Steven MacDougall
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Steven MacDougall

Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada | SELF

Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada | SELF
Solo Americana Acoustic

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Music Review: Steven MacDougall - Cruel & Unusual
Sun, Oct 7, 2012.

Dancing, grooving, rocking, jamming, a little reggae, hip-hop, that's what we expect from Cape Breton's Slowcoaster. So it's pretty much a surprise to hear what the group's front man MacDougall does on his own. Replace all that stuff above with singer-songwriter, pop, folk, country, acoustic, introspective, and laid-back. Oh, I'd better add darn good writer to that list.

It shouldn't have been that much of a surprise to me, because one of the strengths of Slowcoaster is the depth of the lyrics amidst all those infectious tunes. The group isn't just another party band, and you don't find throw-away lines in the songs. MacDougall meanwhile has had a long-running partnership with Gordie Sampson, co-writing and doing the Nashville trips. What he kept aside for this solo disc, his second, sounds on the surface quite different musically, it's not that big a stretch to imagine how some of these could be Slowcoaster songs, too.


Kiss Me Like You Mean It, the first cut, has the feel of a new country track, with its fiddle break at the top, but has some of MacDougall's brand of slightly different lyrics: "Objects in the rear view mirror are not so far away" is the opener. He goes a little more intense than the usual country tune, with "Kiss me like you mean it, like we're dying". I think his real strength as a lyric writer is the way he takes everyday phrases and gives them extra meaning, developing whole songs around something we say every day, such as Don't Hold Your Breath. The song Cliche speaks right to it, I guess, where he spins a tune around a few of them, such as "red wine on a white dress" and "bullfrog and a princess", about a woman who feels like a cliche for her actions. Best of them all is the title cut, Cruel & Unusual, about how a lover, "how someone so beautiful, can turn on a dime, like whiskey to wine, it's cruel and unusual."

Don't Sing About Love is probably the closest to Slowcoaster, just MacDougall and his acoustic, picking at what could be jam-band song, if he brought in the rest of the band. Here though, it's still lots of fun thanks to a great groove, and some back-up singers who add a gospel feel. He could play it solo at Slowcoaster gigs and the kids would love it. The more country-leaning stuff here? Not so much I figure, it's going to be a different audience that appreciates this album. It certainly shows MacDougall isn't about to be pigeonholed, and it's a pretty strong declaration that he's joining the Ace Songwriters of Eastern Canada Association. Uh, I just made that group up, but it could totally exist you know. - CBC New Brunswick: East Coast Music with Bob Mersereau


The lead singer from Slowcoaster steps forward with substantial Cape Breton support, with tunes designed to make you hum later at unexpected moments. On first listen, MacDougall sounds like a poppier version of Gordie Sampson, who co-wrote “Don’t Hold Your Breath.” Jamie Foulds (Remember Realworld?) produces and plays piano. JP Cormier also pitches in. The title number lets all those vowels ooze out of MacDougall over a bed of sweet backing vocals. Most of the songs’ structures would fit country radio, where Sampson has thrived, but the presentation eschews anything like pedal steel or fiddle. It’s a fine solo debut, so Slowcoaster’s status gets a boost even if MacDougall opts to keep his own place. - The Coast ("Halifax's Website")


The lead singer from Slowcoaster steps forward with substantial Cape Breton support, with tunes designed to make you hum later at unexpected moments. On first listen, MacDougall sounds like a poppier version of Gordie Sampson, who co-wrote “Don’t Hold Your Breath.” Jamie Foulds (Remember Realworld?) produces and plays piano. JP Cormier also pitches in. The title number lets all those vowels ooze out of MacDougall over a bed of sweet backing vocals. Most of the songs’ structures would fit country radio, where Sampson has thrived, but the presentation eschews anything like pedal steel or fiddle. It’s a fine solo debut, so Slowcoaster’s status gets a boost even if MacDougall opts to keep his own place. - The Coast ("Halifax's Website")


Songwriters are the essential piece to the music puzzle. Without those brilliant minds who sit down and spill ink onto paper, we would be immersed in a sea of instrumentals…not that it would be an issue, given the incredibly talented instrumentalists in the region and world today.
But without those lyrics, we would miss out on all of those great stories that are told, because every good song does tell a story.
That is probably why our region of the country is so rich in songwriting. Over the course of history, we easterners have had many stories to tell, and still do to this day.
Hynes, Rogers, MacLellan, Gallant, Gunning, Guthro, Sampson – each have used their own unique writing style to create timeless classics, but boil it down and it really coes down to storytelling.
But when you start branching out beyond the folk and country genres, it’s still about songwriting – and one of our most underrated writers, in my mind, is Steven MacDougall. For about a decade, Steven has been the chief writer, front man, guitarist and vocalist for Cape Breton party-funk rock band Slowcoaster, very quietly writing a steady stream of gems that prop up some incredible instrumentation, and a whole lotta fun.
But it’s when you hear Steven stripped down, just him and a guitar, that the brilliant writing boils to the top. His new cd Cruel and Unusual is his second solo outing, and is a magnificent piece of work. Steven plays an up close and personal acoustic show in Glasogw Square’s Green Room this Saturday evening. It will be a sweet show to catch indeed. - New Glasgow Talks


Songwriters are the essential piece to the music puzzle. Without those brilliant minds who sit down and spill ink onto paper, we would be immersed in a sea of instrumentals…not that it would be an issue, given the incredibly talented instrumentalists in the region and world today.
But without those lyrics, we would miss out on all of those great stories that are told, because every good song does tell a story.
That is probably why our region of the country is so rich in songwriting. Over the course of history, we easterners have had many stories to tell, and still do to this day.
Hynes, Rogers, MacLellan, Gallant, Gunning, Guthro, Sampson – each have used their own unique writing style to create timeless classics, but boil it down and it really coes down to storytelling.
But when you start branching out beyond the folk and country genres, it’s still about songwriting – and one of our most underrated writers, in my mind, is Steven MacDougall. For about a decade, Steven has been the chief writer, front man, guitarist and vocalist for Cape Breton party-funk rock band Slowcoaster, very quietly writing a steady stream of gems that prop up some incredible instrumentation, and a whole lotta fun.
But it’s when you hear Steven stripped down, just him and a guitar, that the brilliant writing boils to the top. His new cd Cruel and Unusual is his second solo outing, and is a magnificent piece of work. Steven plays an up close and personal acoustic show in Glasogw Square’s Green Room this Saturday evening. It will be a sweet show to catch indeed. - New Glasgow Talks


Slowcoaster front man Steven MacDougall is thoroughly enjoying the well-deserved success of his second and latest solo recording effort, Cruel and Unusual.

“The response has been fantastic. I’m really blessed. I just came off a Maritime tour and had a recent concert in Membertou. One of the singles from the recording, Kiss Me Like You Mean It, is getting radio play on the country stations, and Don’t Hold Your Breath is getting spun on the rock stations,” MacDougall told The Oran this week.
Cruel and Unusual is chock-full of great songs from start to finish and is a portrait of an artist really coming into his own. Great lyrics and excellent musicianship throughout, MacDougall has every reason to be proud of this artistic accomplishment.

As a songwriter, MacDougall has been kept very busy over the past number of years.

“I basically have three possibilities with my writing. I can write material for the band, I can write material for my publishing company or for my solo efforts. It’s usually pretty clear to me from the song what direction I should take with it. I like to keep the material for the band a little edgy, and I get to co-write a lot. Some of the more introspective stuff I can keep for my solo efforts. I’m probably one of the few guys out there working in country, hip hop, rock and jazz,” MacDougall added with a laugh.

The Cape Breton songwriter certainly has no shortage of material to choose from. He estimates he wrote or co-wrote some 75 titles in the past year alone on his Nashville songwriting excursions.

MacDougall has been making frequent trips to Music City and has penned numerous songs over the past few years with the likes of his close friend, Gordie Sampson, as well as artists such as Patricia Conroy and Jimmy Rankin.

Several of those co-writes have appeared on Sampson’s solo efforts, Sunburn and For the Few and Far Between albums.

“It’s a great city. You have some 8,000 or so writers there just to create music. It’s been like university to me. I go in there, and I’m always looking at each session as a means of learning something new. I try to keep an open mind about working with other people, and it’s a philosophy that seems to work well for me.”

For this, his second solo effort, MacDougall says about half the material is similar in sound to his first solo effort about six years ago (Spanish Bay).

“With that effort I was looking to create a simpler acoustic folk and traditional sound, somewhat like early Bob Dylan stuff. This time around however I knew I wanted to explore a band sound with some of the new material.

MacDougall recorded Cruel and Unusual in Sydney with his buddy Jamie Foulds at Soundpark Studio. He was able to enlist the efforts of Foulds, Slowcoaster bandmate Brian Talbot on drums, bassist Ed Woodsworth and the vocal talents of the Dingwall Sisters.

With a Maritime tour just behind him MacDougall says he’s looking forward to some more shows around Christmas with Slowcoaster, more songwriting and, hopefully, a new Slowcoaster recording in the spring of 2013.

MacDougall hopes to continue to make trips to Nashville as well.
“I’ve been very fortunate to be mentored by people like Gordie and Patricia Conroy, and I owe them so much for helping me out,” he added.
MacDougall has had the opportunity to return the favour to a new generation of Maritime songwriters, some of whom aren’t that much younger than himself – performers like Dylan Guthro and Carleton Stone.

“I’ve been one of the leaders at Gordie Sampson’s Cape Breton songwriting camp for the past three years, and I’m just trying to pass on anything I’ve learned to some of the younger songwriters who have been coming there,” he concluded.

Cruel and Unusual is available on iTunes or by visiting www.stevenmacdougall.ca. - The Inverness Oran


Slowcoaster front man Steven MacDougall is thoroughly enjoying the well-deserved success of his second and latest solo recording effort, Cruel and Unusual.

“The response has been fantastic. I’m really blessed. I just came off a Maritime tour and had a recent concert in Membertou. One of the singles from the recording, Kiss Me Like You Mean It, is getting radio play on the country stations, and Don’t Hold Your Breath is getting spun on the rock stations,” MacDougall told The Oran this week.
Cruel and Unusual is chock-full of great songs from start to finish and is a portrait of an artist really coming into his own. Great lyrics and excellent musicianship throughout, MacDougall has every reason to be proud of this artistic accomplishment.

As a songwriter, MacDougall has been kept very busy over the past number of years.

“I basically have three possibilities with my writing. I can write material for the band, I can write material for my publishing company or for my solo efforts. It’s usually pretty clear to me from the song what direction I should take with it. I like to keep the material for the band a little edgy, and I get to co-write a lot. Some of the more introspective stuff I can keep for my solo efforts. I’m probably one of the few guys out there working in country, hip hop, rock and jazz,” MacDougall added with a laugh.

The Cape Breton songwriter certainly has no shortage of material to choose from. He estimates he wrote or co-wrote some 75 titles in the past year alone on his Nashville songwriting excursions.

MacDougall has been making frequent trips to Music City and has penned numerous songs over the past few years with the likes of his close friend, Gordie Sampson, as well as artists such as Patricia Conroy and Jimmy Rankin.

Several of those co-writes have appeared on Sampson’s solo efforts, Sunburn and For the Few and Far Between albums.

“It’s a great city. You have some 8,000 or so writers there just to create music. It’s been like university to me. I go in there, and I’m always looking at each session as a means of learning something new. I try to keep an open mind about working with other people, and it’s a philosophy that seems to work well for me.”

For this, his second solo effort, MacDougall says about half the material is similar in sound to his first solo effort about six years ago (Spanish Bay).

“With that effort I was looking to create a simpler acoustic folk and traditional sound, somewhat like early Bob Dylan stuff. This time around however I knew I wanted to explore a band sound with some of the new material.

MacDougall recorded Cruel and Unusual in Sydney with his buddy Jamie Foulds at Soundpark Studio. He was able to enlist the efforts of Foulds, Slowcoaster bandmate Brian Talbot on drums, bassist Ed Woodsworth and the vocal talents of the Dingwall Sisters.

With a Maritime tour just behind him MacDougall says he’s looking forward to some more shows around Christmas with Slowcoaster, more songwriting and, hopefully, a new Slowcoaster recording in the spring of 2013.

MacDougall hopes to continue to make trips to Nashville as well.
“I’ve been very fortunate to be mentored by people like Gordie and Patricia Conroy, and I owe them so much for helping me out,” he added.
MacDougall has had the opportunity to return the favour to a new generation of Maritime songwriters, some of whom aren’t that much younger than himself – performers like Dylan Guthro and Carleton Stone.

“I’ve been one of the leaders at Gordie Sampson’s Cape Breton songwriting camp for the past three years, and I’m just trying to pass on anything I’ve learned to some of the younger songwriters who have been coming there,” he concluded.

Cruel and Unusual is available on iTunes or by visiting www.stevenmacdougall.ca. - The Inverness Oran


The much-anticipated solo album of Slowcoaster rocker Steven MacDougall displays a side of this staunch Cape Bretoner which is seldom witnessed amid the full band’s bouncing stage. From the playful banter of “Little Miracle” to the haunting tale of “Stove Pipe” to its lilting title track, all of Spanish Bay provides a deeper sense of this talented writer and musician than we’ve heard before. He ushers in his intrinsic, honest lyrics with gentle piano and classical guitar. MacEachern’s words have an almost Michael Stipe feel; the songs have an enigmatic tone about them — at once sardonic, hopeful, sarcastic, despondent, cheerful. And after hearing many of the songs live for so long, it’s nice to just cuddle up and fade away with them.
—Norma Jean MacPhee - The Coast


Discography

Steven MacDougall:

Cruel & Unusual (2012)
Spanish Bay (2005)

Slowcoaster:

The Darkest of Disco's (2010)
Leaves "Best of" (2008)
Future Radio (2007)
Where Are They Going (2004)
Accidents & Excuses (2003)

Photos

Bio

Steven MacDougall is making a name for himself with his second solo release, Cruel & Unusual." Described as the work of a world class songwriter, MacDougall draws from a diverse musical vocabulary, Folk, Country, R & B, and Rock and Roll, all influenced by his Cape Breton musical roots and world-wide travels with his band, Slowcoaster. The songs on Cruel & Usual showcase the skill of one of Canada's rising songwriters, along with the sincerity and power of MacDougalls distinctive vocals.

MacDougall is backed on the new album by Ed Woodsworth, Jamie Foulds, Slowcoaster bandmates Mike LeLievre, Brian Talbot, and the vocal talent of the Dingwall Sisters. From the introspective Oh My God, to the heartbreaking Cruel & Unusual, these songs highlight the considerable skills of one of Canadas premier performing and recording artists while revealing a more thoughtful side of MacDougall and his growth as a songwriter.

In 2005, MacDougall began writing with Gordie Sampson netting two co-writing credits on Sampson's CD, "Sunburn." In 2007 he netted four co-writing on Sampson's record, "For the Few and Far Between." MacDougall has gone on to write more than 75 songs in Nashville in the past year alone, including two covers on Jimmy Rankins award winning Here In My Heart, several co-writes on George Canyon's new CD, including the hit song "Slow Dance" performed by George Canyon.

More recently, MacDougall has been working with George Canyon on a number of projects, resulting in Canyon's latest hot single, "Slow Dance," which is currently #41 and climbing (week of September 16, 2013) on the Canada-Country chart (link: https://www.facebook.com/georgecanyon/app_178091127385 ).

When not writing and performing his solo work, MacDougall is frontman and principal writer for the multi-award winning Cape Breton rock band, Slowcoaster.

MacDougall has been Musical Director for the ECMA Awards Show and was a member of the three-person writing team that composed the music for the 2010 Paralympic Games. MacDougall shares his experience during the summer, teaching and mentoring young writers at The Gordie Sampson Songcamps.

MacDougall has shared the stage with Gordie Sampson, Bruce Guthro, J.P. Cormier, Lennie Gallant, Rita McNeil, Matt Mays, Ron Hynes and many others.

Awards & Nominations:

2011 Winner of the ECMA Award for Alternative Rock Album of the Year - Slowcoaster - The Darkest of Discos

2011 Winner Music Nova Scotia Group Recording of the Year - Slowcoaster - Darkest of Discos

Credits:

"Slow Dance" - George Canyon -- (2013 Universal)

"I'm Just Saying" - Jimmy Rankin - Here In My Heart (2011 Universal)
"Maybe Nothing" - Jimmy Rankin - Here In My Heart (2011 Universal)
"Business As Usual" - Something Good - Business As Usual (2011)
"The Love of Lost Sake" - Colin Grant (2012)
"Hangman" - Gordie Sampson - For the Few & Far Between (2008 turtlemusik)
"Flying So Low" - Gordie Sampson - For the Few & Far Between (2008 turtlemusik)
"The Hour I Need You Most" - Gordie Sampson - For the Few & Far Between (2008 turtlemusik)
"Are You Sleeping" - Gordie Sampson - For the Few & Far Between (2008 turtlemusik)
"Spanish Bay" - Max MacDonald - Songs of Home (2008)
"All I Know" - Gordie Sampson - Sunburn (2004 turtlemusik)
"Beautiful Girl" - Gordie Sampson - Sunburn (2004 turtlemusik)

Band Members