Live at the Uptown Coffeehouse + 3

Rod MacDonald

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Live at the Uptown Coffeehouse + 3 Review

by William Ruhlmann

Most of the songs on this homemade tape, a club date recorded by WSHU-FM in February 1994, have appeared on Rod MacDonald's three most recent albums, Highway to Nowhere, The Man on the Ledge, and And Then He Woke Up, and as such, the set constitutes a good sampler of the singer/songwriter's work in the '90s. Listeners may be impressed by the range of subject matter, including President Clinton, Native Americans, Czechoslovakian independence, Psycho, the Kennedy assassination, childhood reminiscences, and suicide, among other things, and by MacDonald's drastically different tones from song to song. "Hey Mr. President" affectionately sends up the man who didn't inhale, while "Norman" retells the story behind Psycho with creepy sympathy ("This is a song about a boy and his mom," MacDonald explains), and "Out in the Country" has an almost cloying sincerity in its wistful recitation of childhood memories. The thread that runs through most of MacDonald's work and ties the songs together, however, is a constant focus on the relationship between the individual and the world at large. In "Me & Uncle Joe," Johnny tries to decide whether to perform his Indian dances for pay; in "For the People," the freed Czechs have a complex reaction to freedom from Soviet occupation; and the "Man on the Ledge" spends his moments of decision reflecting on his status as "a man apart." Often, the narrator is an observer rather than a participant in these songs, and often it's not clear how they come out, whether Johnny decides to dance or the man on the ledge jumps. Throughout, MacDonald supports his lyrics with strong melodies and appealing singing, but, appropriate to the reflective nature of the songs, his performances often seem reserved. (Write to Rod MacDonald, Box 2152, Delray Beach, FL 33483.)