Touring singer-songwriter Max Hay’s new album shows he can sure make a lot of sound for a one-man-band. The traveling troubadour, who grew up in Helena and spent his early 20s in Missoula before hitting the road, lays down traditional Irish drinking songs and some originals, mostly by Shane MacGowan of the Pogues. Along the way, we get hot harmonica breaks, terrific rhythm guitar pickin’, and a strong baritone voice that Hay can pretty much bend to any story line.
MacGowan’s “If I Should Fall from Grace with God” is an animated story about a man’s last wish when his time comes. “Bury me at sea where no murdered ghost can haunt me,” Hay sings, peppering the words with tight harmonica riffs and punchy guitar. The traditional “The Moonshiner” is a tender country waltz in which Hay channels his inner pirate voice, prowling up and down the scale as he sings.
“Streams of Whiskey” gets an uplifting bluegrass treatment. Hay plays a lick or two, spits out lyrics, then, between verses, works the jaw harp in a jaunty break. Fun!
Sad balladry is a strength as well. “A Pair of Brown Eyes” speaks of death on the battlefield as told by a war veteran; Hay’s powerful rendition quiets the crowd.
“Whiskey You’re the Devil” opens with a unison harmonica and guitar riff; Hay then sings zestfully in his best minstrel voice. Cool!
Lots of crowd-pleasers here, by a man who sings and plays relentlessly, and it shows in his craftsmanship. Addendum: Sprinkled among the songs are two quick send-ups of whiskey ads, spoken in an utterly smooth radio voice. I like it!
Visit the artist at maxhay.com.
– Mariss McTucker