Reviewed by Henry L. Carrigan Jr.
Surely, the title of Mac MacAnally's new album drips with irony; if there's anyone who's never been a nobody, it's this brilliant songwriter, singer and guitarist. The Alabama-born musician has penned songs for Kenny Chesney ("Down the Road"), Alabama ("Old Flame") and Shenandoah ("Two Dozen Roses"), toured with Jimmy Buffett, sat in on studio dates with everyone from Linda Ronstadt and Lee Ann Womack to George Strait and George Jones, was honored as the 2008 Musician of the Year at the CMA Awards and has been inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.
With his fluid playing - on guitar and piano - MacAnally once again demonstrates his deep familiarity and deep comfort with all styles of music, and he invests each tune on this new with a joyous spirit that's now and then imbued by the heaviness that sometimes impinges on life.
The opener, "A Little Bit Better," which MacAnally penned with Chris Stapleton, recall Ry Cooder's "Teardrops Will Fall," even down to the opening slide guitar riffs; the song kicks off the album with an infectious Muscle Shoals groove."Better Get the Story Straight" blends barrelhouse piano with scorching blues leads with raucous call-and-response choruses in a gospel-inflected romp. "Loser's Gumbo," with Sonny Landreth on slide guitar and MacAnally on piano, captures the energy New Orleans' musical spirit, while "Coast of Carolina," written with Buffett, opens with an Allman Brother's-like twin lead guitars before launching into a gorgeous, shuffling pop tune. The spare arrangement of piano and vocals that opens "With a Straight Face" blossoms into a restrained ballad about two gay children whose parents can't accept them as God's creation, while "Zanzibar" jumps across the turntable with the gypsy rhythms of accordion and fiddle.
MacAnally's album confirms his brilliance as a songwriter, filled as it is with infectious tunes and with lyrics that capture the ups and downs of life and often reveal the little mysteries that lie just beneath life's surface.