another CD loaded with new creations. 16 fresh cuts appear, along with a re-release and a Bob Dylan nugget.

As usual, MacDonald provides his perspective on current political and world events, along with putting to words the thoughts and feelings emanating from everyday life.

The most powerful social offering is the title cut, "A Tale Of Two Americas," which illuminates the differences between red and blue staters, the secularists and religionists. Here is but a snippet of the powerful lyrics:

"...and those who never knew war
sent other people's kids to battle
in my tale of two americas
they called each other warriors
sat real high up in the saddle..."

This cut qualifies as a companion piece to MacDonald's "For The Good Of America," on his previous release.

"Terror" is another oh-so-appropriate song. MacDonald sings:

"...you want to say who lives and dies
the power to say what's true and what is lies...

...you want to play the god and wield the fire
and always without questioning your own desires..."

"Sacrifice" delves into the 'framing' that goes into defining patriotism. A portion of one telling verse:

"...sacrifice the patriotic for the gold
sacrifice the truth for the story being told..."

MacDonald ends "Sacrifice" with:

"...one side kills the other in return for killing them
if you look on down the road, time and time again
all you do is sacrifice the future for the past"

MacDonald's antidote to the troubles he so eloquently sings of is the healing "Love Is The Common Ground." The chorus:

"...love is the common ground
the place we stand together
here's the truth I've found
love is the common ground..."

The lives of Ray Charles and Ronald Reagan, who died a few days apart, are curiously twined in "Ray and Ron." Arnold Schwarzenegger gets his comeuppance in "The Governator."

"I'm Your Dad" is MacDonald's ode to his daughter. Very similar to his lovely spousal tribute on his last release, "You Who Sleeps Beside Me," this one is a touching look at the bond between father and daughter.

Do not overlook "Smoke," with two of the song's characters being Playboy Playmates somehow boogeying to, of all tunes, "The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald."

With "True Love," MacDonald depicts the vagaries of intimate relationships.

The surrealistic imagery in "Don't Let Your Dim Light Die" is reminiscent and comparable to some of Dylan's psychedelic work. Fittingly, "With God On Our Side" concludes the release.

MacDonald has proven again here that he is a master at musically portraying the difficult issues facing this country and the world. It's also abundantly clear that MacDonald didn't head to Florida to retire. In fact, he appears to have discovered the fountain of youth.

Lucky for us.

Also, check out the very interesting cover page of the liner notes, which appears to be a schlocky street leading to The White House.

 Track List:
  • Ray & Ron (3:17)
  • Terror (3:55)
  • Missing (2:50)
  • The Governator (3:04)
    • My Beloved Enemy (3:52)
    • Smoke (3:42)
    • Treat You Right (3:12)
    • I'm Your Dad (4:23)
    • The Lucky Ones (4:37)
    • Don't Let Your Dim Light Die (4:07)
    • Sacrafice (5:13)
    • Peace (3:33)
    • Here I Stand (4:14)
    • True Love (4:17)
    • A Tale Of Two Americas (3:56)
    • Love Is The Common Ground (3:01) (Rod MacDonald, Susan Flaherty, Dan Grove, Walt Michael, Scott Anslie, Bob Green
    • I Am Bob Dylan (3:36)
    • With God On Our Side (6:30) Bob Dylan

    All songs by Rod MacDonald, except as indicated.

    Ownership, copyright and title of this folk music CD review belongs to me, Kevin McCarthy. Ownership, copyright and title are not transferable or assignable to you or other parties regardless of how or if you or other parties use, copy, save, backup, store, retrieve, transmit, display, publish, modify or share the CD review in whole or in part. Please read the "Terms, Conditions and Disclaimer" section on my web site for additional information about using, quoting, or reprinting this CD review.

    Send inquiries to: celticfolkmusic@icogitate.com.

by Guntram Gudowius (GuntramG@pride.de)

One of the moving forces of the Fast Folk musical magazine and other singer/songwriter ventures that were based in NYC during the late 70's and early 80's, MacDonald has put out records and CDs for about twenty years. Several of his songs have been covered by Garnet Rogers, Gordon Bok and others. Into The Blue is the latest collection of songs by a singer who moved from the melting pot of NYC to the beaches of Florida. Though still a social critic, his point of view changed a bit and the breezes of Caribbean Rhythms celebrate "the good life" as well.

The CD opens with a catchy, happy blues tune about a traveler looking forward to returning to his wife in "Seven Days". In "I Have No Problem With This" he describes the changes that occurred in the life of a person whose values changed as he climbed the ladder of financial success. "Best Defence" is considered a quiet song in these strident times, a slow and old car not to be part of the fast pace. In "Days Of Rain", he comes up with a few suggestions of what to do when the hurricane passes by but you still get rained on. "Here's A Song For You" is a wedding present. MacDonald takes a tongue-in-cheek view of Southern life from the snowbirds' perspective in "It's A Tough Life". He describes Florida's natural history and the threat to ecological balance by more suburban homes in "Aucilla River Song". MacDonald uses the example of the crash of an passenger airplane several years ago in "Deep Down In The Everglades" which deals with the sensational media. "Lightning Over The Sea" is an autobiographical sketch of MacDonald and his wife's lives in Florida and he sings of his love of flying a small air plane in "Into The Blue". He wonders about his "Fear" while living in the country with the greatest military, and evokes Native American spirit in "Sun Dancer". He praises the advantages of being an old fashioned singer with an acoustic guitar in "Six Strings And A Hole Big And Round". The last cut is "The Cure For Insomnia", an instrumental which prominently featuresthe kalimba which irritated my nerves.MacDonald's clear voice delivers all songs with conviction and passion and the pleasant and sweet melodies comfortably carry the lyrics of both the fast and slow paced songs. Except for the kalimba, it's a fairly traditional singer/songwriter accompaniment consisting mostly of acoustic guitar, bass, percussion and some keyboards. The production by MacDonald and his long time musical partner Mark Dann is smooth as we've come to expect from this team and it never interferes with the stories. So, sit back and listen!

Copyright 2000, Peterborough Folk Music Society. 
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
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Linen Shorts

Rod MacDonald Into The Blue

((Gadfly 256) 1999) A new album from a veteran of the New York CityFast Folk! scene and one apparently transplanted to Florida. Although MacDonald has written some great songs, his earlier albums always seemed a bit jejeune and hippyish. Into The Blue changes all that with songs about mature relationships and pieces that take more chances lyrically and musically. The soul of his music still remains the earnest and fervid message behind his word and tunes, however, and there are some nice songs. "Best Defense" ranks up there with his classics. The constant theme of the CD is Florida. The backing to MacDonald's voice and guitar is unobtrusive, though the band gets to swing on a music-box-sounding instrumental. This new, more weathered MacDonald has produced a consistent and sensitive album. (WD)

by Greg Allen

Into The Blue - Rod MacDonald (Gadfly)

Perhaps the prime mover of the reborn Greenwich Village folk music scene, Rod MacDonald's latest has a pronounced Florida accent, a Sunshine State of mind, if you will.

Rod has made my best-of-the-year list in the past. And with Into The Blue,he once again delivers a bumper crop of mellow and up-tempo modern folk tunes, tunes with passion and insight.

One of MacDonald's biggest strengths comes from his concise verbal pictures. Like Lennon and Ray Davies, he has the ability to allow the listener to fill in the blanks when appropriate.

As for the Gator-based odes, for those of us who live in Florida or wish we did, Rod rhapsodizes artfully about the lower key aspect of the place. Of particular note is "Aucilla River," a song that deals with one of Florida's overlooked treasures. (In fact, just a few hours before writing this column, I parked my car by the Aucilla, just to watch it flow so slooooow).

Other Gator and non-Gator greats are "I Have No Problem With This," the beautiful ballad that merits being covered by Eric Clapton or Bonnie Raitt, "Best Defense" and "Here's A Song For You," a track about a parent watching and advising at a wedding. It is a song that many a bride and groom should spin at their matrimonial Mardi gras.

Rod MacDonald is an intelligent composer and a smooth, effective singer. And few folk CDs are better than this!

Greg's top ten list for 1999:

Breaking Down To 3 - Dave Moore (Red House)
Horkstow Grange - Steeleye Span (Park)
The Man From God Knows Where - Tom Russell (Hightone)
Crusades Of The Restless Knights - Ray Wylie Hubbard (Philo)
Tall Tales - The Hot Club of Cowtown (Hightone)
Paradise Lost & Found - Anne Hills & Michael Smith (Redwing)
Cajunization - Beausoleil (Rhino)
Redemption - Peter Gallway (Gadfly)
Into The Blue - Rod MacDonald (Gadfly)
Cajun Spirit - Eddie Le Jeune (Rounder)
Soundations, Copyright 1999 by Greg Allen
Vol. 44 No. 2 Winter 2000 ROD MACDONALD, Into The Blue, (Gadfly 256). Love, marriage and the Florida weather seem to have brought a lot of contentment to Rod MacDonald. The songs on this disc are all engaging and a pleasure to listen to as MacDonald celebrates a more laid-back lifestyle than the one he led on Greenwich Village's MacDougal Street. Some songs, like "Into The Blue" or "It's a Tough Life" could be hits for the parrot-heads. The focussed anger-at-injustice that motivated many of his best songs is more subtle here, but it does come through on songs like "Deep Down In The Everglades, about the Valuejet crash and "Fear", about living as a citizen of a great military power seen as satanic by much of the world.--MR
Rod MacDonald "Into The Blue" Brambus (Import) -- It's obvious from the lyrical content of some of the seventeen songs on MacDonald's fourth release for the Swiss Brambus imprint, that MacDonald is now a resident of the state of Florida. He moved from New York City a few years ago. Now an established member of the folk community in the sunshine state, there's a definite folk/blues edge to some of the fare. As for the production, Rod is aided and abetted--it seems like it has been forever --by Mark Dann. Relative to the American Gadfly version of "Into The Blue" there are four extra "live" tracks on the Brambus release. That's the commercial tease. As for deception, that could be construed as a great skill. Musically and lyrically, "Here's A Song For You" appears simple--stylistically it could be a standard from the 1940s, yet that's the deception. Simple hits the target every time, even down to the doop do wah female chorus. Returning to the theme of Florida-- "Days of Rain," "It's a Tough Life," 'Lightning Over The Sea," "The Aucilla River Song," the album title song and "Deep Down In The Everglades"--the latter about the May 1996 Valuejet plane disaster, have all been inspired by the experiences in his new home state. "Six Strings And A Hole Big And Round" is a tribute to this songwriter's most precious tool--his instrument of choice. The closing quartet of tunes are "The Cure For Insomnia" an instrumental, the long established concert favorite "Some Things I Like About America," plus the bluesy cover "Come Back Baby" and from 1936 the standard "It's a Sin To Tell A Lie." And finally, on "Sundancer," ankle bracelets must surely amount to the most exotic musical instruments ever used on a recording.

Gadfly has done us a service by re-releasing MacDonald's best album to date and one of the best from the New York City Fast Folk milieu. His music sounded at the time more lightweight than some of his more sententious contemporaries like Jack Hardy or Suzanne Vega, but on closer examination, its lyric and musical strength and MacDonald's Iain Matthews-like vocals become more apparent. Originally released in 1987 on tiny McDisk records, White Buffalo contains some of his classic songs like "Cross Country Waltz" and "Stop the War." As one of his earlier efforts, MacDonald sounds young though certainly not ignorant. A couple of the songs are perhaps a bit too earnest: "Sanctuary" asks why we allow Ferdinand Marcos and other dictators into the U.S. but keep out Latin American refugees. Still, his naivete is winning and the song does not preach too hard. A few, like "The Aliens Came in Business Suits," are even more true than before. This reissue adds the lyrics and a slightly better sound that brings out the more subtle points of MacDonald's music. -- by Winthrop Dahl -- Copyright © Dirty Linen: Folk, Electric Folk, Traditional and World
November 26, 1987 Among the many exciting singer-songwriters to emerge from the thriving Fast Folk/Speakeasy scene in New York City, Rod MacDonald is possibly the most musical. In this long-awaited first American album (he has had one released in Europe), his high, clear voice and clean, honest phrasing, his catchy melodies and relaxed, rolling rhythyms make for an album that is urgent in its poetry; yet always bopping, pretty music. In "Song Of My Brothers," he turns alienated idealism into a stirring anthem of community, all to a brisk, pulsing rhythm and breezy melody. He writes with a wry, original vision about contemporary life's peculiar horrors. In "The Aliens Came In Business Suits" he shares an urban-dweller's ultimate nightmare: The aliens "took every parking space." In the witty and captivating "Blues For The River," he offers this modest lover's lament: "She lay in my arms/And talked to me about her boyfriend." In "Sanctuary," he wonders, if we welcome thugs like Somoza and Marcos, "Why do we send back Rosalita and Roseanne?" Where some would use a thumping, good 'n mad melody for such an angry message, MacDonald chose a sweet, pretty one, giving the song a wrenching, sorrowful humanity. MacDonald is a poet with a lot on his mind who has never allowed himself to make points at the expense of making music. The result is that he does both captivatingly well.--Scott Alarik

To help us all through these times, these cds are $5 (minimum 2 cds/$10

No Commercial Traffic (NCT) / And Then He Woke Up (TWU) / Into The Blue (ITB) / Recognition (R) / A Tale Of Two Americas (TTA) / After The War (ATW)

---Songs Of Freedom (SOF), Later That Night (LTN), Beginning Again (BA), or archival cds/dvs are $10 each. "Live In Germany" (DVD)