Purgatory Hill

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Pat MacDonald (who officially goes by the spelling "pat mAcdonald") first came to fame in the ’80s as one-half of Timbuk3 (of "The Future’s So Bright" fame), where he served as principal songwriter, and he’s always played music that isn’t exactly just blues or just rock or just whatever form may be lurking between those two genres. The artist plays guitar. He plays harmonica. But perhaps most importantly, he plays a ghostly hybrid of dowel rods and steel strings that he’s named the "Purgatory Hill Harp." It’s based on a cigar-box slide guitar but features its own strange blues sound.

Purgatory Hill is also what he calls his duo with fellow singer and musician MelanieJane (or "melaniejane"), who backs him with tambourine and other percussive instruments. And Purgatory Hill is also the title of MacDonald’s latest release. The album’s 13 songs don’t have a false moment in them, and MacDonald — who’s also penned tunes for artists as diverse as Aerosmith and Cher — is still writing tunes that unveil archetypal human woes and wants.
The track "Highway 42," one of the highlights here, fits snugly in the blues realm, but, interestingly, it also sounds like the American National Anthem at times — only played backward on dusty vinyl in the midst of a thunderstorm. It screams "National Anthem," in fact — but the way it should be heard today via jaded echoes and overtly obscure instrumentation.
In the end, though, it’s hard to understand exactly how two people, three instruments and a stomp-box for MacDonald’s flailing rhythmic left foot can creates such a rousing, unbridled sound. It isn’t "simple" music, but it is certainly a mystery as to how a four-string cigar box guitar can bleed such fresh new sound and potency. Pat MacDonald and the music he creates with MelanieJean as Purgatory Hill is an admirable testament to a little musical truth going a long way.

Pat MacDonald plays Thursday, Oct. 8, at Callahan’s Music Hall, 2105 South Blvd., Auburn Hills; 248-858-9508. With Audra Kubat.

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