Sometimes in life you stumble across an artist or band who perhaps doesn’t naturally fit with your preferred genre of music but who swiftly become your guilty pleasure.
Since I was first introduced to rootsy blues/folk maestro Mark Harrison, when I was asked to review his third album, The World Outside, almost two years ago, he’s become my guilty musical pleasure.
Turpentine is Mark’s fifth release and follows swiftly on the heels of his live album, On The Chicken Sandwich Train. It was recorded at London’s Heart of Gold Studios and produced by Tim Bazell.
Armed with his trademark National and 12 string acoustic guitars, Mark is ably accompanied by fellow musicians Charles Benfield (double bass and backing vocals) who appeared alongside Mark on 2015’s live recording, Ed Hopwood (drums, percussion, harmonica and backing vocals) and Paul Tkchenko (mandolin, piano. Organ and accordian).
Turpentine brings us thirteen, lucky for some, songs, all written by Mark Harrison. Three of these, Black Dog Moan, Hell Of A Story and Hardware Store, premiered on On The Chicken Sandwich Train but these, along with the remaining ten, are fresh and vibrant.
The album opens with Black Dog Moan. Instantly toe tapping, this upbeat song delivers a positive message in a slightly downbeat fashion that life’s not always perfect. This song contains perhaps my favourite line from the whole record. “And I really love the bits of her I can stand.” I’m pretty sure we’ve all felt like that about someone at some point in life!
One of the highlights of this record is The Treaty Of Dancing Rabbit Creek. This is a solid rootsy blues tale, telling the story of Greenwood Leflore and the Choctaw Indians in Mississippi in the 1830’s. Love the harmonica on this one. Great track!
Dog Rib is the only instrumental on the album and showcases not only Mark’s musical prowess but that of his fellow musicians. Stunning slide guitar work here. The bowed double bass is a subtle touch. When the drum beat begins, the toe begins to tap. Love it!
Next of Kin brings things down a notch and adds another dimension to proceedings. It’s slow rootsy blues vibe creates slightly sleepy mood. I can visualise myself sitting on a swing or a rocking chair on the front porch of a house in the Deep South at dusk while this is played. There’s a dark, swampy, gothic edge to this one. A powerful piece of music.
I want to meet Josephina Johnson! Maybe we’ve all met her. Maybe some of us are part Josephina. This track spins the tale of a formidable lady who might be walking down the street in downtown Chicago during the Great Depression or down the main street in a small town in the Mississippi Delta or she could be walking down the street ahead of you. Can you see her? Great simple song. No frills. Just good old honest playing. Inspired!
Turpentine is brought to a fitting close with Shake The House. There’s a real upbeat feel good vibe here. A ray of hope! As the liner notes explain “when blues music was invented, juke joints were the social scene- bars and shacks in small towns or on the edge of plantations for partying away from the gruesome rest of life”. The story goes that on occasion folks partied so hard that they went straight through the floor. (Cue a vision of the scene from Disney’s Aristocats where Scat Cat and his band crash through the floors of the house and keep on playing.) Great track to end on! We’ve shaken the house to its very foundations with this one! This would be a great set closer in the live arena…hint!
I’m going to be honest. I don’t have enough technical musical knowledge to do justice to describing Mark’s musicianship. To my uneducated ear, I recognise brilliance when I hear it and it resonates through every one of the thirteen songs on offer here.
Mike Harding, renowned folk musician and TV/radio presenter, has described Mark as “one of the British Isles’ great blues singers and guitarists…totally and absolutely original.” He’s right but he perhaps forgot to add that Mark is an incredible lyricist, spinning stories with every song.
So, if you allow yourself only one guilty musical pleasure this summer, treat yourself to a copy of Turpentine and Shake The House!
More information about Mark Harrison and his music can be found here:
credits to the owners of the images sourced via Google