Back to Basics

“‘Under Covers’ couldn’t be a more compelling look into that evolution. Featuring versions of songs by such disparate artists as Radiohead, Tool and Pink Floyd, the album shows MacNeil striking an expert balance between the pathos of the original tunes and his own brooding style.” – The Metrowest Daily News.

In an age where music and technology are becoming increasingly more connected, local singer/songwriter Luke MacNeil is committed to staying ahead of the curve.

The 23-year-old Milford resident plans to release his latest full-length CD, titled “Under Covers,” exclusively through digital download services such as Napster and Apple’s iTunes Music Store. That means no compact discs, no tapes, no vinyl, just bytes of memory.

It’s a bold move for a bourgeoning artist like MacNeil, considering figures suggest only 5 percent to 10 percent of all independent music sales reported are from digital sources, but it’s a challenge he is excited to meet head-on.

“Outlets like iTunes and MySpace are great distributors,” he said. “I’ve been able to reach people that I never thought I’d reach and that’s the plan, to reach as many people as possible.”

“This is a new age for the music business,” he continued. “We’re at a point now where music is being played on machines the size of business cards. Cell phones now act as personal media devices. You don’t have to look far to see the change.”

An active member of the Massachusetts music scene since 2002, MacNeil has become a fixture at local folk strongholds like Harvard Square’s legendary Club Passim and the DCU Center in Worcester, where he earned a stop as a special guest performer at Pulse Magazine’s PulseFest 2006.

His previous album, “Here’s One for Sanity,” was released earlier this year and received accolades from both diehard folkies and the press for its emotive lyrics and MacNeil’s distinctive finger-style guitar playing.

Beginning his musical journey on bass, a sojourn that he admits only lasted a year or so, MacNeil has since crafted a style for himself that infuses a host of different genres.

An early interest in death metal prompted an interest in complex chord forms and scales, but after being exposed to some local musicians and the plaintive folk of Irish artist Damien Rice, he quickly became infatuated with finger style guitar technique and alternate tunings, a transition that he says has been a welcome one.

“The acoustic guitar just vibrates more,” he said. “I was spending too much time messing with pedals and amps and different setups trying to get a tone that I liked. But I just sat down with an acoustic and there it was when I turned the amplifier off. It’s sort of simple and that’s beautiful and brilliant, just to come from a guitar.”

He also cites the early influence of his family as a catalyst toward acoustic-based music.

“My family and all my uncles were always playing country music,” he said. “They’d sit around and have these little hootenannies on the table, so I knew pretty early that I wanted to do what they were doing. It just seemed like fun. I guess even being that young, music hit me in ways that I knew I wanted to do something like that. Some of those old songs have become a part of me, and I think that might be one of the reasons that I love the sound of an acoustic guitar so much.”

“Under Covers” couldn’t be a more compelling look into that evolution. Featuring versions of songs by such disparate artists as Radiohead, Tool and Pink Floyd, the album shows MacNeil striking an expert balance between the pathos of the original tunes and his own brooding style.

“My music is definitely less angry, but it’s not as wide a difference as you’d think,” he said of the stylistic differences displayed on the record. “When I sing, I tend to scream a lot. It comes from being angry, but also from wanting to get something across, and that’s something that some of the artists I covered have used too.”

Although he recognizes the irony of a former metalhead giving a contemplative take of Tool’s epic “Sober,” MacNeil is quick to point out the worth of his source material lies in the chord it strikes with him, something he hopes listeners will hear whether or not it is on a CD or downloaded via MP3.

“These are songs that I love,” he said. “They’re the songs that I sing to my friends and my family. Each track on this record has in some way touched my life, and I am sure the lives of countless others. This is my way of sharing them with the world.”

Luke MacNeil plays the Meldiva Coffee House, 22 E. Central St., Franklin tomorrow night at 8 p.m. He’s play at the Java Hut, 1073 A Main St., Worcester, at 9 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 23, and at the Corner Pub, 1 West Union St., Ashland, at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 29.

For additional performances and more information about MacNeil, go to www.myspace.com/lukemacneil or www.lukemacneil.com.

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