Wes Mackey
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Natural entertainer Mackey brings top-tier ensemble to shows. Bluesman taps emotional content of lyrics

Edmonton Journal   
Peter North, Freelance
Published: Friday, August 31, 2007

Local blues fans are soaking up the sounds of Wes Mackey and his uncluttered, soulful approach to making music.

Appearing at Blues On Whyte through the weekend, Mackey is a South Carolina native who has been working out of Vancouver for almost two decades.

He arrived in Canada with an impressive resume and quickly found work after striking up friendships with some of the West Coast's top-tier players and singers.

Mackey always seems to round up first-rate ensembles when he crosses the Alberta-B.C. border. This time around, he's backed by a trio that has rounded into a tight, cohesive crew in the space of six sets.

Onboard are Calgary bass player Suitcase James; guitarist Ray Lemelin, who still makes his home in the southern part of the province; and drummer Jeff Liske, the token Edmontonian on the gig.

James has been busy working with the Electro-Fires and The Highwater Jug Band, fronted by Tim Williams, this summer at festivals all over the west. Last weekend at the Calgary Blues Festival, he performed with the High Water boys as well as American bluesman Sonny Rhodes.

"You get a real appreciation for the true bandleaders in these type of situations," James said Wednesday between sets at the Commercial.

"Sonny was great -- calling out the keys, properly counting in the songs, making eye contact with guys on the bandstand when necessary. Wes is like that. Things just come together the way you're hoping they will."

Mackey is also a natural entertainer and his use of a headset microphone allows him to wander the room while singing to patrons. His smooth turns of phrase continually draw the core emotional intent out of a set of lyrics.
While favouring those upper-register single-note solos that have served B.B. King so well, Mackey also tossed off a few solos to Lemelin, who adds a different sonic dimension to the proceedings.

Wes Mackey and Friends play tonight and Saturday night, as well as the first set of the jam at 3 p.m. at Blues On Whyte. The evening cover charge is $4 and the tunes start flying at 10.