David Ross Macdonald
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David Ross Macdonald

Band Americana Singer/Songwriter


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Excerpted from Acoustic Guitar magazine, February 2007, No.170

The title of David Ross MacDonald’s latest release, Knuckled Brass and Bone, comes from a line in the song “Old Joe’s Cane.” By the end of the song, it’s hard to tell where old Joe stops and the cane begins; both are made from the same stuff, “knuckled” brass and bone. The same could be said of MacDonald (who plays drums for the popular folk-rock band the Waifs) and his guitar. This marvelous Australian fingerpicking guitarist’s instrument is an extension of his voice, singing his appealingly emotional songs right along with him. Sometimes the guitar line doubles the vocal melody, sometimes it adds suspension and dissonance or a rhythmic counterpoint, but in every case, it seems more like a partner than a tool. These songs have a spare poetry about them, a gentle and knowing presence, whether they tend more toward haiku—“Paper crane, my paper crane / With wings so frail, wings so frail / You want to fly, fly away” (“Paper Crane”)—or toward a dark and driven lament—“Forgive forget forever more, from your rib remove a thorn and take her picture off the wall / ... Easier said than done” (“Easier Said”). The band on Knuckled Brass and Bone adds shade and rhythmic lift, but leaves the acoustic guitar to define the album’s sound. And when MacDonald does his achingly lean version of Australia’s national song, “Waltzing Matilda,” you could swear you hear the acoustic guitar echo the easy gait of MacDonald’s own Aussie-accented voice.

By Judith Edelman
(Pepper Tree Records, www.davidrossmacdonald.com) - Acoustic Guitar Magazine

Best known as the drummer for the Australian folk group the Waifs, David Ross MacDonald revealed a different side of his musical persona on his 2003 debut solo album, Southern Crossing, a collection of original fingerstyle guitar instrumentals.

His most recent album is a further revelation, showcasing his substantial skills as a singer-songwriter. MacDonald’s vocals, lyrics, and intricate fingerstyle guitar playing bring to mind a collaboration between Nick Drake and a mid-1970s Bruce Cockburn. Like the latter, MacDonald’s well- constructed songs often use imagery drawn from nature—oceans and forests, in particular—but unlike Cockburn, MacDonald occasionally portrays the nat-ural world as an unpredictable and potentially threatening realm. In “The Pearl,” an epic tale of two pearl-diving brothers ends in tragedy, and in “Cannery Row,” seven lives are lost to an ocean storm.

Ross’ lyrics are dark and thoughtful, and in combination with his hypnotic fingerstyle guitar work, they create evocative songs with a haunting, poignant quality.

By Ron Forbes-Roberts
Acoustic Guitar Magazine : Nov 2004 - Acoustic Guitar Magazine

Macdonald is one of those few singer/songwriters like Nick Drake, Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes) and Josh Ritter that can captivate his listeners armed only with a voice and guitar.

The former drummer of Australian folk band The Waifs, Macdonald turned to finger-picking and delicate guitar stylings with his 2003 solo debut Southern Crossing. This latest U.S. release is a mix of tracks taken from Southern Crossing, his 2004 release

Far From Here, as well as four new tracks. From the narrative “Old Joes Cane” to “Draw Me In” , in which Antonio Banderas is probably itching to cover, Macdonald’s honest songwriting and charming voice may win him some notoriety in the world of folk.

Evan James
- American Songwriter

Listen up you lovers of finger style steel string guitar! Imagine traveling about Australia visiting 12 favourite luthiers and recording, on guitars they have built, twelve of your original tunes for an album. The results would be stunning if you could play and write like David Ross Macdonald.

Southern Crossing is an accomplished acoustic album for those who love guitar, and I would imagine for those who build guitars. The pieces are for the most part contemplative, the sort of music guitarists manage late in a successful lone session when they’re in a groove and smiling inwardly, broadly.

David Ross Macdonald, who amazingly doubles as The Waif’s drummer, demonstrates a light touch and a sure feel for the dynamics of guitar playing. Open tunings on the guitar lend themselves to the types of sweet melodies Macdonald creates and of course he’s playing some damn fine guitars.

David Churchill, Rad, Gerard Gilet, Greg Beeton, Tim Wright, Scott Wise, David Worthy, Jack Spira, Dan Dubowski, John McGrath, Bryan DeGruchy, and Jim Redgate are the luthiers celebrated. All of the guitars are wooden bodied steel strings except for Greg Beeton’s brass-bodied resonator (which is owned by Jeff Lang).

It’s tempting to try to compare the guitars on the album but that would only be possible I suppose if Macdonald played the same tune on each – which would be awfully boring for most listeners, so we’ll just have to say that they all sound terrific.
And how things have changed in the recording department. Macdonald carried with him a couple of mikes, a laptop computer and some nifty software. He didn’t even have to bring a guitar. (David chooses to use a Churchill guitar, as does Jeff Lang.)

He recorded the album in various friendly lounge rooms, kitchens and workshops, often in the presence of the maker of the guitar. Bliss for everyone.

- Steve Baker

Country of Origin: Australia
Music Genre: Chamber/Instrumental
We rate it: 4/5 stars
David Ross Macdonald - Southern Crossing
Date of Review: Wednesday, 17 December  2003 
- Australian National Radio

David Ross Macdonald is the drummer for the Waifs, but on this recording, sub-titled “A Celebration of Australian Handcrafted Guitars”, he displays his talent for playing the acoustic guitar.

Macdonald travelled to 12 different craftsmen and recorded a solo instrumental track with a handmade guitar from each. While containing a wealth of information about the guitar makers that’s probably more useful to one living in Australia, it works on a musical level as well.

Macdonald proves to be a gifted guitarist and composer, and the tracks flow smoothly and have a strong melodic structure. An engaging and enjoyable recording. (JLe)

Dirty Linen #103 Dec’02/Jan’03 - Dirty Linen

"I sat outside the control room mesmerized while he played... here's a guy who's definately got it.. I've become a big fan of his ever since.. glad to have found his music..."

Radio CKUA Alberta Canada 13/9/04 David Ward 'How I Hear It' - CKUA Radio Broadcast

Thoughtful songs in simple arrangements (mostly solo guitar and vocal) from a pretty damn good guitarist.

With a voice like a young Bruce Springsteen, Macdonald offers the wistful "Shoulders Brown", about missing someone and the sinister sounding "Draw Me In".

The instrumental "Bela Flak!" is a highlight, with blazing finger-picking and some very cool harmonics. - JA

Sing Out!
Winter 2006
Vol 49 #4
- Sing Out!

'Got it! Listened to it! Love it! I am gonna play it!'

Kevin Vance
KALW RADIO, San Francisco (June ’06) - KALW RADIO, San Francisco

On the cover of Knuckled Brass and Bone, singer-songwriter David Ross Macdonald's third album, is a scratchboard illustration by Edmonton artist Jordanna Rachinksy.
A portrait of Macdonald, the work is pensive and soulful. It is also exquisitely beautiful showing a lovingly hand-crafted technique that may even be a bit folksy.

Fortuitously, that also quite succinctly describes the nine songs comprising Macdonald's latest effort. While he is currently best known as the drummer for the Waifs, it would be no surprise if his unique fingerstyle guitar and simple arrangements soon draws the audience it deserves and commands.

Lyrically, his material draws from a rich and eclectic personal history, ranging from being a uranium mine geologist in a previous life in Australia to opening for Bob freakin' Dylan with the Waifs to his current incarnation as roots-and-soulster. His songs range from poetically sanguine to bitter sweet, reminiscent of Iron and Wine or Jack Johnson.

With ties to the Edmonton community, Macdonald could easily become a cornerstone of our emerging music scene. Let's hope he finds enough support here to continue to showcase his exceptional talent - with albums like this one, there is little doubt he will.

Joel Kelly
No: 561 July 20, 2006 - Vue Weekly - Canada

'... that it feels that he has captured the spirit of Donovan and Nick Drake - while still being individual in style ... one of my favourite new singer/songwriter albums of 2006'

Tom Coxworth - DJ, Folk Routes
CKUA Radio, Alberta, Canada - Tom Coxworth - DJ, Folk Routes


I find myself on a far and remote western fringe of Winnipeg standing outside the Shoppers Drugmart beside Walmart. Pretty spot.

While standing before this contusion of capitalism bandaged with pre-fab concrete compresses with a hemorrhaging tourniquet for a car-park I idly note that the brisk trade of crap-from-China ensures that the only spare space left to park is in the handicap zone directly in front of me. That is until this meat-headed jerk in a black Ford ‘Leviathan’ pickup truck swings into the blue rectangled oasis.

“Some people”! I utter to myself in disgust.

Readying for a throw-down I mentally rehearse my insults and assurances that folks in Canada are less likely to pull a hand gun on you. The truck door swings open and I take one step forward with a piece of my mind readied for this meat head. Suddenly his collapsable wheel chair drops into view from beneath the door and this young guy expertly manoeuvres down to his wheels as if performing the iron-cross on the rings with olympian flair. I am ashamed and stand there with mouth agape.

He turns, pushes and rolls a few feet my way when out of the blue a sedan careens by and almost runs him over! Using skill, power and quick wits he expertly evades disaster, he then turns, rolls my way and looks me directly in the eye and exclaims … “some people”!

Now, ever had someone explain earnestly to you at a party that “things happen for a reason” while tediously regaling you about the challenging yet enlightening time they contracted Giardia while back-packing through northern India? Well my guts tell me that fairness is an abstraction clumsily conferred by parents upon their children and I wouldn’t use the word karma in a conversation with a guy who lost his legs in a diving accident. So while I stood there shamed in the shadow of Walmart I am also at a loss to illuminate why he has wheels for legs and I don’t. All I can do is bear humbling witness to his hardship and his triumph and entertain the selfish hope that this would never happen to me and that his courage augers inspiration and a call to compassion.

Some people.



Now here’s a question for you.

Should we pay money for art?

I’ve been thinking this one over a bit lately given the recent proliferation of freeconomics on the web and I am searching for answers.

Maybe you can help?

So for the sake of argument let’s start at an art gallery opening that you happen to stumble upon while cruising some hip part of town, you nudge your buddy and say “hey, let’s check that out, free wine!”. I’ve done that more than once and I am sure there are serial gallery creepers out there just trawling openings for the free booze (mainly other artists, musos and actors).

However, on this particular occasion you see a canvas hanging on the wall and you just love it, LOVE it. It speaks to you in ways no words ever could, it’s texture, colour and composition just gets right under your skin, it’s strange, unique, inexplicable and vivid, words fail you. What happens next?, well maybe that doesn’t matter, you see, you just love it and that is a priceless moment of art appreciation, totally free. This visual feast is an unencumbered gift directly from the artists heart to you. Nice. But you pay $500, you meet the painter and start telling all your friends about it and are burning for the 3 weeks you got to wait before you can hang the damn thing in your room.

So at the visceral level, you are paying nothing for art, art is free because art is an expression-experience and not a purchasable commodity. The purpose of art is to move your spirit in unexpected ways, humanity manifest and for everything else “there’s Mastercard”. So the only reason you paid the 500 bucks was so that you could OWN it, and enjoy it in the privacy of your dwelling at the exclusion of all but you and your homies. Sure you could argue that you also bought it to support the artist, but I hazard to guess that you’re not running a charity here but if you are, I could send you a list as long as my filemaker-pro “find all songwriters” query result outputs for you to run your eye over if you’d like, it’s a long list. Chances are, if it’s not your nieces 1st year ink blotch landscapes then if you don’t love it then most probably all cash stays in your pocket, right?

You could easily switch up this experience with a music venue, street corner busker or hearing THAT song for the first time on your sweethearts car stereo. A song, becomes THAT song and then instantly YOUR song and all for free while you stood there with your mouth agape listening. You might have walked on, flipped a quarter or been powerless in stopping yourself from buying the CD. Nice, again.

So where am I going with this? Well, unlike a painting that hangs in a gallery or now in your living room as your objet d’amour a music track is like a virus that can replicate and spread itself throughout the digital universe of iThings. That MP3 is an untameable, irretrievable and serpentine little bastard and for all intents and purposes, free as a bird, a fait accompli.

From my reasoning thus far, the economics of a recording artist appears to be vanishing as quickly as the nasty merlot at the exhibition opening.

So why am I spending the equivalent of 2 years rent on making that next album!? I’m glad you asked.

It’s a question that I am hearing more and more these days from my muso buddies with the global financial downturn-slamdunk and all. With all the media and pop marketing gurus saying the same thing, “if you love your content, set it free” what’s a guy to do? This is not the same as scoffing “if you can’t make money from art why bother making it?” which is a question reserved purely for those chewing on the blue pill. Look, there is nothing worse than a whining musician lamenting the busted ways of a world gone wrong with tanking CD sales while drowning in a sea of proto-talent that extends as far as the bandwidth can see. I don’t consider myself that type of guy, but what’s the deal? What’s the deal?, the new deal, you know how last weeks deal was the old deal, right? oh, you missed that blog, geez, social networking is so yesterbyte , huh?, this afternoons tweet-ference on micro-monitizationism and longtail nechenomics was sooo boring, it went on for minutes, talk about stonehenge, they even had a rep from a record label! no i’m not kidding, brb.

Being facetious here doesn’t help my cause (much) and every cynical pessimist will profess to be a realist but the ‘what’s the deal’ question remains, if art is free, then as an artist what’s left to ethically monetize and how does one sustain that to a level that allows for the usual subset of humble social aspirations. “You could sell some t-shirts and buttons at the gig” your friend says while scratching their chin earnestly or “how about you get your music on the telly?” mum asks as if it’s some grocery item you inexplicably left off your list last time you shopped.

From my direct experience and from the tour scars of my compadres the humble coin is out there on the road, the only pla