I really like Mark Harrison’s previous album, Turpentine, so I was delighted when he sent me The Panoramic View. Mark plays 12-string and National guitars and his core band is double bass and drums courtesy of Charles Benfield and Ben Welburn. His music is the blues but with the lightest of touches and an edge of country with piano by Paddy Milner taking us into a saloon somewhere and Paul Tkachenko’s brass taking us somewhere sleazier. On top of that he’s a very inventive song-writer.
The opening track, ‘One Small Suitcase’ is about escape and a line in the first verse suggests that our protagonists are slaves planning to run away. Without that line the song could be about a young couple eloping but perhaps both interpretations are true. You never know what Mark is going to write and so, perhaps with that in mind, he’s engaged Scottish television presenter Gail Porter to read introductions to the songs which otherwise would be printed in the booklet, going as far as to explain that the instrumental ‘Pool Meadow Strut’ is about a Coventry bus station.
Actually, Gail’s introductions are important as Mark bases several songs on old bluesmen and only a real aficionado would know that ‘Don’t Die Till You’re Dead’ was a favourite phrase of Mississippi John Hurt or that Eddie “Guitar” Burns gave up playing music and worked multiple jobs to raise the kids from two marriages as told in ‘House Full Of Children’. Although Burns’ name isn’t well-known to most people he is highly rated among Detroit bluesmen – just the sort of guy that Mark would know about.
‘What Son House Said’ is a possible interpretation of an alcoholic ramble, in fact nearly all the songs are hedged around with “might bes” or “could haves” and when the subjects under discussion are living under the Jim Crow laws in the 50s and 60s or the life of a Chinese track-layer in the 19th century perhaps all you need is empathy for other people’s lives. Mark has that.
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Artist’s website: www.markharrisonrootsmusic.com
‘Ain’t No Justice’ – live