There are some performers who have a physicality that, even when we can’t see them, is present there in our minds. Mary Travers flicking her hair, Sam Bush pumping his head forward and back, John Cowan flicking his head manically with the beat. It’s not always a good thing, as one of the comments on a performance by the Milk Carton Kids for NPR online proves “ Kenneth looks like he’s balancing on a basketball.” And, indeed, he does.
Mac Wiseman is one of the good examples of physicality. His head back, his smile, the shape of his mouth, that shake of his head—it’s all part of the character that he brought to the stage and which animates his recordings. He’s happy to be here and confident that we’re all experiencing this together. It’s an infectious personality, and that’s why his music is infectious, too. I just can’t get enough of it. I want to be Mac Wiseman, in a sense; I don’t want to be that heavy, and I wouldn’t want to be a mimic (nor could I be) but I’d like be that confident, that joyous.
Most of us can’t, of course, and for Wiseman himself, it’s a persona not necessarily one that he has offstage. And that’s part of it, too. He’s a performer, and I love him for that, too. We know it’s a show, and that’s OK.
There are of course many phases to his career—he’s still performing and recording, astonishingly—and this collection collects just one of them. As per the title, in this release he sings old country favorites. Some are songs that we’ve heard a million times, such as “The Georgia Mail,” “Sittin’ On Top of the World,” “Corina, Corina.” Some are morose, such as “Wreck of the Old ‘97” and some are romantic in the way that bluegrass love songs are—which is to say, not romantic all, or only comically so and built on a foundation of heartbreak—such as “I Saw Your Face in the Moon” and “The Waltz You Saved for Me.” Other types of music have ingénues or rakes, but bluegrass has only wallflowers, it seems. Case in point: “I’ll Be All Smiles Tonight.”
“The Waltz You Saved For Me”
But no matter at all. This collection is a delight. And how couldn’t it be? It’s bloody well Mac Wiseman. You can hear him nod his head, smile, dip into a down-strum, and sweep up on the final note. Love it. Love it. Love it.