Artist: Bobby Mackey
Album: I’ll Go Down Swinging
Label: Shaunita Records
Genre: Classic Country, Traditional Country
The name Bobby Mackey may be familiar to you if you’re into all things paranormal, but Mackey is far more than just the owner of America’s most haunted honkytonk. “Come for the music, stay for the ghosts” might be the slogan, but this week we’re here for the music. Mackey is in the minority as a skeptic of the spirits that are said to roam his venue and prefers to focus on keeping the spirit of traditional country music alive, playing on stage every weekend backed by his Best Damn Band.
Recorded at the Red Brick Studio in Columbia, Kentucky, produced by Bobby Mackey and Danny Bailey, and released a few short weeks ago, Mackey’s latest album “I’ll Go Down Swinging” is so beautifully traditional you’d think it came out decades ago. Mackey has, impressively, been on the country music circuit since the early 70s, his most notable hit being his 1989 release “Johanna.” In his forty-year career, Mackey has remained dedicated to the very essence of the genre, garnering him membership into the Northern Kentucky Music Legends Hall of Fame, class of 2013.
The second Mackey starts to sing, a feeling of intense familiarity is bound to wash over you. His loyalty to the likes of artists such as Merle Haggard, Hank Williams, George Jones, Buck Owens, Conway Twitty, and Johnny Paycheck is evident in his sound; he’s even written a few tunes for some of these legends, Jones, Paycheck, and Haggard specifically. With influencers and heroes such as this, Mackey hasn’t given into the mainstream of what they call country these days. He has firmly stood his ground, keeping his identity genuinely traditional. This is an incredibly admirable quality and perhaps my favourite thing about him. You’ll also notice something else rather quickly. There’s no wailing electric guitar or deafening drum kit. There is, however, crying steel guitar, fiddle, and accompanying piano. Three things we haven’t heard in mainstream country radio in a very long time.
Along with the familiarity of his sound, you’ll also find some familiar songs on this album. Bill Anderson penned the title track, and Mr. Porter Wagoner initially recorded it. Mackey’s upped the tempo, making it the perfect for two-stepping. “Mohair Sam” was originally sung and recorded by Charlie Rich but has been given a new life and captivating swagger.
Perhaps the most impressive track is Mackey’s reimagination of Jessi Colter’s “I’m Not Lisa.” With the change of perspective, this song has somehow become even more mournful than its female counterpart. Without a shadow of a doubt, “A Couple More Years” is my absolute favourite song on the album. Penned by Shel Silverstein and Dennis Locorriere and covered by the likes of Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, and Waylon Jennings. With the mention of Nelson, it’s appropriate to mention that Mackey has also covered one of his songs, “You Ought To Hear Me Cry.” Mackey even manages to channel Nelson’s vocal patterns, showcasing just how talented of a vocalist he is. The album closes very powerfully with “Lucille.” Yes, that Lucille. Mackey has changed up the arrangement into yet another perfect two stepping song. “Lucille,” along with “I’ll Go Down Swinging,” have been gaining some traction on the airwaves too!
Mackey showcases his penmanship on the record with “This Day Was Made for Us,” a sweet couples song, “The Barnyard Song” a cheeky little number, “The Great Haggard Songs” which Mackey had written to commemorate the legend’s legacy shortly after his passing. “Lots of would-be country singers make their music fit the game/but what they call country is not country they just stole the name,” is a line from “What They Call Country,” another favourite of mine and understandably so when you give it a listen for yourself. The next time someone asks me for my opinion on the current landscape of the genre, I’ll be playing them this song. I could not have said it better myself.
I wholeheartedly believe that Mackey has managed to encompass the atmosphere of his honkytonk with this album, and though I’ve never been, I feel as though I have. If I close my eyes, I can see couples two-stepping on the worn hardwood floor, a lonesome cowboy tucked into the back corner alone at a table with a beer in hand. That’s country music. That’s what it’s all about. Bobby, I sure hope to make it down to Wilder, Kentucky sometime soon. I’d love nothing more than to sit down at the bar and listen to you and the Best Damn Band play all night long… on the condition that you sing me my favourite song. I’m sure you know the one.