Brian Mackey, “Captain of the Moon” from Broken Heartstrings (2014): One Track Mind

“Captain of the Moon” opens Broken Heartstrings with a conversational insouciance, as if Lou Reed was parked at the next barstool, before Brian Mackey ramps up into a soaring rumination. Trusted musical touchstones stop by for a quick drink, along the way, from the George Harrison-inspired electric solo to a free-form tremolo straight out of Lindsey Buckingham. That sharp-edged acoustic riff offers whiffs of early R.E.M.’s punky danger, even as Mackey’s confidential approach with the lyric traces back to the lonesome brilliance of Nick Drake.

Mackey spent some two years working on his just-released full-length debut Broken Heartstrings, and you hear every moment of care in songs like the tour-de-force “Captain of the Moon.” In fact, this cut might not have even made the final track listing, if not for the lengthy gestation period of Mackey’s new album. He’d written “Captain of the Moon” years ago, and only returned to it during an idle moment in the studio.

“I was told it should be recorded, and I took that into strong consideration,” the New York singer-songwriter says. More particularly, Brian Mackey found himself suddenly lost again in this tune’s sweeping complexities. “I couldn’t get it out of my head,” Mackey adds, “so I had to include it.”

As it unfolds, “Captain of the Moon” telegraphs a need to escape, and that sense of restless heartbreak opens the door for a studio effort that delves deeply into loss, but without the expected sense of whiskey-soaked self-pity. Instead, Broken Heartstrings — across moments like the country-rock travelogue of “America” and the bracing, Billy Joel-esque push back of “Philadelphia” — finds the determination to seek out the first glimmers of morning after a very long night.

You imagine all of these influences surrounding Brian Mackey in a rusted-out old muscle car, even as the empty neon promises of that old saloon flicker in the rearview. The captain of the moon? He was last seen with a steel-toed boot pressing hard on the accelerator.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso