Meg Mac, Low Blows

Album Review: Meg Mac – ‘Low Blows’

Bold, unique, triumphant

As far as debut records go, few have met with such eager and sustained anticipation as Meg Mac‘s Low Blows. First announced in 2015, and initially slated for release last year, the record’s long gestation period seems not to have deterred the Australian singer-songwriter’s loyal fans, who were tided over by 2014’s Meg Mac EP and a follow-up single. Still, for those who were enamoured with Mac’s breakout work, Low Blows could not have come soon enough.

As her first full length offering, the record marks a crystallisation of Mac’s signature, soulful style, but also hints at a new maturity in her approach to music production. Low Blows exudes a richer, warmer tone than we’ve heard from Mac in the past; infused by the Niles City Sound team (Leon Bridges, Nicole Atkins), working out of Fort Worth, Texas. Final production and mixing was completed by renowned producer John O’Mahony (Coldplay, Nick Murphy, Vance Joy) at the legendary Electric Lady studios in Greenwich Village, New York.

Access to such a prestigious technical team only enhances the already outstanding performances to be found on Low Blows. Vocal takes are raw and present, and have a natural quality to them that is rare in today’s industry. Accompanied and enabled by expressive instrumental performances, Mac has cemented herself as the most talented and exciting female vocalist in the Australian scene today.

Low Blows wastes no time with its opening track, Grace Gold; a striking introduction, layered with anxious vocals, that immediately asserts a tense and dramatic nature. Next up is the title track, which was a harbinger for the record and the first single released. Despite representing its namesake well, Low Blows doesn’t stand out as particularly memorable in the greater context of the album.

Accompanied and enabled by expressive instrumental performances, Mac has cemented herself as the most talented and exciting female vocalist in the Australian scene today.

Kindness will be the most divisive entry; oscillating from the lackadaisical, bossa nova air of a Wanda Sá record, to the deep soul core that permeates the rest of Low Blows, and back again. It won’t be for everyone, but the unorthodox nature of Kindness stands as proof that Mac has grown immensely as a songwriter since her first releases in 2014.

Cages has the feel of a wondrous, Celtic ballad, wrapped up in the instrumentation of Soul music so as to sneak itself onto pop radio. A thin veil, though, if you listen hard enough; stirring trills and frequent resolution to the tonic note are hallmarks of traditional Irish folk music, for which Meg developed an affinity in her early life.

Around the middle, Low Blows takes a little break from the soul, shifting towards a standard rock arrangement on I Didn’t Wanna Get So Low But I Had To. Next up, Ride It introduces the twang and rattle of a full blown ‘Nashville’ country record, but still doesn’t stray too far from coherence with the rest of the album. It’s a welcome change-up in the formula.

We return to soulful ground with Maybe It’s My First Time, which features a bouncing rhythmic section and joyous choral passages. This is followed by Shiny Bright; a solitary arietta that evokes classical, English nursery rhymes through Mac’s playful manipulation of timing and cadence. Brooklyn Apartment was recorded separately from the rest of the album and with different personnel, which you can tell while listening to it. Here, the band loosens up for the first time, forming a nice little groove to roll us into the closing track.

Morning is this record’s Tea For The Tillerman; inspired, but brief and subtle enough to fade out the album on an uncomplicated note. A sip of cool water after coffee, cleansing your palate of the intense, dramatic energy of Low Blows.

While the record is mostly consistent in timbre, there is incredible diversity in the melodic styles and song structures used. Mac glides between, and blends, R&B, soul, rock, pop and folk in such a way that you don’t even feel the transition. Low Blows is an amalgam of wonderful musical inputs; not just in its writing, but in the way it was crafted.

The lyrical content of Low Blows is introspective, honest and self-assured, even in its admissions of guilt or weakness. That the words are delivered by such a powerful, emotive voice only adds to the intensity of each poetic lyric.

We haven’t heard this desperate and unashamed an expression of drama since the love songs of the 1990s. This should come as no surprise; in interviews, Meg has noted her admiration for artists who “sing because they have to or they would die”. That unreserved passion is palpable in the writing and performances found on the record.

Low Blows is a triumph of bold, unique songwriting which bodes incredibly well for Mac’s future as an artist, at home and on the world stage.

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