Album Review – Mack McKenzie’s ‘A Million Miles’

mack-mckenzie-a-million-miles

Mack McKenzie came across the radar of Country Perspective in 2014. He released debut album One Last, One More late in year and it really impressed me. The Dayton, Ohio area based artist’s vocal style and approach evokes thoughts of Texas-based country artist Jason Eady. A lot of the songs on the album delved into darker matters such as depression and heartbreak, perfectly fitting of his gravel-y toned voice. I think what I enjoyed the most about his debut album was how confident and sure he was in his sound. You could just tell he knows what type of music he wants to make when he goes into a studio and thought behind it. So I was eager to hear how he would follow-up this solid debut with his new sophomore album A Million Miles. One thing that stands out about it immediately is it has a more cohesive theme throughout it. But it doesn’t necessarily always work on each song.

One of the standouts of this album is definitely “Drunk Over Your.” It’s your classic drink your sorrows away country song. This is the kind of song that fits McKenzie really well and can knock out with ease. The amount of sorrow and darkness in his voice really sets the perfect tone for the song. “Tell Me” sees a man pleading and hoping that his ex is missing him as much as he misses her everyday. He wonders if she wakes up from dreams in the middle of the night and if that she wants him back again. It’s a desperate, clinging hope for something that probably still isn’t there. “I Wonder” is very much along the same lines, but I think “Tell Me” gets this desperate hoping across better.

The desperation comes across great too on “M – 3.” The man just refuses to stop giving a damn about the woman he lost and he’s willing to wait a while for her to come back. This could mean him or her changing, but he refuses to give up on something that he feels so strongly about. It’s a really strong song and shows off McKenzie’s ultimate strength: expressing pain and heartbreak in his words and vocals. This theme is kind of reversed on “Where Do You Get Off.” Here the man calls bullshit on his ex saying she still loves him. But then realizes he still loves her too. In other words things are pretty complicated between the two. Neither can really come out and say what they want.

The biggest problem I seem to find with this album is that I find some of the songs over stay their welcome. That’s most exemplified on “Reasons.” It’s a perfectly fine song about a couple giving up on love while still together. But there’s no reason why it should be nearly eight minutes in length. If you’re going to make a song this long, it better be justified. It reminds me of what one of my old English teachers used to tell me: if you can say something in fewer words than what you’ve written, you need to do it. Otherwise you’re just filling space. McKenzie tackles romance and passion in “Give It To Me.” And as much as I want to like it, I just don’t. It comes off too schmaltzy for my taste. It’s not bad, but I just don’t think it fits him and his style. He’s at his best when he’s singing about grittier themes and this just seems a little too polished for him.

For the most part I think a majority of the songs on A Million Miles work well and I can see the idea McKenzie is going for with the whole album. But unfortunately he just doesn’t fully execute it to its full potential. The album kind of gets off to a slow start with its two opening songs, which I find are too broad and similar. Not to mention it doesn’t really hook you into the album like opening songs should do. It wasn’t until the third song that I really started to get into the album. The middle part of this album is where it shines brightest and found myself enjoying the most. McKenzie undoubtedly likes to dig deep with his songwriting, but I think he digs too deep on this album at times to the point where you lose the listener (I had a similar criticism with Jack Ingram’s latest album). What this album also lacked was taking risks and doing more with the sound. Despite my criticisms though, I still find A Million Miles to be a good album with some nice moments that make it worth checking out.

Grade: 7/10

 

Recommend? – Yes, if you like artists such as Jason Eady, Ryan Bingham and Corb Lund

Album Highlights: Drunk Over You, M – 3, Tell Me, Where Do You Get Off

Bad Songs: None

Wallpaper: A Million Miles, Anywhere But Here

Also the album artwork is fantastic! Kudos to the artist who made it.


You can preview and purchase Mack McKenzie’s A Million Miles at Amazon, Google Play and iTunes.

Album Review – Mack McKenzie’s One Last, One More is An Absolute Gem

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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.

Mack McKenzie

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.

Grade: 9/10

 

Q&A: Getting To Know New Country Artist Mack McKenzie

Today Country Perspective caught up with Mack McKenzie. He’s a new country artist from Dayton, Ohio and has just beginning his country music career by releasing his first song “I’m Doing Alright.” When I heard this song, I felt this was something that deserved to be heard and something you the readers would enjoy too. The song features great songwriting and a classic country feel. It compelled me to reach out to McKenzie and find out more about him and his new song.

Country Perspective: For those who don’t know who you are, who is Mack McKenzie?

Mack McKenzie: I’m just an average guy, with an average job, taking a shot at what I would rather be doing than working 9-5. I’d like to think I make country music that is honest that hopefully some folks want to hear. Time will tell I guess haha.

CP: On your Facebook page it says you learned to play guitar from your grandparents. How much inspiration does that have on your music?

MM: I grew up on old country, bluegrass and gospel, so these were the first things I really learned how to play. After getting the basics down I moved on to classic rock. I didn’t have any interest in bluegrass at the time, and I thought the country music at the time was terrible. So, long story short, it all came full circle and the old country and bluegrass is what really inspires the way I put together my music. I wish I would have stayed with the bluegrass longer in the beginning, there’s a style of flat picking they do I attempt to utilize when I can but have yet to master.

CP: I see that you’re a combat veteran too. First, thank you for your service to this country. Second, how much do you draw from this experience when making music?

MM: Thank you for the support, I appreciate it. It’s funny that you ask that, because I try to avoid it almost entirely. It wasn’t until about a year ago that I had to come to terms with it, and that it’s simply part of me whether I like it or not. So, if I am being genuine when I write its going to show through. I do my best to mask it to a certain extent when I can, or write around it when possible. Either way, anyone who knows my prior experience in the military can probably see it. So many artists sing about the troops and being separated from their family, life, and routine, but having experienced it first hand, it comes off surface deep to me. I do have to say that having the military experience, gave me a drive I apply to my music, that I might not have otherwise. I also gained a great deal of life experience in general, seeing the world, good and bad.

CP: What was the inspiration behind the making of your first single “I’m Doing Alright”?

MM: Lyrically, I was venting some of my own demons and trying to get a few things off my chest. When it came to the video I wanted to have a focus on the lyrics and themes within the song, instead of anything too flashy. I sat down with the production team at Moon Ranch Entertainment and walked them though a few ideas I had. Originally we were going to do the solo shots of me playing and singing in the dark room, while doing flashbacks to scenes that would highlight the themes in the song. After the first day of shooting the dark room scene, I decided to scrap the flashback scenes altogether. I felt that what I was trying to convey might get lost in translation. A couple of days before we were going to release the video, I spoke with the production team and told them how I wanted to incorporate the signs. So we pulled a bunch of folks we knew together and set up the dark room again. I wrote out the themes and end message on the signs, we pulled folks onto the sound stage one by one, told them to go through the pile of signs and choose a theme they would want to represent or had significant meaning to them. We put them in front of the camera and finished up the remainder of the shots for the video. After a couple of edits we were able to cut this into the solo shots of me to have the product you see now. I chose not to hold the signs because, even though the song itself has a specific meaning to me, there are many themes/issues referenced that I think most people can relate to. I thought about the video for a while after I saw it all together, and nearly shelved it. I had concerns it would be too cheesy or “we are the world”, if that makes sense. I was also concerned that it might put my music in a rut, as the “for a cause” guy. The song itself is incredibly personal to me and the video really brought to light what was really going on in the song. So after a couple of days I decided to release the video and just let it fly. There’s not much brutal honesty in today’s music, and people can see through BS. Brutal honesty makes the best music in my opinion. Either brutal honesty or absolute absurdity.

CP: With the increased dialogue about suicide and depression as a result of the recent death of comedian Robin Williams, how much influence did that have on you releasing this song right now?

MM: In all honestly it was completely coincidental that everything mirrored up the way it has. I had been playing this song for about a year. Give it time though, I’m sure someone will come along and sensationalize the passing of Robin Williams for financial gain. The statistics on the themes in the song are overwhelming, most of the population is affected directly by one of these topics, or has someone close to them that is. Funny story, I recently found out not many people understood what the song was actually about. The statement “I’m Doing Alright” is a front or a façade of what is actually happening, and I don’t know if many folks picked up on it.

CP: What artists do you look up to and have had an influence on your music?

MM: George Jones, Jason Isbell, and Kris Kristofferson had some of the biggest impact on how I thought about song writing and how to really make songs that connect with people in someway, shape or form. Then you have guys like Levon Helm that could really paint a picture and go deep with very few words, which is something I really try to focus on. Hands down one of my favorite artist today is Sturgill Simpson. That guy blazed his own path and said to hell with all of the non-sense of the musical game. On top of all of that, he is killing it, so that gives me a little hope in my own self funded musical effort. I’m nowhere close to being in the same ballpark as any of these incredibly talented individuals but they have been the most influential on my music.

CP: What kind of country music do you want to make?

MM: I want to make country music that is true to me and honest. If it works out, it works out if not oh well, at least I can say that I tried. I just want to make music that people can relate to on more occasions than at a Friday night frat party.

CP: What are your thoughts on the current landscape of mainstream country music?

MM: Oh, heavens I could write a book on my issues with mainstream country music. I don’t have any interest in hearing about the “pretty thangs”, or “tight jeans” anymore. I’m pretty sure that someone could create an app that could take all of these phrases in mainstream country and make the next hit. With that being said, if you don’t like something change it. My songs may never be heard on the scale as those in mainstream, but I’m never going to write anything like that.

CP: What are your current plans as far as touring and releasing new music?

MM: Currently we are in the studio recording my debut album titled “One Last One More.” We are about halfway done at this point, and we are looking at a late October, early November release. We have been pushing the music out and its been getting some really good feedback. I tried to cover all of the country sonic space I could, so what you hear in “I’m Doing Alright” is the only song that sounds like that. A good chunk of these have a 70’s country feel for the modern era. Once the album has been finished we will get back into the swing of playing out again. In the past we have focused on Ohio, Northern Kentucky, and Indiana, but after the album is released I would like to branch out further. All of us have regular jobs, so we can’t stop and doing long leg tours unfortunately. A good deal of how far we venture out will depend on the reception of the album. So fingers crossed, we hope it goes well.

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To find out more about Mack McKenzie and keep up with him, you can follow him on Twitter by clicking here.

You can like his Facebook page, by clicking here.