The Johnny Mac Band – Ace
Long Island’s The Johnny Mac Band has begun laying the groundwork for their second studio release, Ace, by releasing a debut single. They have chosen the title track as a representative cut from what promises to be a big moment in this band’s history – despite the fact that the band boasts four extraordinarily talented veterans of the East Coast scene, The Johnny Mac Band haven’t been together that long and play with the sort of energy and creativity that one might expect from young performers rather than such grizzled hands. The music has kept them young – more accurately, the blues have preserved them and their performance of “Ace” moves with the sort of slinky command that one might associate with iconic performers in the form. It’s just four guys from the Long Island area, however, playing the blues like they are the first band to ever tackle the form.
The blistering blues guitar, courtesy of Mac, gets your attention from the start. He’s got a keen ear though – Mac’s six string pulls back from its dominant position at just the ideal moments and cedes musical turf to the equally important contributes from Joe Roberts’ keyboards and the rhythm section of drummer Ray Hauck and bassist Dave Ice. The steady artistic hand of everyone involved makes this a real event from the first and the relatively modest ambitions of the song are given a compelling stage to get over with listeners. It’s the production, above all else, that makes this seem like much more than it is. There’s clearly an attention to highlighting all the right elements in a balanced way that will impress even longtime fans of the style. Mac’s guitar might be the prime mover, but it would be an empty vehicle shorn of the first rate support it gets from other instruments in the mix.
The vocal is a good fit for the song. Mac doesn’t have the sort of voice that will transform your ideas about the genre, but it’s more than ideal for the material and he has a palpable charm that grows on listeners over time. Much of this is due to the fact that he is so clearly with every word of the song and treats it with the seriousness and artistry it deserves – there’s few predictable vocal turns here and he seems intent on imbuing the song with his own experiences and frame of reference. The instrumental intensity that comes in the song’s second half prods him to raise the vocal stakes and he does so without ever losing his footing once. “Ace” shows a band developing while still remaining true to their guiding initial impulse. Their instrumental excellence is unquestionable, but the Johnny Mac Band get where they want and need to go based on heart above all and it’s in ample supply.
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