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Nigel Mack - Back In Style

Release date: June 1, 2023

Blues Attack Records
By Linda Cain

Nigel Mack / photo: David Tepper

Mack is back! And he’s Back in Style with a killer new all-original, 12-song album of the same name. After a lengthy hiatus from the recording studio, Mack’s fourth release is very much worth the wait!

Mack’s exceptional talents -- for playing sizzling slide guitar, blowing a melodic, soulful harp and his highly listenable and engaging vocals -- shine on each and every tune. His songs weave stories that are populated by colorful characters, mostly women, that take place on the road, down South, in Vegas, in Chicago and on a tropical sandy beach. All of his compelling tales are set to the soundtrack of various shades of the blues, both traditional and contemporary.

Back in Style was recorded in Chicago by Grammy and Blues Music Award winner, producer/engineer Michael Freeman, who adds his magic touch to the great-sounding tracks that feature Mack on vocals, slide guitar, guitar and harmonica. Juno award winner Commodor Barrett mixed the tracks down in Nashville.

Chicago’s finest contribute their talents (too many to mention here) – including the ace rhythm team of drummer Andrew “Blaze” Thomas, bassists Vic Jackson and Darryl Wright. Both Neal O’Hara and Daryl Coutts play piano and B-3; pianists Ariyo and Brian James pound the 88s as well. JR Wydra joins in on guitar. Lise Gilley (Mack’s partner in both music and marriage) plays a powerful sax and Victor Garcia blows trumpet. The late keyboard whiz Marty Sammon, from Buddy Guy’s band, also added his immense skills and so did the late Andre “da funky one” Howard, who was a first call bass man.

Although he has resided in the Chicago area for 20 years, since 2003, “triple threat” blues artist Nigel Mack (short for Mackenzie) is better known in his native Canada, where he has been performing for most of his life. Mack’s nonstop touring over the years has earned him fans all over the world. His 1997 High Price to Play album yielded three songs that were featured on TV shows. It also earned him a West Coast Music Award nomination.

His last album, the chart-topping Devil’s Secrets came out in 2012 and hit #1 in Canada and received a nomination for a Maple Blues Music Award. The disc also won Chicago’s Windy City Blues Society’s honor for “Best Self-Produced” CD.

Back in Style is certain to follow suit with the honors.

On his long-awaited fourth album, Mack takes us on a musical journey and the trip begins with opening track “Traveling Heavy”. Mack’s rousing harmonica and Coutts’ B-3 and piano drive this rollicking number that delivers a Gregg Allman-ish vibe about a traveling dude who is carrying a weighty load, both literally and figuratively speaking. Mack delivers lots of tasty harp solos for us to savor.

“Highway 69” continues the traveling theme, only this time there’s a lovely lady on board for a fun road trip down South with stops for picnics and a jug of wine. Mack delivers a well-executed slide guitar intro that is clearly an homage to Elmore James’ “Dust My Broom.” Mack’s slide and JR Wydra’s guitar riffs go at it for a duet that keeps the fun going. This bouncy shuffle is perfect listening for your own road trip.

“Damn You Mr. Bluesman” is another great tune that features more of Mack’s killer slide work with and Coutts’ super fine organ playing. The song’s character curses the blues player for making him in fall in love “with a woman half my age,” while the music tugs at his heartstrings. Such is the power of the blues!

“Redemption” features Mack’s heavenly slide guitar playing on a gorgeous blues instrumental with a gospel feel that will soothe your soul.

“Cold Comfort” is what the protagonist finds when he gambles on love with a Vegas showgirl; the hot romance, that at first sizzles, soon deals him a losing hand, when it turns out she loves the dice table more than him. The late great Marty Sammon expertly tickles the ivories and B-3 to set the mood for the coming of a broken heart, while Mack’s guitar delivers the same.

Enter the “Shangri-La Girl” for a true romance at last. Mack clearly penned this upbeat danceable tune about meeting Lise, his sax playing spouse. The song has a Zydeco feel but no accordion. Instead, the New Orleans vibe is delivered by Lise’s sax, Mack’s harp, O’Hara’s piano and the syncopated beat.

“Jalepeno Peppers” sings the praises of a sunny lady who can’t stop eating those spicy green peppers, because, well, she’s one smokin’ hot pepper herself. Mac’s slide guitar, JR Wydra’s electric guitar and O’Hara’s piano and organ give this song a sensuous, tropical feel. Break out the margaritas and pina coladas!

The title track, “Back in Style,” is a blues party song that celebrates folks finally getting together again to dance in the street to live music and check each other out. Mack’s harp and guitar drive the song as the singer encourages the gals to “Shake it baby! If you’ve got it, flaunt it!”

“I’m so glad that love is back in style,” he sings, adding “everyone I know is wearing a smile”

Mack boogies down with one helluva a harp solo; Mack answers back with his own lively guitar solo, effectively jamming with himself.

Back in Style is the result of how Mack spent nearly three pandemic years, mostly without gigs. His long, hard labor of love in the studio has finally paid off.

The musicianship and production is top-notch. Mack is a superb multi-instrumentalist with slide guitar and harp as his specialties. The musicians he invited to join him in the studio are all highly regarded players as well.

Every song bears repeated listening. For the most part, these are celebratory tunes that will get your booty shakin’, toes tapping and hands clapping while you sing along.

Mack’s songwriting ability ranks with the likes of Chicago’s Willie Dixon and Memphis’ William Bell. These are songs that should become future classics in the blues pantheon; tunes that other bands ought to want to cover.

If enough of the right people get to hear Back In Style, more awards surely await!

About the Author: Linda Cain is the managing editor/founder of Chicago Blues Guide.


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