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Over the past 12 years or so, Todd Mack
has emerged as that rare artist who expends at least as much energy in the service of his fellows as he does on himself; from his late, syndicated “Off the Beat-n-Track Radio Show,” which showcased independent musicians, to FODFest, which promotes cultural understanding through music, Mack is as close as we will get to a regional rock ’n’ roll saint.
But saints need help too. On “Head,” track one of Mack’s seventh solo release, The Thirteenth Step
, the singer-songwriter-producer acknowledges his need with a line worthy of Leonard Cohen: “Help me shed the light so I can learn to see / I’ll take vision over sight to know what’s right in front of me.” Where Mack’s previous outings have veered toward a rollicking Rolling Thunder Revue template, The Thirteenth Step
employs more of a Plastic Ono Band
approach. Indeed, Mack’s cover of that album’s self-lacerating anti-anthem, “Working Class Hero,” fits right in with the raw ache of “Bereft” and the gimlet-eyed realism of the title track. As producer, Mack weaves textures both lush and stark, inviting us to look into the abyss with him—the hole opened by the ravages of addiction and/or a simple glance in the mirror. He practices what he preaches by using music—namely, rootsy rock ’n’ roll—as a way of understanding, forgiving, and enlarging the picture until angels, love, and home appear on the horizon.