Sun Times staff
It’s taken Tara MacKenzie a long time to come around to the blues.
Now that she’s found her spot beside husband Trevor — a searing electric guitarist — their new MacKenzie Blues Band and the CD due this summer have become an obsession for the powerful and versatile Owen Sound singer.
“I’m possessed almost. It’s crazy,” MacKenzie said this week. “I can’t stop thinking about it all the time because I love this music so much and what the band has made.”
Back Road Revelation is to be launched at Kincardine’s Lighthouse Blues Festival, where the MacKenzie Blues Band, formed just last August, kicks off the main stage festivities on Friday, July 13.
All but one tune on the new disc, the Buddy Guy tribute Heavy Love, are band originals, with Tara’s lyrics around her own song sketches or written to riffs Trevor and band members Joel Dawson, bass, and Mike Weir, drums, created.
They’ve logged more than 400 studio hours recording the project and the final mixes are just about ready to go to Abbey Road studios in England for mastering.
The effort they’ve put in and the potential they see is worth investing in the very best for the most important part of the recording, both musicians said.
“We’ve been busting our butts. I’ve never worked this hard on a project in my life or put more of my soul into it,” Tara MacKenzie said. “I left the blood on the tracks for this album. I did. So did everybody in the band.”
Married for a dozen years, both MacKenzies have behind them a long list of bands, projects and session credentials. Until forming this group in August, they rarely made their music on stage together, although both are part of The Honey Hammers, a popular local rock cover band.
Trevor’s home has always been on the heavy side, in blues and blues rock, while Tara was known more for folk and trad.
She’s been a solo folksinger, played the Celtic harp, has written songs and recorded and performed in that trad mode with several groups while also singing in a wide range of styles and genres.
It wasn’t until Saugeen Shores bluesman Larry White asked her to gig with Big Bad Wolf that MacKenzie was able to focus on that genre and sort out her feelings and her approach to the blues, MacKenzie said.
From there, finally singing blues in a band with Trevor was a logical next step. Especially since both musicians were so busy in different groups. They weren’t seeing enough of one another.
“We streamlined it,” Tara MacKenzie said during a chat this week at Fromager Music, where Trevor has worked for many years. That’s in addition to his performance career — sometimes with four or five bands at a time — and the recording studio the couple run together at their home in Owen Sound, where Tara also has a vocal teaching studio.
“It took me a long time to come to the blues,” she said. “I had to figure out what I did like and what I didn’t and I came to understand that I like something a bit raunchier than old classic style blues and I was able to really easily start writing in that vein.”
The songs on the new CD are true songs about her own experiences or things she’s observed in others.
“A lot of these songs are speaking to situations that I see that I don’t dare get involved in on a direct level,” she said. “But inside, I just can’t now say something. So I just hope that the result of those lyrics can intervene in the lives of the people that I’ve written about.”
“They’re not scathing, they’re really encouraging,” she added.
The feel of the original songs ranges from blue/soul ballad to “heavy (Jimi) Hendrix-style blues riffs,” Trevor MacKenzie said.
The band doesn’t sit comfortably in Chicago, delta or any other one blues niche, he said.
“We don’t really want to be confined that way. We just want to play music.”
At the heart of it all is Tara’s voice, ranging over almost four octaves, and MacKenzie’s often incendiary guitar playing against the solid rhythm section.
Highly regarded Owen Sound blues harp specialist Rod Ramsay, keyboard player Rob McLean, vocalist Sylvie Weir and Coco Love Alcorn, trumpet, contributed to the project.
The band’s creative collaboration often begins with a song sketch from Tara, a lyric and a riff.
“Tara would come up with some lyrical ideas and maybe some chord patterns and we would all collaborate and just make it happen,” Trevor said. “When it really happens is in the studio where you can really start working it.”
It’s been a busy first 10 months for The MacKenzie Blues Band. Even without a CD, they booked 42 gigs including several festivals. Notably still to come are Summerfolk, The Lighthouse Blues Festival in Kincardine next month where they’ll launch the CD and the Orangeville Blues Festival, where the band plays tonight.
There’s also a CD launch July 28 at The Dam Pub patio in Thornbury.
Next Sunday, June 10, The MacKenzie Blue Band will kicking off this year’s annual city-run Harbour Nights concert series, backing up several area singers during an Amazing Voices ticketed event at the Legion. Proceeds support the Sunday night free concert series.