Tony Cummings reports on the Alabama-raised, Georgia resident and now solo country singer MAC POWELL
When it was announced that Third Day's frontman Mac Powell was to make a momentary career detour to record a mainstream country album, it was a bit like as if P.O.D. were announcing an album of Barry Manilow covers. Since Third Day's inception in 1994 Powell's gritty voice has been considered one of the jewels in Southern rock's crown while the depth of Mac's commitment to ministry is revealed in classics like "Call My Name" and "Cry Out To Jesus". Certainly, the news of Powell's change of style and content was not welcomed in all circles. On the internet some Third Day fans who enjoy the band's bluesy Southern rock swagger expressed their loathing for what they consider hopelessly uncool country music while the singer's decision to record a secular rather than a gospel country album brought a comment from one Third Day follower who exclaimed that she had "lost all respect" for Powell and asked "how do you go from 'cry out to Jesus' to 'fell in love with her'."
Powell spoke to JesusFreakHideout about his foray into country music. "I think there are a couple things that I would love to come out of, with me making this whole country record. I think one thing is that it would be great for people to recognize that as a songwriter you can be a Christian and not just have to write about Jesus in every song. Because I think as a person of faith, my life is not compartmentalized. I don't have my life on Sunday, or my life on Wednesday night, my life on Saturday; I'm the same person throughout that. So whether I'm writing a record for Third Day or writing a country record, my faith in God kinda shapes me as a person. So I think I would want people to know that, that I'm the same person and that I'm not gonna change - and yet as a songwriter I can have these different challenges and these different things that I can talk about that don't necessarily fit within the Christian music genre when I write, and when I'm making a country record."
Earlier, Powell spoke about his long-time love for country music. "I grew up listening to country music. It was a big part of shaping me musically and I think that's pretty evident in Third Day music. There's always been little tinge of it. There have been so many times in the past that I had song ideas that didn't really fit lyrically or musically with Third Day. I filed those songs away to the 'maybe sometime' category. Well, that time is now. I started working on these songs, and a whole bunch of new ones, off and on about a year ago. Then, I had the chance to record the songs with some really talented musicians. I am very happy with the results, and I cannot wait to share it with you!"
Powell recorded the 'Mac Powell' album with producer Jason Hoard, the multi-instrumentalist who has been touring with Third Day for the past two years. He also enlisted Nashville-based songwriter Brett James (Carrie Underwood's "Jesus, Take The Wheel", Kenny Chesney's "Out Last Night", Chris Young's "The Man I Want To Be") to co-write half the album. Powell told Billboard that it was connecting with James which was the basic foundation stone for his country debut. "I started writing with Brett. He was really the first step. We just hit it off really well and came up with a lot of ideas in a short amount of time, and then Jason worked on a few of those ideas as well. We started recording them and it just started feeling great."
Considering the controversy the album was likely to cause amongst some Third Day supporters, 'Mac Powell' (released on Powell's own independent label) has received fairly favourable reviews. JesusFreakHideout wrote, "'Mac Powell' is simply another side of the proverbial coin of Mac's persona that few outside of those who are close to him have been able to see. Songs like "Sweet Georgia Girl" and "This Ain't No Hobby" are upbeat and fun country rock songs that honour his wife and family, while other relationship-based songs are more obscure and seem to either be inspired by loves of his past, or are included to fulfill that obligatory need for country songs to be about love and loss ('Mississippi', 'Julia Ann', 'Trying To Get Over You'). Among the ballads on the record, 'My Love For You Remains' is a sentimental love song for his wife about looking back on how their relationship has evolved since the beginning, but his love for her hasn't changed; 'Carry You' sounds like a sibling to Third Day, serving as a potential radio single, except given more of a twang than the usual Third Day hit; and 'Carolina' is a song about his love for South Carolina. Album highlights include the quirky and a bit unorthodox love song 'This Ain't No Hobby', in which he likens to loving his girl as a full-time job, not a hobby; 'Mississippi' is a fun (but potentially monotonous) song about getting out of an unhealthy relationship, and 'Trying To Get Over You' is a classic, heartbreaking country tune about trying to forget someone who's broken your heart."
Powell has already started playing some country concerts at small venues. For these he's being backed by a seasoned group of country musicians, ironically named The Backsliders, and although it's a bit of a change for an artist whose primary outlet puts him in front of thousands of fans a night, it's a change he clearly feels led to follow. "It's different to think about getting in a van with a trailer and driving five to eight hours a night," Powell told USAToday.com. "It's something I never thought I would do again, but when you're driven to get this music out, you'll do it."
In November the eagerly awaited new Third Day album 'Miracle' will be released and with legendary producer Brendon O'Brian (Pearl Jam, Bruce Springsteen, The Fray) working on it, it could well end up being Third Day's biggest album yet. So whether we'll ever see another country outing from the singer/songwriter remains to be seen. One thing is clear though. Powell has greatly enjoyed his unlikely plunge into country.The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.