Mark Harrison is bluesman but that says very little about him. He’s also a fine songwriter and a player with the lightest touch with songs that never outstay their welcome. The Road To Liberty is a double album and if you want to know what it’s all about then the opening track, ‘Tribulation Time’, should give you a clue. These are songs for dark times leavened with a touch of optimism and a big wedge of gallows humour. Mark plays a National resonator guitar and a 12-string and is supported by producer Charles Benfield on double bass and Ben Welburn on drums and percussion. If you think that could be the line-up of a skiffle group or even a 1930s string band you’d be right.
The fourth track, ‘The Club Of Lost Souls’, is up there with ‘Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?’ as a picture of the times. Before that, ‘Passing Through’ casts Mark as a hobo and the following ‘Toolmaker’s Blues’ takes us to America’s rust belt. “How can you be a toolmaker when nobody’s buying tools?” is the punchline of the latest single. Then Mark breaks into the gloom with an instrumental, ‘Last Bus Home’, with his guitar echoing the rhythm of the wheels of an old charabanc.
‘Same Roads’ is about the monotony of life, I guess, although Mark and the band drive the song forward and have fun in the middle, following it with the light-hearted ‘Wheels Going Round’. ‘Skip’s Song’ is edgier and more in line with traditional blues and there’s irony as well as optimism in ‘Better Day’. The first disc closes with the unfeasibly jolly ‘I’m Damned’.
Disc 2 opens with ‘All Rise’ which follows ‘I’m Damned’ rather neatly as it finds the singer up before the judge but it’s also a song that seems to be mostly an excuse for some rousing guitar picking. ‘Hard Life’ is in the same vein and the result is that he’s ‘Doin’ Time’ – I couldn’t help thinking of Cool Hand Luke while it was playing. ‘Go Nice’ and ‘Curl Your Toes’ are rather more philosophical as is ‘Don’t Let The Crazy Out The Bag (Too Soon)’ in its own way.
‘Restless Mind’ brings us back to the life of the loser with some tasty bottleneck on the National. This guy is clearly living on ‘Lowlife Avenue’ but Mark cheers up with ‘Fox Chase’. It doesn’t last though and finally he’s ‘By The Side Of The Road’.
However you approach it The Road To Liberty is an excellent album. You can sing along to it, smile wryly at Mark’s humour or contemplate the more serious lyrics. Or just enjoy the foot-tapping music.
Artist’s website: http://www.markharrisonrootsmusic.com/index.php
‘Toolmaker’s Blues’ – official video: