Like a whistling wind cutting through long tall grass on a casual autumn day, the gilded harmony that powers “Stepping Out of Time” is soft and delicate on the surface but intimidatingly strong if observed from the right vantage point. The shrewd folk-rock song acts as the leadoff track in Steven MacDonald’s new album Stepping Out of Time and gives us a taste of what the remaining seven songs have in store for us, but only just a taste.

We slide into “Everything Starts From Nothing” on the whim of a pastoral melody that unfolds into a straight-up jam session that puts MacDonald and a furious patterned arrangement at ground zero. You couldn’t crush the spirit this record has even if you had a hundred one-ton boulders; MacDonald is at the top of his game here, unleashing his robust melodies without the slightest trace of inhibition.

“Stepping Out of Time” softens the blow of its predecessor by bringing a heady guitar into the mix that will be hard for listeners to forget any time soon. A homespun story of youth, adolescence, and young adulthood is punctuated by a harmony between MacDonald and the guitar that is emotional, even tear-jerking in spots. “The Love I’ve Known” sparks a little danger to keep us energized with a clean overdrive and dirty blues beat that smack us right into “The Chords Wouldn’t Play” with impunity.

“The Chords Wouldn’t Play” isn’t the cutting piece of reflection that “The Love I’ve Known” is, but it’s not a throwaway track by any stretch of your imagination. Supple in its construction but mammoth in its groove, the real draw of this song is the vocals, which are a tad more effervescent here than they are in the rest of the album.

We find a lot of potency waiting for us on the other side of “Empty Shell,” a chunky piece that craters the middle of the record with a thick bottom end that is perhaps more potent and suffocating than anything Steven MacDonald has ever recorded before. It’s followed by a more toned-down construction which feels a lot more simplistic in the shadow of the thunderous sonic exhibition we just experienced, but this doesn’t make for a rough transition. “A Rush” and the folkie “Any Port” throw a dash of duality and stylized pop into the pot before letting the rest of the LP have its way with us at the whim of a sophisticated guitar part.

The powerful “Down the River She Runs” marches us into Stepping Out of Time’s epic finale, which is more emotional and pointed than where we started but not removed from the earthy affections of MacDonald’s beloved Americana. There’s no camp, pomp, or bravado present as he musically nods to the forerunners of his genre; just MacDonald, a perfect guitar lick, and this haunting melody that sounds and feels as old as time itself. Stepping Out of Time is definitively a folk album, but it veers onto plenty of off-kilter and experimental exits on the highway of harmonies it travels. For what I look for among singer/songwriters, this is indeed an ace effort.

Garth Thomas