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The EvO:R CD Review Team
CD title - Brussels
by Mark Newman
Review by Shannon Cowden
The Mark Newman Website
Mark Newman on YouTube
Mark Newman CD
CD title - Brussels
by Mark Newman
Americana music fans likely feel a certain familiarity when they encounter acoustic music. It acts as a sort of litmus test for an artist's depth when they are able, with at least a reasonable degree of accuracy, transfer their electric songs into a low-fi setting, but there's practically a manual of expected songs, instruments, and subjects that a majority of artists scrupulously follow. Sifting through the careerists for some sign of unpackaged truth takes work. However, when you find the real artist playing amongst the hacks, they stand out. Brussels is an EP that stands out. Mark Newman's six song live EP is full with confident tracks that, in a confined space, explore much of America's greatest musical traditions.
The release can be neatly divided into two distinct groups. "Mean Season", "Goin' Underground", and "Dead Man's Shoes" are originals that show Newman reaching for substantive statements using traditional forms as his vehicle. The first opens the album with a confident mid-tempo stride, varied guitar playing, and soulful vocals. "Goin' Underground" is a fiery romp with an extraordinary vocal, though many listeners will wish for a little more variety. The final song of the three, "Dead Man's Shoes", is perhaps the best thanks to its rugged strength lyrics, and menace.
His cover of "New York Mining Disaster, 1941" surprised me and will likely surprise others. The surprise is twofold. First, their subsequent success as a disco act obscures the Bee Gees initial incarnation as a pop-flavored folk act and its sometimes compelling material. The second reason is due to Newman's obvious vision for stripping the song down to its essence and presenting it as a country-tinged lament for the dead. The album's final songs, "So, So Cynical" and "Must Be a Pony", take a sudden turn into humor that isn't entirely successful. The first song works better because the music has stronger appeal, but it plays as quite lightweight compared to the strength of the album's earlier material. The final song, "Must Be a Pony", is an unwieldy translation of an electric track into an acoustic. The lyrics cleverly revisit a number of blues clichés, but Newman puts them over with such fervor that it makes the experience enjoyable.
The release has uneven quality, but Newman's exemplary guitar work and vocals carry the day when the songwriting cannot. However, the strongest songs, particularly "Dead Man's Shoes", are among the best material offered by the genre today. Brussels isn't a career-defining statement and indulges too much in the familiar, but it is an effective reminder of Newman's talents.
As Reviewed by Shannon Cowden
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