By any standard, a decade is a long time between records. “Yonder [the] Big Blue Holler” is Todd Mack’s first solo record since 1994’s “Looking for Leon.”
Mack is no slacker— he kept himself pretty busy during that stretch. He toured extensively with blues band, The Griswolds, moved from Atlanta to Western Mass, became a stay-at-home dad with his young daughter, wrote two children’s books and converted the barn behind his house into a state-of-the-arts recording facility, where he subsequently produced more than a dozen albums.
He somehow finds time to host a radio show on WKZE devoted to indie artists like himself.
He assembled a huge supporting cast of 25 musicians who took over a year to fashion Mack’s sturdy new musical document that is at turns playful and poignant.
&ldquo>I built the CD much like you would build a house—starting with the foundation of the rhythm section and then adding on,” said Mack in an e-mail exchange from his home in Southfield.
It gave me the opportunity to really hone in on parts and to really get to know the players I was working with.”
Those players include an all-star cast of area roots musicians, including Bobby Sweet on guitar, fiddle and mandolin and Pete Adams on pedal steel (Mack calls them “The Kinds of Twang”); drummer Rick Leab; and studio partner Will Curtiss on bass. Each will be accompanying Mack tomorrow evening at his CD release double bill at Club Helsinki at 8 and 10.
The deliberate pace of recording allowed Mack, who cites the likes of Steve Earle, Joe Henry, Lucinda Williams and Emmylou Harris as inspirations, to immerse himself in a record that truly reflects his love of gritty and soulful Americana.
“Ironically, I’ve never made the record I always felt I have been capable of making— until this one. I am very proud of this CD and feel that for the first time it accurately captures what I am capable of doing both in the studio and with guitar and pen.
“This was my single goal with this CD, especially because it was my first commercial offering since becoming a part of the local music scene. I wanted to make sure I was putting my best foot forward.”
Highlights include the clever, rollicking opener “Already Gone and Only Halfway There,” “Five Nights Drunk”—a song seemingly torn from Fred Eaglesmith’s songbook-with a bit of Dixieland jazz tacked on—and a reverent cover of the Traveling Wilbury’s “Poor House,” an overlooked tune from their second record.
From the first time I heard the oridinal version of this song I have loved it,” explained Mack. “I don’t cover other people’s songs very often, especially famous people, but when I do I like to pick songs that are obscure. I think it allows the listener to go in without any preconceived notions on how it should sound.”
The CD ends on an extremely moving note with “beautiful Angel,” an homage to mack’s longtime friend Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street journalist and former Eagle reporter who perished at the hands of terrorists in Pakistan in 2002.
“We played in a band together, became fast friends, and remained that way until the end,” added Mack. “His death changed my life, much like his life itself and our friendship. I vowed to myself to do everything I could to keep his memory alive.
Danny and I shared very similar views on the world and the importance of dialogue and communication. Upholding those ideals and keeping his legacy thriving have become a big part of my life’s mission.”
A portion of the proceeds of “Yonder [the] Big Blue Holler” will be donated to The Daniel Pearl Foundation.
“The other reason this CD is dedicated to Danny is because he should have been on it,” stated Mack. “He should have played those fiddle and mandolin parts. He has played every fiddle part I have ever needed up until this record, and I wanted him on this one too.”
Through some studio wizardry a determined Mack was able to make it happen.
“For ‘beautiful Angel’ I found old recordings Danny and I had done and took his violin tracks to Joe Rose who was able to digitally tweak the files and loop them. Those dreamy string sounds on that song are Danny playing.”
Like many independent singer-songwriters, Mack aspires to merely survive so that he can continue experiencing the delight of creating music.
“The beauty in releasing my own records is that the only person I have to please is myself. Not that that’s always easy, but there is nothing in the world more liberating than that.
“I was 15 when I wrote my first song, and 25 years later it is still the thing that brings me the most joy in this whole process. There is a ‘zone’ that I go into when I am writing—it’s like a high, and when things are clicking there is no better feeling in the world.”