The Johnny Mac Band – Ace
The first single from The Johnny Mac Band’s second studio platter, the title song “Ace”, is so good that it’s practically a flashing neon sign to buy this album on release. Any longtime fans and hardcore admirers of the blues form will flock to this release and clamor for more after they hear how good these Long Island based musicians are at breathing new life and form long considered moribund and out of date. The production is top notch. The Johnny Mac Band may be playing in a long standing style, but the knob twiddling in the control booth makes them sound larger than life in a way that’s difficult to forget. “Ace” has a lot of variety without ever sounding unsure of itself and the instrumental performance from each member of this four piece band makes you a believer there’s plenty of artistic life left in blues music yet – it just takes the right people to bring it out.
The Johnny Mac Band is such a configuration and it’s obvious from the first. Mac, in particular, has such dramatic command over his instrument that it’s difficult to not focus on him alone. His band mates, however, fortunately make that impossible. Keyboardist Joe Roberts, in particular, makes a great musical partner for Mac’s stunning guitar work and shows inventiveness in his organ lines that leaps out from the mix and challenges listeners to take this tune to a whole other level. It’s recorded in every bit as much of an ideal way as the guitar. The warmth of the tone reaches out for the audience and has the sort of intimacy perfectly suited for such a song. The bass playing from Dave Ice and Ray Hauck’s drumming make this an even more impressive package because they rarely confine themselves to serving up perfunctory bottom end action. They, instead move with fleet footed musical agility and give Mac much more to work with as both a guitarist and singer.
The lyrics, like the music, aren’t in the business of wasted motion. Some listeners might think the song’s metaphors are a little tired, but Mac gets them over with his energetic vocal delivery and his unabashed pleasure in delivery, It’s extremely personable and has much of the aforementioned intimacy. Johnny Mac and the band aren’t pushing high flown ideas, but there’s no question they want to communicate with listeners and “Ace” does that with great ease and confidence. It’s a mix of elements that makes this song work as well as it does but, in the end, it’s the personalities of the performers involved that sends it over the top. This is a memorable performance in a familiar vein and bodes quite well for the album to come. Building on the success of their first studio release, Destination Memphis, is essential for the band’s future and few songs could set that up better than this single.