Home Read Classic Album Review: Greg MacPherson Band | Good Times Coming Back Again

Classic Album Review: Greg MacPherson Band | Good Times Coming Back Again

The Winnipeg singer-songwriter just wasn't made for his times — thank heavens.

This came out in 2002 – or at least that’s when I got it. Here’s what I said about it back then (with some minor editing):

It seems Greg MacPherson is in the wrong business. Or at least the wrong era.

In a time when mook-rock morons, grudge-rock whiners and bubble-headed popstars dominate the proceedings, Winnipeg performer MacPherson is that most anachronistic and ill-favoured of entities: The honest and intelligent singer-songwriter. A guy who writes tuneful, truthful, meaningful works on his guitar and then performs them without fancy duds, without a big-budget video, without backup dancers. Forty years ago he might have been the next Dylan. Thirty years ago, the next Springsteen. Twenty years ago, the next Westerberg. Nowadays, this sort of sincerity doesn’t play in Peoria. And guys like MacPherson don’t stand a hope in hell of making a ripple in the pop culture pond. Tough break, man.

Or it would be if MacPherson gave a damn about that sort of stuff. But as his disillusioned, ironically titled second album Good Times Coming Back Again outlines in black and white, he’s more interested in telling the truth than topping the charts. This solid followup to his well-received ’99 debut Balanced On A Pin is a record for everyone who’s sick of artists whose age, shoe size and IQ are all the same number. And sick of listening to their indistinguishable, irrelevant songs.

You won’t have that problem with Good Times Coming Back Again. There’s plenty to appreciate in these dozen tracks. First and foremost, if you’re looking for a lyricist with something to say, MacPherson will grab your attention with his real-world stories of the alienation, isolation and desperation that sit just below the shallow surface of the supposed “good times” we’re living in. From our deserted inner cities (“I walked beside the old train station … There wasn’t anybody in there”) to the plight of runaways (“I want to fall asleep somewhere warm and not afraid”), from our instant-gratification addiction (“We’ve got no money put away / Get it and throw it all away … I don’t think about the future”) to our dysfunctional romantic lives (“She fell in love with his fists and cheap cologne”), MacPherson spends much of his time looking up at life from the bottom of the ladder. And just because you might have climbed a little higher, don’t think your perch is any less shaky: “There‘s something dead out in the field behind our house (and) the wind’s changing direction,” he warns. Not exactly the feel-good, singalong fare of your local drive-time radio.

Neither is the music. MacPherson offers up a varied menu of moody, unvarnished roots-pop (Numbers, Slow Stroke, Radar) and gritty post-punk (The Day the Water Dried Up From The Tap, $6 All Day) and contemplative, folky troubadourism (Good Times, Windows), with a bit of twilit, ambient balladeering (Remote Control, The Apartments) thrown in for good measure. For the most part, MacPherson’s tunes revolve around simple melodies and 12-bar arrangements, but tasteful performances from his band — guitarist Steve Bates, bassist Barry Mirochnick and Weakerthans drummer Jason Tait — keep the album from sounding one-dimensional. And speaking of distinctive sounds, there’s MacPherson’s unique voice. Much is made of his resemblance to Springsteen, and that’s true at times, especially on the quieter numbers. But at other times — especially when he raises the volume or his register — he can remind you of several other artists: Bruce Cockburn, Barney Bentall, the bloke from Gomez, Richard Thompson. Without the money, fame, fancy duds or big-budget video, of course. Ultimately, though, he just sounds like himself. And that’s the best you can say about any artist.

So what if MacPherson is in the wrong game at the wrong time? At least he’s going about it the right way.