It’s hard to believe that the guy who played lead guitar on Bob Seger’s late-’70s hit “Old Time Rock & Roll” wouldn’t have become a household name at some point, but unless the name of Forrest McDonald is one that’s ever crossed the lips of someone in your home, that appears to be exactly what happened with this Texas-born singer, songwriter, and guitarist. And if his band’s latest CD Turnaround Blues (World Talent Records) is any indication, it seems we’ve been missing some other pretty good action from McDonald over the years as a result.
Take, for example, the catchy title track that kicks off this new album – much in the vein of Seger or Eric Clapton’s version of “Goin’ Down Slow” off One More Car, One More Rider – with some rocking guitar from McDonald to match its tough vocals, accompanied by some fiery harp from Jon Liebman, terrific organ from Tony Carey, and nice female backing vocals. Written and first performed by McDonald in the early ’70s, this one still sounds great four decades later backed by McDonald’s talented band, which also includes Liebman and Andrew Black sharing on vocals, Lee Gammon on bass, and John McKnight on drums.
From there, the band moves to a funky take on the blues classic “Checking Up on My Baby” (Junior Wells, Sonny Boy Williamson), again capturing some impressive harmonica work from Liebman, before plowing through a refreshing mix of slow, soulful ballads like “Only Love”, “I’m a Fool”, and “River of Tears”, swinging numbers like “Rock & Roll By Bye Bye” (Jimmy Mullins) and “Funny Thing Baby”, the country-flavored “Stay or Walk Away” with guest Darell Cobb on vocals and guitar, and the rocking grooves of “Cross My Heart” (Sonny Boy Williamson) and the two-part instrumental that closes the album in “Two for the Money”. Close your eyes and you’ll swear that you’re listening to a young Clapton sing and play the blues on “Now I Know”, with the band also evoking comparisons throughout the record to such other greats as Doyle Bramhall, T-Bone Walker, Delbert McClinton, the Black Crowes, Gregg Allman, Johnny Winter, Mike Mattison, and Jimmie Vaughan.
McDonald’s 12th on the label, the album also includes a modern, slow blues version of the classic “V8 Ford” (James Cotton, Willie Love) and a Freddy King-inspired “Woman Across the Ocean”, another written by McDonald some forty years back. The vocal work of Black and Liebman help to give the songs all that much richer of a texture, while McDonald and the rest of the band provide plenty of nice tight grooves.
Now already 50 years into his music career, which has included stints on guitar with not only the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section but Bobby Womack, Bonnie Bramlett, and others, it’s nice to see that McDonald is still continuing to attract new fans – including this reviewer, as we offer our kudos not just to McDonald but also to his very fine band.