When reviewing an artist’s debut album, I usually don’t set my expectations too high. After all it’s the first real look at the artist and you usually only have one song to go off of heading into the review. The best you can usually expect in debut albums is a few great songs with some bumps along the way. It’s natural that an artist’s debut isn’t great all the way through because they’re still finding themselves. Well everyone once in a while you have a debut that bucks this conventional wisdom and that’s exactly what Mack McKenzie’s debut album One Last, One More does. Why does is his debut so good? It’s because Mack knows exactly who he is and the music he wants to make.
The first song to kick off the album is “The Anthem (Broke and Busted).” This song is what it says it is right in the title. This is Mack’s anthem of who he is and what he will always be. Being that it’s his first album, think of this song as his introduction to everybody. The steel guitar is loud and proud in this song, prepping you for what you’re about to hear in One Last, One More. The second song is “Don’t Go,” which is a heartbreak song through and through. The man in the song is pleading to the woman in his life to not leave him, but it’s clearly over. When hearing Mack’s voice in this song, one artist immediately came to mind. I know this is a lofty comparison, but I really hear a lot of Jason Eady in Mack’s voice in this song. In fact this song would pass for an Eady song easily. And that’s a good thing. Not only do you hear it in this song, but throughout the album.
“Your Ways” is another heartbreak song, except this is one is much more upbeat. The piano is featured heavily throughout this song and you know how much I’ve been advocating for more piano play in country songs. With this heavy piano play it gives the song a country western feel. This is arguably the best instrumentation featured on the album. McKenzie slows it down next with “Oceans.” It’s about how a man feels like he’s just woken up on an island, tossed onto it by the ocean. The ocean represents the woman in his life and the island representing how lost he feels at the moment. The use of an ocean sound effect at the beginning and end of the song is also a nice touch because it’s another element that adds to the story being told in the song. The stripped down instrumentation allows McKenzie to tell a story with his lyrics, making for a great song.
His first single from the album that was featured here on Country Perspective a couple of months ago, “I’m Doing Alright,” is about depression and dealing with demons. As McKenzie said in my interview with him, the narrator in the song saying they’re alright is really a “façade.” The instrumentation and lyrics come together perfectly in this song and once you understand the theme, you will appreciate it even more. “Leaving Kind of Love” is about a relationship where both sides have been saying for a while they’re leaving each other, yet they stay together. By the end of the song they realize despite rocky moments they both belong together and love each other. It’s really a unique love song compared to the average country love song because I think it’s a more realistic look at long-term romantic relationships. Many like to paint it as a fairy tale, but it’s really a battle and I think Mack gets this point across well.
Following this is the album’s title track, which is about two people who can’t move on from their past relationship and continue to give it one more try. Again Mack does a great job with his lyrics painting a realistic scenario of how relationships play out, from the feeling of internal conflict of doubt expressed to the willingness to give it another go. It’s really a deeply layered song and it shows how great of a storyteller McKenzie is with his music. Switching gears, McKenzie dishes out his own protest song, “Tan Lines and Tailgates.” McKenzie expressed his distaste for bro country in our interview and that comes through here on this anti-bro country anthem. There is a little humor thrown in at the beginning, but the rest of the song is more serious and McKenzie just flat-out spells what country music should be about. For example, he sings that drinking songs should be not about the drinking itself, but what you’re thinking about.
Speaking of what drinking songs should be about, McKenzie backs up his talk with a genuine drinking song, “Beneath Your Feet.” The man in the song is obviously distraught about his life and is asking for someone to take the drink from his hand to get some relief. He’s hit rock bottom and is asking for help. The tone set by the instrumentation of the song fits perfectly with it’s theme and I think McKenzie’s take on a drinking song is quite good.
The entire album has been pretty damn good up to this point and yet McKenzie saves what I believe to be the very best song for last, “Walk With Me.” This song is about a man who has just lost his wife of 50 years and he recounts his life with her throughout the song. The string instrumentation used in this song is fantastic and progresses the song perfectly. The use of a female background vocal is also hauntingly effective. By the end of the song, the old man’s time has come too and although he is a little scared, he knows his love his waiting for him on the other side. This is the best song on the album to me because McKenzie’s storytelling and ability to create the right emotions is top-notch. This is music artistry at it’s finest.
So as you can tell I really like this album. McKenzie shows that you can take a little and make a lot, as he doesn’t have the most nor the best equipment at his disposal. Really he shows that all you need to make great country music is three chords and the truth. The songwriting on this album is honest, raw and layered. The instrumentation isn’t flashy and it doesn’t need to be. It’s just right. Although he reminds me of Jason Eady at times with his vocals, McKenzie is still himself and has his own sound. I feel like there was only one ingredient or something missing that prevented me from giving this album a 10. I can’t put my finger on it. Nevertheless a debut album shouldn’t be this great and yet it is. Mack McKenzie’s One Last, One More is highly recommended and I think his music future is quite bright.