MARK HARRISON – The Panoramic View (own label)

The Panoramic ViewI 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.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website:

‘Ain’t No Justice’ – live

MARK HARRISON – Turpentine (own label)

TurpentineI love melodic finger-picking, resonator and slide guitar so it should come as no surprise that I really like Turpentine. I hadn’t encountered Mark Harrison before he got in touch with us, and I’m very glad he did. This is his fifth album, I think, and he’s usually referred to as a bluesman although that rather understates what he does – he’s also a very fine songwriter.

At first hearing the songs collected here seem light – you can turn up the volume, admire the musicianship and kick back but they have an underlying power that can’t be overlooked. The opener, ‘Black Dog Moan’ opens with the lines “I’ve got a girl in Meadowland and I really love the bits of her I can stand” and if that doesn’t suck you in there is very little I can do for you. Add a really catchy chorus and you have a song that should go around the world. ‘So Many Bad People (Out There)’ and ‘Fade Away’ have a contemporary resonance – “Why’s the whole damn thing gone wrong?”, he asks. That’s what we’re all asking. I particularly like ‘Hardware Store’, a song for all of us who don’t really fit in.

Other songs are rooted in the past. ‘The Treaty Of Dancing Rabbit Creek’ is based on a moment of infamy in US history (what, another) in which the government conned the Choctaw out of their ancestral lands. The Choctaw’s principal negotiator wound up in the US Senate; there are always parallels. ‘Next Of Kin’, a traditional blues format is set in the deep south and recounts the situation of black people who were not full citizens. Finally ‘Shake The House’ comes from the juke joints and speakeasies and features Cajun-style accordion from Paul Tkachenko. Also supporting Mark are double bass player Charles Benfield and drummer and mouth-harp blower Ed Hopwood.

Mark’s band is tight and loose at the same time; no-one is trying to be a star and you can sense the understanding between the players. Yes, I really like this record.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website:

‘Black Dog Moan’ – Mark and the band live:

New album from Mark Harrison

Mark Harrison

Since going out into the world with his unique songs and style in 2010, Mark Harrison has rapidly established an ever-growing reputation. His highly individual, all-original music has been going down very well with audiences of all kinds, and it has taken him to some of the top venues and festivals in the UK, attracting acclaim wherever he goes. It strikes a chord with people who have never heard anything like it, as well as with people with a love of roots music.

Mark has taken the style of the early blues and folk/blues innovators, and given it modern relevance. His songs all have some-thing to say or a story to tell. With their memorable tunes, striking lyrics and strong rhythms, they make people think, smile and move. He is doing something genuinely fresh and different, tapping into the timeless quality of ‘old’ music to produce something brand new and totally relevant to the present day.

Regularly described as one of the best blues and roots artists in the country, Mark is a thrilling, rhythmic finger-picker and slide player, with a very distinctive style and sound. An in-demand live performer, he is currently touring all over the UK. He appears solo and with his band, which consists of some of the UK’s top roots musicians. With them he has already released four albums which have been unanimously acclaimed across a wide range of areas of the music world, receiving a very great deal of airplay and highly enthusiastic reviews in the UK, Europe and the US.

Recently Mark has appeared at top festivals such as Celtic Connections, where his headline concert was a sell-out, and at prestigious venues all over the UK. He also received two nominations in the British Blues Awards (Songwriter & Acoustic) in 2015 and 2016. In 2015 he released the acclaimed live album On The Chicken Sandwich Train and 2016 sees the release of his eagerly anticipated new studio album Turpentine, which is all set to provide him with a major breakthrough.

Turpentine features 13 original songs in his trademark style, covering a wide range of non-standard topics, including a host of ruminations on modern life, and depictions of the lives and era of the great early blues artists.

Superbly produced by Tim Bazell of Heart of Gold Studios in London, Turpentine presents the songs in a wide variety of line-ups from full band to solo and all points in between. In addition to Mark on National & 12-string guitars, it features Charles Benfield (double bass), Ed Hopwood (drums, percussion, harmonica) and Paul Tkachenko (mandolin, piano, organ, accordion).

As with Mark’s previous albums, Turpentine is beautifully packaged, with superb artwork by We Are Frank.

Artist’s website:

Mark Harrison’s playlist video: