[23 April 2009]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
One of the biggest personal regrets I have about leaving Austin, Texas—besides, you know, the actual leaving—is that I never got to see Ian McLagan & the Bump Band while I was there. It’s embarrassing to admit that, because Mac has a regular residency at Lucky Lounge. However, living far north of town and unable to physically arrange my own transportation, I was at a big disadvantage, especially as I couldn’t easily convince my roommate to go to shows by musicians she wasn’t already familiar with. Yeah, I thought it seemed strange, too, but apparently there are reasons to reside in Austin besides live music.
Like, uh, recorded music. Lucky for me, and everyone else who has ever missed Mac in action, you don’t have to hang around the Lucky Lounge to hear McLagan’s rollicking brand of bar-band rock-and-roll. Never Say Never finds the former Small Faces/Faces organist in fine form. The album was recorded in his Doghouse Studios in Manor, Texas, mixed by the legendary Glyn Johns and dedicated to McLagan’s late wife, Kim. It flows from strength to strength like the best sort of live show, each song built on exemplary songwriting and rock solid showmanship.
Backed by the Bump Band, featuring guitarist “Scrappy” Jud Newcomb (the Resentments), bassist Mark Andes (who also plays with Jon Dee Graham), and drummer Don Harvey (who has worked with Charlie Sexton, Ronnie Lane, Joe Ely, and Billy Bragg, among many others), McLagan’s vocals, particularly, shine with a warm and not-too-worn glow, like that of a favorite fireside chair. His voice is filled with memories and milestones, and it carries a comforting feeling, a sense of peace, on the sad songs as well as the rave-ups.
Patty Griffin joins in on the vocals for the opening title track, an irresistibly soulful ode to the kind of love that keeps those we’ve lost closer than even we know. It’s a beautifully sweet and somber song that underlines the acknowledgment on the back cover that declares, “It’s always for Kim.” Don’t get the idea that the album is all mournful memorials, though. There are plenty of good time tracks to be had, too.
“My Irish Rose” is a humorous little lovelorn ditty in a charming, shambling, almost music-hall style, and “Killing Me with Love” features more fun, at which Mac obviously excels, but in more of a pop fashion. “Loverman” shows McLagan’s pop chops too, in its Buddy Holly-esque harmonies, which complement the rockabilly accents on piano and guitar. The first outright rocker, appearing early in the set, is “I Will Follow”, which has a bit of a Stones sound mixed with its Faces vibe. “I’m Hot, You’re Cool”, which is guaranteed to be a favorite, also goes back to Mac’s musical past with its bluesy boogie and rocking backbeat.
The rock and rollers may rule the record, but it’s the quieter moments that really reach out. The haunting ballad “Where Angels Hide”, recorded on the Steinway in the Edythe Bates Old Chapel in Round Top, Texas, is made even more moving by the fact that it is just Mac, the keys, and his emotions:
You’re not alone
She’ll always be there
Right by your side
When you dream
She’ll always be
Where angels hide
Never Say Never closes with another heart-wrenching showstopper, the country-colored, gospel-tinged “When the Crying Is Over”. Patty Griffin and the Tosca Strings accompany Mac as he sings, “When the crying is over / There’ll be no more pain / And when this heartache comes to an end / I’ll take you in my arms / We’ll be together again”. It’s a truly stunning ending to truly magnificent album.
Not having had the opportunity to see Mac, and one of the world’s best bar bands, play live (yet!), not having actually shared a smile or a song—or a pint—with the man doesn’t seem so regrettable now, especially when I can raise a glass and reminisce right along with this amazing record. Cheers!