The final track on Mac McCloud’s new album is where you need to start. It’s called “Feel Like Going Home,” and it comes at the end of a masterful collection called “My Heart Is Sinking,” McCloud’s first release since 2002. The five other songs on the album are excellent, but that final song is where the blues comes alive, the kind of blues that soaks its way into your skin and opens the door to a sort of rapturous despair.
In McCloud’s hands, “Feel Like Going Home,” originally written by Muddy Waters but popularized by country singer Charlie Rich, is a subtle but lethal weapon, building on a simple, beautiful acoustic guitar melody and McCloud’s gravelly, wounded rasp.
“Lord I tried to, to see it through,” McCloud sings, radiating an exquisite weariness, “But it was too much for me/ So now I’m coming home to you.”
With a few simple chords and plainspoken lines, McCloud makes the listener hurt and hope; that’s what the blues is supposed to do, right?
That track puts an exclamation point on a collection that mixes other bare-bones acoustic tracks with tough, swaggering electric blues. The two styles alternate on “My Heart Is Sinking,” duking it out for musical supremacy; it’s a draw, but we all win. That McCloud has created such an assured, deeply felt collection of blues tunes shouldn’t be a surprise; it’s the music he’s loved all his life, and he’s been playing it on the Upstate scene for decades.
“I was just drawn to it,” McCloud says. “There was a depth to it. The blues has always been my first love; I’ve played a lot of different kinds of music, but it’s always what I come back to.”
What IS surprising is that it’s taken him 17 years to make “My Heart Is Sinking,” which is only his second studio album. McCloud was content with playing around town instead of recording, most recently with a soul-jazz organ trio, but as he alluded to earlier, the blues was calling to him. Except this time it was calling on Skype.
“I’d been taking guitar lessons on Skype for a year or so from this guy out in LA,” he says, “learning a bunch of old jump blues and songs by these guys from the ‘40s like Bill Jennings. I’d watched some clips of it on YouTube and thought it was so cool, so I decided to get into it. And I was learning a lot of stuff that I wasn’t necessarily using in the context of the band. So I thought it would be great to go into the studio and process it all out.”
McCloud says he was attracted to jump blues because it mixed elements of jazz music and straight-ahead blues.
“The grooves are so cool,” he says. “They’re really based in jazz. You know, jazz and blues are really from the same tree, but this is more like swing music. The guitar parts are like horn lines, and I just loved it.”
McCloud’s stripped-down approach on the acoustic tracks is potent, but the group he assembled for the full-band tracks is downright devastating. Former Marshall Tucker Band bassist Frank Wilkie and Edwin McCain’s drummer Tez Sherard hold down the rhythm section, Upstate blues veteran Kym MacKinnon handles lead guitar, and the great Rickey Godfrey tickles the ivories every once in a while. McCloud and his colleagues laid down the tracks at Sit-N-Spin studio in downtown Greenville.
“They all really did me right,” McCloud says. “They’re such great players that you just tell them what you want to do and then cut ’em loose. They’re so familiar with the idiom, they KNOW what to do.”
Mac McCloud will play an album-release show for “My Heart Is Sinking” on Saturday at Gottrocks in Greenville.