By William Henry

Tara MacKenzie was "weirdly nervous."

The Owen Sound singer and music educator was getting set for the MacKenzie Blues Band's Canada Day show at Kelso Beach.

Just days ahead of Tuesday's official release date, and with boxes of the band's newly pressed second CD Slam! Bam! available for the first time at this hometown concert, MacKenzie reflected backstage on her uncharacteristic trepidation.

MacKenzie-a-feature"I've held this record so precious, that it is hard to let go of it," MacKenzie said. "You're always terrified as soon as you put out an album."

It was recorded between October and May, at the Owen Sound studio she and husband Trevor MacKenzie own, with bandmates Joel Dawson, bass, Mike Weir, drums, and a list of local contributors. The band's original blues and blues-rock songs for this project are risky and some deeply personal, she said.

"There's nothing safe about this album for us. I had to dig really deep to cough up the lyrics for this album and the guys worked really hard to treat it just right," she said. "Every single song means something to me and we took a lot of risks."

Officially, the disc releases Tuesday, July 8. At least one track, Burned When You Play With Fire, has been getting radio airplay and a video for Up, Up, Up has been popular, especially locally. It was filmed at Flesherton's Bicycle Cafe, with a full room of friends and fans dressed up for the shoot.

The Canada Day show, with the band joined briefly and spontaneously by a dozen or more excited, jumping children, was a relatively rare local show as the foursome becomes more in demand on the wider blues music circuit.

A hometown CD release concert is scheduled for 7:30 p.m., July 17 at The Harmony Centre in Owen Sound. There's a suggested fee of $10, while the band is encouraging everyone to attend the show and contribute within their means.MacKenzie-c-feature

The MacKenzie Blues Band also performs locally Saturday, July 12, at Kincardine's Lighthouse Blues Festival, and Saturday,Centre and Saturday, July 25 at Thornbury's The Dam Pub patio.

Hundreds of live gigs have solidified the sound, built around Trevor's searing guitar and Tara's distinctive singing and powerful presence.
"Her energy on stage is visceral, people in the audience can feel that she's making a concoction and we feel that connection through her," said Joel Dawson, the band's schooled, jazz-influenced, electric, five-string bassist.

"She's the one that opens it up for the audience to connect with the band. That's one of her strengths," Dawson said. "Trevor projects his personality. His playing is not coming out of his head, it's coming out of his heart, like right out of his gut somehow. That's where his feel comes from."

Dawson also said the band reached deep in the studio, collaborating fully on material which ranges wider than the first CD, recorded as a relatively new band.

"This one feels more like a band project. We've had more time as a band together so I'd say our personalities are coming out in the music a little more and it's a bit more complex," he said. "The range of the songs goes from a lot darker to more upbeat stuff. We put a lot of time and thought into those things."

MacKenzie-d-featureWith growing recognition and popularity locally and beyond, including the prestigious Maple Blues Award earlier this year for best new group, it's been a whirlwind three years for the band, and for Tara.

In that same time, she's built a busy vocal teaching practice, leads adult and youth versions of her popular Choir That Rocks, and is artistic director for the Georgian Bay Folk Society's Youth Folk School. Those efforts earned her the Owen Sound Cultural Award as outstanding individual.
"I just feel that that's what I'm put on the planet to do, to help other musicians [get a] leg up and be able to express themselves musically, because I think that's sort of the point of everything," she said. "If you feel happy, you should sing. If you feel sad, you should sing. If you feel anxious, you should sing."

But this day, it's really the new disc on MacKenzie's mind.

Slam! Bam! is packaged like a pulp fiction novel, its songs a collection of true detective stories and tales from the blues highway. Every song is real, Mackenzie said.

The disc includes contributions from Drew McIver, who wrote one of the songs, Rod Ramsay, James Keelaghan, Coco Love Alcorn, Rob Elder, Kim Trombley, Rob McLean and Chris Murphy.

"We love it and it's really solid and we would have made that album just for us. It will be a bonus if other people like it too," MacKenzie said.

Slam! Bam! is available at Fromager's music and will be on line from CD Baby and iTunes.



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