Take the crafted songs of his last album Pale Rider, perhaps his strongest songwriting collection since Deacon Blue’s debut Raintown, and add that band’s backing vocalist, his wife Lorraine McIntosh, plus an array of top American session men with Americana bent and what you get is so unique to the Ricky Ross catalogue that it demands the new moniker McIntosh Ross. The Great Lakes is like nothing Ross has done before. Very importantly Ms McIntosh is not just a backing vocalist. She contributes to the songwriting and takes duets and lead vocals too. She has played Emmylou Harris to Ross’s Gram Parsons for over twenty years but the collaborative nature of this record along with the pedal steel Americana feel is a perfect tweak to their template.
Ross is a craftsman who though writing in a professional song factory way always seems to be in the muse as well. His images are clever, the songs seemingly simple in chord and lyric but a closer look and the depth speaks to the human soul. Bluebell Wood with McIntosh on lead is the folkiest that things get and reminds the Deacon Blue collectors of their live version of Mountain Thyme. Walls is an absolutely stunning song, acoustic guitar and vulnerable Ross voice finding life in all its fullness no matter what that life throws. Mount Juliet does for postal workers what Dignity did for refuse collectors. Jesus Nailed My Sins Upon A Tree is a cappella gospel and gives a few clues to the fact that this is a deeply spiritually album; Passing Place and The World Is Not My Home among others hinting to more beyond this life.
The very first Deacon Blue single release was the brilliant Dignity and on that song Ross declared from a faraway place “I’m thinking about work... I’m thinking about faith... I’m thinking about home...” He has been a chronicler of these three things ever since but perhaps has never woven the three threads together as well as has here. These are songs where, though the weather turns stormy, it gets dark and there are walls closing in, there is hope and dogged but joyous belief in a power that is beyond yet mingling in the midst. These are songs about how the eternal gives meaning to the momentary and how through that connection we find an abundance of life to celebrate in songs.