With this post we mark the passing of Paul MacLeod, a truly excellent singer and songwriter. To all of his family and friends, our sincere condolences.
We used to go see Paul play at the Walper Pub in Kitchener on a weeknight. This would have been in 98 or 99, and it was always an excellent show. His talent and control was always great, and he seemed like a pretty chill, laid back dude. His songs were so very, very good, and his cover tunes were well-chosen, and played distinctively yet recognizeably.
My lovely wife (then my lovely girlfriend) talked to Paul once, after a show, when she bought his Tell The Band To Go Home CD from him directly. It wasn’t a long conversation, as others demanded his attention too, but he was very friendly. We still have that CD here today. Never got him to sign it, but that’s OK. It’s the music that matters.
My lovely wife says her strongest memory of Paul was how I raved about his shows, then the first time I took her to see him, he was at a corner table drinking with friends, and he just looked like a regular dude in a toque. But when he stepped to the mic and started playing, he was absolutely riveting, such a strong stage presence, a man totally in his element.
One night, he seemed to not know what to play next, so he asked for requests. Trying to crack him up, I shouted Dave Matthews! at him. He laughed (and did not play Dave Matthews).
I recall him using Massive Attack’s Mezzanine as between sets music, maybe only once but it was enough – it was likely the first place I heard that amazing record, so thanks for that, Paul!
Another time, he was between songs and asked if we wanted to hear half of a new song, one still in the process of being written, nowhere near done. A ‘halfie,’ he called it. Of course we did, and while I cannot tell you what the song was, even the part we heard was awesome.
One of my favourite cover tunes he did was the old standard, Everything Happens To Me. He always nailed that one.
My memory may be faulty on this one, but does anyone remember if he once did a songwriter’s workshop with Billy Bragg? That seems to stand out in my memory as something he mentioned one time (and imagine how awesome THAT would be), but I could be wrong.
On one occasion, he was playing a Fender Telecaster, highly unusual given his usual acoustic guitar usage. I can’t remember exactly what happened to his acoustic, whether it was stolen or damaged somehow, so he was making do with the electric and folks, he did mighty damn fine.
Fast forward a few years, and we’d moved to Saskatoon. Skydiggers were coming to town and we got tickets. I was excited to see Skydiggers live, but even more exciting was that Paul MacLeod was with them. We’d see him play again! James wrote it up, back then, and will be posting it here (in his inimitable, hilarious style).
I’ve written up most, if not all, of Paul’s brilliant solo work, in these pages, as well as the excellent Hibakusha CD. Every new release was an event! I should also dig out the Skydiggers records he was on and do those too. We always think we have all the time in the world…
If you’ve read this far, thank you for your patience. It’s just snippets of memories of over 15 years of listening to Paul MacLeod’s music, and catching him in concert a few times, here and there. I know that life wasn’t always easy for him or those around him, but I only know little bits about all of that. For me, it was always his music.
Mike and I are reviewing this CD and posting the results at the same time. So, you lucky kids, you get to go right here to his site and read his thoughts on this record too!
Long-time fan of Paul MacLeod over here, folks. We used to go see him in the basement of the Walper Pub in 1998/99… I remember taking my lovely wife, who back then had only just become my lovely girlfriend, to see him play. I know we bought his Sidetrack Café CD directly from him at one of those gigs… Anyway. Every release of Paul MacLeod’s is reason for excitement in our ranks and this record is no exception. Every time I hear this, I love it completely.
Be My Girl always surprises me, the vocals sound like him in inflection, but the pitch and the little bit of growl can make me think it isn’t him. Also, the tune itself makes me think of Big Rude Jake and that pleases me greatly. Change Your Life is a pretty, strummy tune, and here his voice is sort of mid-range to what I’m used to from him. This is a great tune built for more than campfire fodder.
December is a plucked guitar workout, and lyrically a blues – just a damned pretty song all around. And here is the voice I know! Also, “I wanted to assassinate December…” is such a great line. Hero is next, and damn he’s flying now! The electric comes out and away he goes with that tricky guitar work, slight echo effect and brilliant words again, all complete with one person clapping at the end.
The Trickster brings back the acoustic, to great effect since its in tandem with that soaring vocal he does that grabs your ear and holds it. The lyrics here are a songwriter’s dream. Instrumental seems a simple little run of chord changes and a riff, until it becomes apparent that, if you step back and see it big picture, the melody’s also an acoustic guitar rendition of MacLeod singing. Brilliant!
Stop is a gorgeous acoustic tune that I never want to stop, every time I hear it. The harmonies, the… everything. Love it. Another White Band’s energy is great because, while your ear is waiting for a full band to come crashing and take this into the stratosphere of rock, you realize very quickly that it doesn’t need it. It’s got verve and grit all on its own, thank you very much. Even the lyrics say so: “we don’t mean harm but we just don’t like the sound of Another White Band trying to sing this whole world down.” Amen. All you need is Paul and a guitar, folks. Get ‘er done!
And, as if all of this wasn’t enough, there’s one more tune, the excellent It Belongs To You, with its plucked electric and really uplifting words. I love how it ends the CD with hope, and on a note that suggests the next note is yours to make.
Gauge is freaking fantastic. So are the rest of Paul MacLeod’s albums. Go and get them all, and tell them the KMA sent you.
We love Paul MacLeod’s records. We own them all – his solo work and the ones he made with Hibakusha and the Skydiggers too. We go see him play every chance we get (which, unfortunately, isn’t as often as we’d like but we do our best). So imagine our excitement when we learned that he’s finally released a new record! Bliss!!
Bright Eyes Fade was definitely worth the wait. It’s all here; the brilliant songwriting, the stellar guitar work, and that soaring, completely distinctive voice of his. Every song he writes is beautifully crafted, thoughtfully considered and imbued with that clear sensibility that is all his own. Whether it’s a full on pop-rock song or an achingly beautiful acoustic guitar meditation, Paul MacLeod succeeds so completely that it isn’t fair to others who would try to achieve what he does.
KMA’s Recommendation: Get yourself to Busted Flat’s site and snag yourself a copy of this slice of brilliance. Oh baby.
To say that I loved this record would be understatement of the year.
01 A Clear Thought
09 Down In The Street
P.S. Hey Paul, thanks for the song “Money.” Man, I’m totally with you on that one!
Today seems to be my day for keeping promises made in earlier reviews. And it’s all good, because it means I get to listen to awesome albums over again and then write about them. How cool is that? (all together now) Pretty damn cool! Exactly.
Anyway, I’d said I’d tell you my thoughts on Paul MacLeod’s album, Close And Play and boy have I ever got a head full of thoughts about this one. As you may recall, MacLeod is a singer/songwriter who does awesome solo stuff, plays with the Skydiggers, and plays with a band called Hibakusha as well. We used to go see him play solo in Kitchener, in the cavernous, curvy-walled basement of the Walper Pub… ah yes, I can see recognition dawning on your face. You remember. Good work, Grasshopper.
So, I’ll admit I felt a bit of trepidation when I first bought this record. It had nothing to do with the man himself. I think he’s a brilliant song-writer, musician and singer. He should be hugely popular in this country and beyond. No argument there. What got to me a bit was that for this record there was a band with him, other instruments and maybe other voices and, well, I was so used to seeing him play solo that I thought the beauty of it all would be wrecked by complicating things.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. Silly, silly me.
First of all, I should have remembered that the excellence of his songs means that no matter what arrangement they are in, they’ll still kick ass. They’ll still say something important. And the music itself didn’t suffer also because his cohort in all of this awesomeness was none other than Hawksley Workman, another Canadian musician who should be lauded from all corners, loudly and constantly. Such a great pairing. Hawksley engineered, mixed, co-produced and played on this album. What a dream.
The original songs here are so good, especially Listen Mary and Broken Wing, and… oh hell, I should just say they’re all worth every second. It’s totally true. The poetry just keeps on coming, and you find yourself paying attention to every word as each story unfolds. The guitar parts remain fascinating and percussive as well. And there’s even a couple of tracks from the Tell The Band To Go Home EP that make a re-appearance here, Cruelty and Giants, both of which grew up into handsome pieces indeed, what with the addition of Hawksley’s talent for understanding what was needed and then providing it perfectly.
I even loved the cover art, with that old-looking picture on the inside, of the woman sitting next to the record player and London Calling substituted into her hand. Haha. The look on her face makes the picture priceless.
Start to finish, this one’s a gem. I’m telling you now, go get this record if you don’t have it already. You can send me your effusive thanks and “you were SO rights” for instructing you thusly at your leisure.
…Oh yeah, and I just went and ordered the Hibakusha album today, so when it comes in I’ll review it here too, of course. See? More promises! It’s what keeps ya coming back for more, isn’t it!
Thanks to Anonymous’ comment, I am now aware that Paul MacLeod has a new album (Bright Eyes Fade) coming soon, his early CDs are re-released, and he has a Myspace page www.myspace.com/macleodpaul where you can enjoy a few of the new songs (they sound absolutely great)! Also, from checking out the page I learned that he has a CD with a band called Hibakusha, and an upcoming show at Castro’s Lounge in Toronto on April 18. You oughta go. Seriously.
This is all very fantastic news but wow, I’ve been a little out of the loop on this one!
I will definitely have my ears to the ground for news of the album release, I’ll be looking into the band album too, and I’ll be posting a review of his other earlier album Close And Play sometime soon. I wonder if the re-releases contain bonus tracks. That would be awesome…
Way to go! You should all be as excited by this news as I am. Because I said so!
This CD is proof that one man and a guitar can still totally kick your ass.
We used to go see Paul MacLeod play at the Walper pub in Kitchener, back when I still lived there. The guy’s awesome. He has this clear, keening, unique voice that really doesn’t sound like it should be coming out of a guy of that stature. His guitar-playing is controlled and excellent. His original songs are fascinating and beautiful, and the Sinead O’Connor cover fits perfectly and makes the hairs on your arms stand up. You’ll be damned if you don’t find yourself re-playing all of the tracks so you can learn the words and sing along.
There’s a simplicity to these songs. No, wait, the right word is clarity. They’re anything but simple, when you consider the emotion of delivery and poetry of the lyrics. There’s a warmth and a feeling of his being genuine here, like he’s playing these songs just for you as much as he is for anybody and everybody else. Frankly, in my opinion, this guy should be huge and famous in this country. You should already know who he is. Sure, he plays with the Skydiggers now (and he fits well there too, as we learned when we saw them in Saskatoon), and that’s awesome. His solo stuff is equally great, is all I’m saying.
As far as I know, this is his first-ever CD, recorded live at the Sidetrack Café in Edmonton on January 6, 1998. The sound quality is excellent and sure, it’s a short EP, but the quality of the songs makes it seem to play like any great full length.
We picked up our copy of this CD from the man himself, at a gig at the Walper. Not sure where you can get a copy now… Maple doesn’t seem to have any more, and Amazon doesn’t even list it (those dummies!). Hell, he may still be playing gigs here and there, and might have a few left. Go see him play, and ask him!
You won’t regret the time it takes to find a copy of this disc. It’ll get into your blood and you’ll find yourself playing it again and again. And again.