Mac Davis ‘Song Painter’ / ‘I Believe in Music’ (T-Bird) 4/5

Singer-songwriter Mac Davis just happened to be born in Texas at a time when country music ruled the roost, but he was equally in awe of the emerging rock and roll scene and his music also reveals a profound love of blues and soul. Moving to Atlanta, Georgia, early on in life, Davis first learnt how to play the guitar and then began composing his own songs and it is indeed in this capacity that he first gained attention as a songwriter for other singers. By the late 1960s he had become much in demand and had coined, perhaps, his best known composition to a wider, non-specialist audience, and that was ‘In the ghetto’ which became a hit for Elvis. Equally, however, Lou Rawls covered ‘You’re good for me’ in 1968 and this was a clear indication that Davis’ song craft was reaching a whole wider public especially among black American musicians. This excellent double pairing of albums captures the earliest part of Davis’ career as a singer and, while his own vocal range is somewhat limited in comparison with the aforementioned, he is sufficiently competent to be able to deliver quality recordings. What is of particular interest on the debut album, ‘Song Painter’ (thus named after Glen Campbell referred to Davis in these terms) is that in between the main songs are thirty second vignettes which add a new dimension to proceedings and make this a far more varied album than the standard early 1970s country fare of the era. Included on the album are Mac’s own renditions of ‘In the ghetto’ and ‘You’re good for me’, both of which stand up well to the covers. Sadly, the album was not a hit and Davis suffered a further setback in adverse feedback from Rolling Stone which in retrospect seems unmerited. The follow up only fared slightly better, but did include a song devoted to his son, ‘Watching Scotty grow’. The title track has become arguably Mac’s most loved song among musicians receiving over fifty cover versions in the ensuing years. Davis’ first hit single from 1971 (not included on this CD) ‘Baby, don’t get hooked on me’ was shrouded in controversy at the time with feminists wrongly believing it was an anti-woman song. In fact Mac intended it as berating men who did not deserve a woman’s attention. Mac Davis would during the mid-late 1970s enjoy national success on the country charts and then map out a whole new career as a film actor in the 1980s. This double helping can be strongly recommended to both general fans of Americana who are looking for something a little different and devotees of the rootsier side of country music.

Tim Stenhouse