Django Mack – ‘Round Christmas


Anyone who loves good blues, stripped clean of posing and clumsy recreations of tradition, will love Django Mack. He’s released two critically acclaimed albums and the attention those releases have brought virtually assures him a lofty position in the modern Americana /traditional music scene. There are many fine purveyors of the form working in the genre and all of them owe much to individual influences or different blues schools. Mack has shown himself fluent in a variety of musical styles within the genre and his most recent release illustrates that quality. “Round Christmas” and its accompanying bonus song “Big Black Dog” are definitely cut from the same essential cloth while still pursuing different ends. They share many baseline similarities. The production on both songs has to contend with different approaches and yet maintain sonic consistency – there’s no question that the release succeeds on that basis. The songs also place great important on the audience’s attention span and proper form. Neither track goes much over three minutes long and spends its time getting itself over musically with the listener.

Guitar and drums makes “’Round Christmas” musically go. The six string work, particularly, alternates between assertive passages and much more melodic fills emerging from the many spaces that the drumming creates. Mack is the crowning musical touch, however. He takes over the song without ever rendering the music secondary and, instead, works as another proper instrument alongside his collaborators. It sounds like something ran roughshod over his vocal chords and the lyric suggests that it might be an ultimate emptiness within. He certainly will remind some of Tom Waits and the comparison isn’t unwarranted, but Mack’s voice has its own distinctive character in this song, a sort of deflated grandeur that sounds like the end of the track might mark the end of the singer’s life or hope.

Don’t let the terms “bonus track” or “B-side” fool you. “Big Black Dog”, in a decidedly different fashion, has just as much substantive musical value to offer listeners as the first song. It is certain that Mack’s emphasis here is much more lighter hearted than the earlier song, but the comic edge present in the song doesn’t mean that it’s inherently a lesser effort. The musical focus here is piano instead of guitar. The rhythm section assumes a new prominence as well and turns in a five star performance that brings a lot to song’s final success. The lyrics give listeners a solid story with a lot of opportunities to smirk or relish how new and vibrant Mack can make very old school blues tropes sound for a modern audience.

This guy’s got style for days. It isn’t the sort of put on, prefabricated nonsense that you might fear from someone working with this sort of music in 2016. Instead, this music comes out of Django Mack as naturally as if he emerged from the womb humming a slow blues. “’Round Christmas” and “Big Black Dog” are well worth your money and time.

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Joshua Stryde