LIVE: Lutes & MacDonald’s cool Canadian sound
Goodness gracious this is rich! For anyone who may occasionally fall into the trap of thinking Canadian talent plays second fiddle to anybody, Rob Lutes & Rob MacDonald’s LIVE will have your flag flapping in its proper place.
Both players have been around (immediately obvious after the first few notes — chops like these are only developed over time): Lutes sits atop four previous releases, each one better than the next, while MacDonald is a first call player for a who’s who of musicians, with his own recordings. Since they met in ’96, Lutes & MacDonald (sounding so much better than A Pair of Robs) have toured together, playing on each other’s recordings and moving their music ever-forward.
It could easily be said that LIVE is their crowning achievement — with sound and playing quality so flawless you can’t believe it’s actually from a live show last January just outside of Montréal.
Lutes plays guitar with a master’s sophistication, delivering strong lead vocals while MacDonald completes the picture with his jaw-dropping skills on Resophonic guitar. Backup singers Jozy Fever and Claire Hayek apply their tasteful touches like so much added frosting on a delicious, just-baked cake.
Lutes’ raspy whisper of a voice serves him well as a skilled picture-painter and, whether singing about love’s many trials or folk’s proverbial train, his lyrics are rich in meaning, his vocals highly emotive and his bold guitar-playing alone turns heads. MacDonald’s contributions are equally distinctive — projecting each well-written original into a third dimension with his well-chosen embellishments and various atmospherics.
There are ten originals here plus smart covers of Chris Whitley and Sleepy John Estes. The pair also perform major surgery on the Brothers Gibbs’ “To Love Somebody,” elevating it from time warp status into an album highlight. Lutes’ gut-tightening rendition, coupled with MacDonald’s twists and turns and the gentle backup harmonies transform mere pop into splendorous pomp.
Another highlight is the effervescent kick-off track from Gravity, “Uptight”, sounding even brighter than the original, the better for its familiarity and its seamless harmonies. From the sensual slide of “I Know A Girl”, with its lush backup behind Lutes’ breathy lead, to the earthy feel of Estes’ “Drip Down Baby” — a showcase for their complimentary guitar styles. There’s a presence on-stage that couldn’t be found in any studio.
Likewise, Lutes’ turn on gone-too-soon Chris Whitley’s “Phone Call From Leavenworth” benefits from an impassioned vocal while his own “I Still Love You” is all the more colourful for Fever and Hayek’s gentle contributions.
“If the Blues Don’t Shake You” announces the impact of blues on both players’ styles while the upbeat, campfire-ready “Ain’t Nobody’s Business” leaves the listener with a good feeling before the one-two punch of Lutes’ lonely “Cold Canadian Road” and “Drive These Blues Away”, embellished by MacDonald’s silky smooth guitar lines, propelled along by Lutes’ strong sense of rhythm.
All in all, these two have compiled much more than a revisiting of Lute’s well-crafted catalogue from the stage. They have, instead, showcased a cool, clean Canadian sound marrying folk to blues as it demonstrates the best of two masterful musicians in their prime, thoroughly at home on stage.