Album | Bill MacKay – Locust Land

Bill MacKay finds ways to challenge all your notions of what a guitarist is supposed to be on Locust Land. Using more keyboards than guitars, ‘Phantasmic Fairy’, the opening track, suggests he’s doing what he wants rather than using some old-fashioned guitarist’s playbook. Haunting and magical, the song takes on tones more suited to the rural English countryside than the highways and byways of Chicago. It’s not that MacKay is being wilfully difficult, he goes where the songs lead.

More clearly acoustic in tone, ‘Keeping in Time’ breezes along with MacKay’s vocals spinning a tale of wondering about a woman and where things were going.  More quickly paced, without any overt keyboards, it offers hints of the way things could be, “I didn’t know you but I could feel/ I could see the higher life you were aiming for.” Not a note feels out of place.

There’s an even quicker tempo to ‘Glow Drift’, where the bass of Sam Wagster and percussion of Mikel Patrick Avery create a solid foundation for some great electric riffs by MacKay. It’s a distinct change from previous solo albums, one made to take the sound to another level. Enlarging the sound, he takes on tones outside the mainstream, yet rarely goes so far out to the edge that the music is hard to comprehend. 

While ‘Oh Pearl’ is all MacKay, the choices and tastes he uses in delivering the song are something to behold. Playing a slide, at points he echoes solo sounds sometimes more suited to sounds of the Grateful Dead, yet the piece itself is miles away from anything that band would try. He follows different muses and masters, finding directions that showcase electric sounds rivalling the best work of better-known guitar masters. 

Using a road map that moves in a variety of directions, his choice of Janet Beveridge Bean to deliver vocals on ‘Neil’s Field’ is particularly inspired. She finds a way to make a haunting addition to MacKay’s synths, keyboards and guitar. Short, but sure footed, the song brings out the best in both MacKay and the Eleventh Dream Day and Freakwater singer. It’s an otherworldly sonic adventure.

The title track, ‘Locust Land’ is a masterful mix of piano and guitar, starting off in gentle territory before electric guitars chart a course adding a bit more heft to the proceedings. It’s a remarkable construct, one that makes you realise this is a record that goes in so many different directions you really are left breathless at all the places Bill MacKay manages to visit on Locust Land. It’s a testimony to a man who keeps putting new twists on the art of guitar.