If you weren’t at Mac McCarty’s show Wednesday night at Bar 82, you missed a good one (and considering how many people were there, you probably did). But that’s what music blogs are for, to spread the word about artists who deserve to be better-known. McCarty was a familiar face in the Banjo Jim’s scene: lately he’s been collaborating with a rotating cast of musicians who suddenly found themselves without a home when that well-loved venue shut its doors last summer. Americana is his thing, and he’s very eclectic: if you have to categorize what he does, dark folk wouldn’t be off the mark. Although his brisk opening and closing tunes – the latter a bristling cover of Maggie’s Farm – could either go totally bluegrass, or sound like the Minutemen if McCarty and his lead guitarist Cody Neeb had been playing electric instead of acoustic.
McCarty’s unselfconsciously flinty, weathered voice is a powerful vehicle for his pensive, sometimes haunting songs. The knockout moment of the night was a bitter, gorgeously brooding narrative told from the point of view of a thug who can’t bring himself to kill again: “Down at Miss Martha’s house, my name is Jack, I’m down there most every night with my heart painted black.” Lisa Zwier-Croce, the Banjo Jim’s honcho who built and nurtured the Americana scene that flourished there for so long, came up to sing poignant harmonies on a brisk coal miner’s lament; a little later on, McCarty delivered a plaintive gospel-tinged requiem lit up by Neeb’s fluid, understated bends and hammer-on licks. Donna Susan raised the energy in the room with a knowing grin when she joined McCarty for one of her wry I-don’t-want-to-go-to-work numbers, with a typically droll lyric where she talks to her dreams, “And they talk back, they really don’t like when I act like that.” After a lickety-split bluegrass tune, Walter Ego came up added his dry-ice baritone to the darkly rapidfire Dublin House Blues and then the sardonic I Promise I Love You, an oldtime country-folk song with more slinky lead work by Neeb. McCarty had broken his B string early on, but that didn’t stop him: somehow he finished the show without breaking another, pretty impressive considering how energetically he was attacking the songs. A lot of acoustic songwriters are absolutely forgettable performers, but by mixing up slow numbers with fast ones, and the constant parade of people on and off the stage, McCarty made this an entertaining night. And you missed it.