Wednesday 24 August 2016


CD Review


To use a well-worn phrase Mark Harrison has come out of left field. After what he calls a lengthy layoff, he started to listen to music again and it seems what he was listening to was some of the greats of the travelling blues players.

Mark Harrison
Harrison, in his own small way, is carrying on the tradition of legends such as Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Willie McTell and Sonny Boy Williamson I to name but a few.
Turpentine is the Londoner's fourth album and he has been making quite an impact on the music scene. 
As you can imagine, there is a wonderful retro feel to his style of blues and the only thing which is missing is the scratches and crackles of the early recordings but other than that it's about as authentic a blues sound as you will find.
Black Dog Moan sets out Harrison's stall and straight away you get that feel of the blues from the depression and dust bowl eras. The twanging sound of his national and 12 string guitars adds to the atmosphere of the song and yet he manages to pour in a modern twist on it including a spiritual sounding organ undertone. 
The track which follows, So Many Bad People(Out There), carries on this style and the sound of his slide guitar gives it authenticity, you can almost see him in a sweltering studio, with a mic the size of a small briefcase cutting the disc as he sings for a few dollars. Hell of a Story has a more modern feel to it, a style you would attribute more to someone like the great Eric Bibb. The clipped percussion adds to the thump of the country/blues feel of the song and even brings memories of songs such as Country House by Blur.
You can't help but think of Robert Johnson when you hear the opening bars of Hardware Store. Harrison's guitar picking is just a sheer delight and you can even enjoy the stomp which keeps things moving. 
The Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek is an absolutely cracker of a song. Harrison's voice is not the strongest but it works and fits fantastically with the old style blues he is so good at reproducing. What's more he lets his steel guitar off the leash which is just wonderful to listen to. You hear the bent notes, the blues harp and it makes you yearn for scratchy shellac records again.
Robert johnson
This gives way to In The Dark, which has a stronger rhythm than the previous track and is slightly less bluesy in an obvious way, it has more of the showband sound to it.
Dog Rib has a feel of Ry Cooder about it, certainly in the opening bars it also has a slightly Asian feel to the sound of the strings in this instrumental where there are parts which could easily transfer to the sitar. The percussion comes in strongly to push the music along and gives everybody something to stomp to. 
There is a lighter sound to Dirty Business which has a skiffle feel and it's the kind of track, when played live, would have the whole audience jumping along to the strong beat. Somehow it's got the feel of summers, fairground and festivals attached to it. It also brings memories of Lindisfarne.
With Fade Away you get a chance to enjoy Harrison's wider picking skills on the guitar, the blues feel is far more subtle and he makes it a light and laid-back ballad.
Harrison brings the darker, deeper blues sound back with Next of Kin. The classic blues sound, along with his singing, punches out every note and the more you listen to it the harder you find it to keep your feet from stomping out the rhythm.
Josephina Johnson is another one of those songs that should really be listened to on a 1920s valve radio. It does have that feel of the R Johnson's style bringing a rawness and simplicity to the tune.
With a slightly more commercial sound, Mister Trouble still carries that hopping blues sound which Harrison is so good at producing with his strings.
The new album
The final track, Shake The House, is a good travelling song with the drums keeping everything moving along at a good speed and, like the opener, it does carry that spirit of the original travelling bluesmen.
Harrison knows how to open an album but he also knows how to close one with him throwing almost everything into the finale including a little Cajun sounding accompaniment.
The bluesman has a real talent for recreating the sounds which gave rise to so many modern blues players but he has done it in a way which is both traditional and fresh, and manages to incorporate other styles into the music without diluting the mojo in any way. Harrison clearly displays a love and respect for the genre without being bogged down or frozen in awe of those who have inspired him. For anyone who has a soft spot for the blues then this album just has to be part of their collection and perhaps the only way to improve it would be a spot of time travel.

Turpentine is released on August 26 and is available through the artist's website and usual download sites*Version*=1&*entries*=0

You can catch him live at Tree House Bookshop, 4 The Square Kenilworth, UK CV8 1EB on August 26. Show starts 8pm and tickets are £10. Then on Sunday September 4, starting 7pm, he plays the basement bar at Green Note, 106 Parkway London, UK NW1 7AN. Tickets are £7. On Friday September 9 he plays The Doghouse, Kay Brow Yard, Kay Brow Ramsbottom, UK BL0 9AY. Show starts 8pm and tickets are £6. The following night he will be performing at BAAFest, Brownrigg Lodges, Bellingham Hexham,UK NE48 2HR. Show starts 8pm check the festival website for ticket prices. On September 15 he moves on to South Hill Park Arts Centre, Ringmead Bracknell, UK RG12 7PA. Show starts 8pm tickets are £12 or £10 for members and concessions and there is a meal and show package for £27. He follows this on September 17 with a show at Wychwood Folk Club, The Swan, Shipton Rd, Ascott -U-Wychwood, UK OX7 6AY. The show starts 8pm and tickets are £6 in advance or £8 on the night. The the following night, Sep 18, you can see him at Midland Game Fair, Weston Park Shropshire, UK TF11 8LE. Show starts 8pm and see the venue's website for ticket information.

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