On his new Fountain Fire, guitarist Bill MacKay follows his own wandering direction | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

On his new Fountain Fire, guitarist Bill MacKay follows his own wandering direction 

click to enlarge Bill MacKay

Bill MacKay

Michael Vallera

Like many avant-garde-leaning guitarists, Bill MacKay exudes the spirit of a wandering player walking the earth, at peace with pulling up a rickety stool and shuffling through a dusty acoustic jam with whomever he happens to encounter along the way. A frequent collaborator with local savant Ryley Walker (the pair have made a small selection of records together), MacKay has more recently been releasing his own solo guitar explorations, which prove he has the chops to command a quiet and respectful room of listeners. Tonight is the release party for MacKay’s new Fountain Fire (Drag City), a heady, occasionally beautiful record that mixes lightly distorted electric-guitar trails (“Pre-California”) with rambling acoustic yarns that bend toward the abstract (“Man & His Panic”). MacKay plays every instrument on the album—guitars, percussion, bass, and organ. And on “Birds of May” and “Try It On,” he also presents his calm, almost ghostly vocals. At its most potent, Fountain Fire sounds as though it’s miraculously staying on a course that’s entirely visible only to MacKay himself, while the rest of us can't see the path till it unfurls before us. At times, the record can be downright haunting, even untethered. “Arcadia,” for instance, is a sojourn of wily electric guitar with plenty of slide that sounds as though it’s made by a rancher lounging outside his homestead, trying to stretch notes as far as he can across the empty desert.   v

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