Review of “Maladies of Country and Soul” – Jamie McDonald and The Number Nein

“The yearning to transcend the art to reach some other untouchable place”

The album cover

I’ve always had a soft spot for Irish musicians. So it’s no wonder I instantly liked Jamie McDonald when I first met him. It was one cold winter’s day a few years back, when he was busking on a main street in my hometown (which is Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria — go find it on a map, I’ll wait. ;-)

Imagine the sight — it’s freezing cold with a lot of snow, and a red-haired man with his guitar and a smile larger than world is standing on a deserted boulevard and is giving away music with enormous energy and feel-good mood, like it was something he just cannot hold inside anymore. Not a living soul outside in this weather — only a few passersby like me and my husband, thinking that this guy is a wonderful gift on such a day. We stopped to listen, for it felt as a rare privilege just for us to witness his infectious performance (we didn’t have much money, so we bought him a can of beer as well — sorry for that, Jamie, it was not the right drink in the winter :-)).

He impressed me with his honest music and with his attitude — playing and singing with such passion, you would think he was on the big stage, surrounded by enormous crowd of fans… which he clearly deserves.

We never forgot his powerful performance and I took a mental note that he was different than most of the street musicians, especially because he was not singing covers, but his own songs.

I’ve met him again and again on the streets of Sofia, but I’ve missed most of his gigs in Irish pubs here, although I wanted to go there a number of times. Then I kept following his progress online up to the point where he decided to go back to Ireland.

Now is a good moment to check him up online — you will find his latest works under the name “Jamie Mcdonald and The Number Nein”, for wherever he goes, he manage to gather a big crew of excellent musicians to back him up. And it’s no wonder: when they work together, the guaranteed result is almost magical: a music to take you on adventure on the splendid ship of funk, folk, soul, and something else, where Jamie is your skillful Captain.

I really expected him to shine and he never disappointed me. :-)

(The first released album that I’ve heard of is titled simply “Jamie Mcdonald” and you can find samples from it on Amazon. “One Fine Day” seems to be the hit here, and you can find it on YouTube, while “Wild” have this catchy sound that might remind you a bit of a certain band from Liverpool, but my personal favorite from this album is “Tell Me”.)

Just recently Jamie Mcdonald released his new album, aptly named “Maladies of Country and Soul”. But you won’t find anything to make you sick here, except the desire to see him and his band live as soon as possible. :-)

The first track, “This Boy Is Back In Town”, has this gospel-like-lazy-western feel at the intro, but develops into a haunting melody that will carry you easy through words like “Everybody goes out looking for the little things we lack/Some of us forget to come back/But this boy is back in town”. The end comes abruptly, almost as if the song was cut by mistake, and as I can see it was meant to be like this, I still cannot say that I like it.

The second track is called “They Know Not What They’ve Done” and it is the honest groan that comes deep from the soul of every hard-working man out there, struggling to accept the unfairness of life (my favorite line here: “They tax the water from the sky/Why not the water from your eyes?”).

The third track (“Willow, Don’t Weep For Me”) seems to be one of the big hits here, and the deceivingly simple and merry melody just calls for you to get your dancing shoes ready… while pondering about life, the Universe and everything. I liked this song very much.

“Say Something” is just perfect for the ending credits of a nice, independent romantic movie :-). My favorite line here was “It’s getting colder/Make no mistake/But are we really talking about the weather/when there’s so much at stake?”

“Oh, Lonesome Me” gently enters with a violin and adds to the overall sound of the whole album – a rich, complete bouquet of melodies and sounds, not a single one there by accident.

The sixth track (“Take It Where You Find It”) reminds me sooo much of Rolling Stones, but let’s say, in a good way – respecting the good ol’blues tradition. :-)

“This Longing, My Bones” is the longest track (4:38), but being dynamic and rhythmic it doesn’t get boring and obviously intends to make you move around a bit while singing.

“Falling For The Dancer (Instead Of The Dance)” with its colorful, subtle oriental hints and the last song, “Night Train To Zagreb” are just the perfect ending for this music trip.

I will let you listen the album and have your own impressions, so I will stop with the dissection here. Although what you will hear might not shatter your world with surprise, my sentence is positive because one easily gets the feeling that every song here was arranged and recorded very carefully, with equal parts craftsmanship and pleasure. The trademark of Jamie, perhaps?

You can find something for everybody’s taste in the album, for this is an artist who knows how to tell stories. He is playing and experimenting with different styles, flawlessly sliding from one into another in the same song… That’s a guy that clearly likes to stretch out and cross the limits to express himself in the best possible way.

Also, Jamie sings with abandon, his music clearly comes from deep within his heart and it is impossible not to be touched by the sincerity of his raspy voice. It speaks to me on so many different levels — all of his songs contain this beautiful, bittersweet mix of emotions that appears to be the mark of many Irish musicians — the seemingly cheerful music, tangled with strong lyrics that can touch or tear your heart… it is irresistible, and you want to dance and weep at the same time.

Darkness and light, wrapped together like a delicious box of pleasant, melodic treats for your ears, feet and soul. Try it yourself and you will surely find that I have not wasted your time with this review. My only complaint is that the new album has only 9 songs, but at least one can listen to them on repeat. :-)


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