What people say about Mark
WHAT PEOPLE SAY ABOUT MARK
'his music is both beguiling in content and authentic in tone'
The Blues Magazine
'his music is intriguing ... singular ... really very good and it's different'
David Freeman, Jazz FM
'I really love that good timey old timey feel'
Mike Harding, The Mike Harding Folk Show
'an original sound that is put together with class and cohesion'
'Mark Harrison belongs to the kind of songwriters who are able to convey contemporary stories of life using classic musical elements and thereby bridging the gap between music from the early 20th and early 21st century.'
'If you like acoustic masters such as Eric Bibb, you will love Mark Harrison.'
Blues Blast US
'catchy and quirky enough to grab your attention instantly. ... Mark's lyrics bring this genre back into the 21st Century'
Phoenix Music Online
'completely original in his words and the way that the songs are constructed'
'his themes are as modern as yesterday and as timeless as forever'
'he is one of Britain's quiet gems and deserves to be heard'
'Mark writes songs that sound as though they are Blues staples from the late twenties and thirties but his themes are as much 'now' as 'then' and with a sympathetic group of musicians he makes a noise that really is timeless.'
'songs that will pull you in to the stories ... the songs are the real stars'
'unafraid to take risks and not prepared to follow any particular blueprint when it comes to creating his personal take on blues and folk music'
'Harrison's songs may be new but most could sit comfortably alongside any set list performed by the early country blues icons.'
'his star has certainly ascended to where it deserves to be'
'so much variety, so much originality'
Ashwyn Smyth (award-winning Digital Blues radio show)
'He is an excellent and expressive vocalist and a tremendous resonator guitar player as well as being a terrific songwriter who tells a variety of stories.'
'Mark Harrison has a refreshing and totally individual style.'
'a high quality artist who has developed his own style, one that includes a strong bluesiness, a powerful folksy feel and, strangely, a little of the laid back feel you might expect from music made somewhere such as the Caribbean'
American Roots UK
'whatever the subject of his downhome tales, the lessons within them always hit home, good and true'
The Blues Magazine
'Harrison has quite a turn of phrase that can simply fill your mind with thoughts and images'
'you can't help but be fascinated by his combination of slide and fingerpicking styles'
'timeless-sounding, self-penned songs that largely comprise sanguine, often significantly wry philosophical observations on contemporary life.'
'In that his songs deal with contemporary issues while stylistically rooted in the classic blues of the 30s, Mark's writing reminds me quite a bit of Ry Cooder.'
'His singing has an appealingly conversational tone (which suits the gently thought-provoking or smile-inducing nature of his lyrics).'
'Mark's songs invariably have a twist in the form of a canny message'
'the hooks and riffs draw listeners into the world of the song and the intriguing, original lyrics hold them there as each narrative unfolds'
'like all the best blues, it gives a sweet side to counter and contrast with the bitter'
'Each song unveils a self-contained story. The storytelling aspect ensures a strong folk streak runs along inside the blues exterior, an approach accentuated by the laid back vocal delivery.'
'Each new song is a new location with a new curiosity, and you can't help but be continually fascinated.'
'paints images in your mind. You get these beautiful, folk ballads and old fashioned sounding folk songs, and they leave you with pictures. '
American Blues Scene
'it's the aural equivalent of a sunny day, a breeze-fueled hammock and a tall, cool glass of fresh-squeezed lemonade'
'each song is a carefully arranged revelation'
Penguin Eggs, Canada
'If the Blues you hear in the music of Mark Harrison is familiar but not immediately recognizable, the cause could be the steps forward in the genre that he makes with his take on tradition.'
The Alternate Root, US
'its roots go deep into the strangely uplifting melancholy heart of the blues, whilst the folk elements bring a lightness to it all'
'with an accomplished fingerpicking style, and tight backing, he plays the blues with an unswerving passion'
'His companionable life-philosophy is entirely right-minded, speaking simply but persuasively of contemporary, proven-universal truths; it may seem obvious, but its reasoning and context is sincere and the musical expression tasty in the extreme.'
Folk and Roots UK
'Roots music enthusiasts won't need me to remind them about this stylish guitar picker's timeless approach to the charms of the acoustic blues'
''Crooked Smile' should be required listening for anyone who's ever professed an interest in this fascinating genre.'
Kevin Bryan, Messenger Newspapers, 90 papers in the UK
'gives tremendous value at his gigs'
'songs that are as unique as they are original'
'simple music, maximum pleasure'
'the effortless gorgeousness that is Mark Harrison's playing...'
'a brilliant lyricist and a wonderful musician ... love his voice'
Roots & Fusion, Pure Radio
'Mark Harrison's world outside is an honest reflection of what he witnesses, tied down with charming and picturesque musicianship and a more than amiable smile in which to comfort you whilst spelling out all the wrong in the world'
Liverpool Sound & Vision
'an observational type of writer focusing on the lives of ordinary people, thus giving the music a certain charm and depth'
Blues in the North West
'renowned finger picker and slide player'
Blues in the South
INTERVIEWS & FEATURES
BLUES @ GREECE
Interview with British folk/blues artist Mark Harrison -- one of the UK's foremost acoustic blues performers
Interview by Michael Limnios
Photos Courtesy of Mark Harrison Archive / All Rights Reserved
"If you play or listen to blues music of any kind, you are in some way honouring the obscure and undervalued people who invented just about all modern music that it is possible for a decent human being to like!"
What do you learn about yourself from the blues culture and what does the blues mean to you?
I’ve always been fascinated by ‘blues culture’ in the sense that the music seems to me to be the only kind of ‘proper’ music, with everything else somehow more artificial. It connects with people of all kinds as long as they have the same kind of general attitude to life in common. I’ve always felt a connection with its people even though my life experience has nothing in common with theirs in concrete ways. I’m doing my own version of that music and presenting it to people, but I’m not trying to learn anything about myself, my interest is in creating something totally new from what comes naturally to me in that style.
What does the music mean? I go along with what my friend the great American bluesman Doug MacLeod says: he says it is a mistake people make that blues is about wallowing in misery, in fact it is about overcoming it. It’s about a lot of other things too, not least entertainment, but I reckon that’s a good description.
How do you describe Mark Harrison sound and songbook? What characterize your music philosophy?
I’m doing brand-new, original songs in the style of the early acoustic blues artists who invented all the music that subsequently swept the world. Many of those people were doing and writing proper songs, with proper tunes, their aim was to entertain and eke out a living by doing so. Many of them had extraordinary and individualistic guitar styles. I’m trying to take all that and do something new and modern with it, and the emphasis is on memorable songs with lyrics that catch people’s attention and are not about the things that most songs are about. I see no reason why you can’t write a blues song today about absolutely any topic. I don’t think the music is at all frozen in the past, or at least it shouldn’t be.
"I think that most of all what is missing in comparison with the past is individuality. That goes for all forms of popular music actually, not just blues." (Ealing Blues Fest./Photo by Paul Dubbelman)
What were the reasons that you start the Roots Blues Folk researches and experiments?
I came back to the music a few years ago, having done no playing or listening to anything for many years. I started to assemble a collection of music and books covering the whole history of blues. And I read those books too! I got myself a 1934 National guitar and as soon as I got it I found that I could play this kind of music naturally, as if it was someone else doing it. I tried to play what the original guys were playing but I couldn’t do it. I found that in trying to do their songs, I was so far away that I was writing new songs. So I decided to do that. I didn’t want to write them as if I was one of those guys because I’m not. So I started to write them about the kind of things that came into my head. And then I was really up and running.
Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What is the best advice has given you?
I didn’t play anything at all for many years, and then I started this whole thing just a few years ago. So I was starting completely fresh – even though I wasn’t young, it was like starting on something in your youth, in the sense that I had no idea what the music world was like. I just went out to play a bit. Right from the start, I met people, mostly younger ones, playing in London’s blues and roots places, and I felt it was a good place to be. I met the people who played with me from the start, who are on the albums and some of whom have now done hundreds of gigs with me. I didn’t have a plan, I wasn’t aiming at anything, it all just gathered its own momentum. It’s a rare and joyous example (for me anyway) of achieving a lot without the rather desperate feeling of wanting to achieve a lot. It’s just happened, people have liked what I do. And what I do was fully formed when I started, it just seemed to appear out of me as if by magic.
Advice? At that time, I met the people who design all my fantastic album covers. They were important figures in London’s blues scene too and they said to me’ Whatever you do, don’t call yourself blues!’ Of course, everything I do springs from blues but I came to realise that what they meant was that blues for most people today means loud electric rock-type music with long lead guitar solos. I’m not doing anything like that, all my music is song-based, with an acoustic (but not quiet) band, so I don’t really fit with that. So I haven’t limited myself to the blues world, I play at all kinds of places and events. That’s not a criticism of the blues world, where I’ve had great support and much kindness, it’s just to say that what I do extends well beyond that particular genre. People with no interest in blues like what I do and then become interested in where I got it all from.
Are there any memories from gigs, jams open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
One special memory of a gig, out of countless that I’ve had, is not long after I got started, when I took the 6-piece band to play at a pretty big and very good folk festival in the south of England. We played on the Saturday night, and it got dark during our set. About half-way through, I saw that the whole field had become packed, everyone at the festival had come to see us. Towards the end, two people got up and started dancing in front of the stage. A few seconds later I looked up and saw that the whole field pf people had got up and were dancing. When we finished, they yelled and yelled for more, and though encores are understandably not allowed at festivals, the stage manager asked us to do one. And still they yelled. To experience that with your comrades, to get that kind of reception for songs you wrote, is very special. I’ve had lots and lots of moments like that, and those moments are really what it’s all about.
What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?
I think that most of all what is missing in comparison with the past is individuality. That goes for all forms of popular music actually, not just blues. A lot of music made today is more like impersonation of something from the past that was really good, rather than people producing things that are uniquely their own. For example, you could take a standard song from the 1920s/30s, say Stagger Lee, and find maybe 30 artists who did it during that period. And not one of their versions would sound like any other. Their instinct was to do things in their own way.
Hopes and fears, well, I would hope that people catch on to the fact that blues-based music can be as original as any other kind. I was surprised to find how little innovation was happening in blues, unlike, say, folk. It’s as if blues music has to follow a pre-ordained formula, and plough a very narrow furrow. It doesn’t and that is in fact the very opposite of what the original acoustic blues artists were doing. My experience is that if you present people with proper songs and playing in the blues idiom that grabs the attention, they will like this music even if they previously knew nothing about it. If I have a fear, it is that it will simply be a lead-guitar based kind of pseudo-rock music that is played mainly for the benefit of guitarists both on stage and in the audience!
If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
It would be that blues music done well, and indeed roots music in general, had a much bigger audience. There was a time in the late 1960s and early 1970s when this sort of happened, with artists getting signed to major labels, people like The Band being big and folk musicians having their albums up there alongside more mainstream people. But this was a very brief period indeed! The truth is, blues, folk, roots in general, have always been minority things, attracting small but passionate followers. That has its good side too.
What are the lines that connect the legacy of Charley Patton with Alexis Korner with your generation?
It is perhaps interesting that blues music started to connect with white folk around about the time it stopped connecting with black folk. No doubt someone has written a book about that! In this country, people got to know about it via various radio shows years ago and because artists like the Stones spoke in awe about the ‘real’ blues artists. Some people checked them out and began a lifelong addiction to the music of those artists, who have never really been surpassed. There is something vital about the feel of it, and the world it creates in your head, that makes it appeal to generation after generation, albeit in relatively small numbers, because so many people don’t know about its existence.
Do you know why the sound of resonator is connected to the blues? What are the secrets of fingerpicking?
Well, resonator guitars were the first form of guitar amplification before electricity. They were created in the 1920s so that a musician had a better chance of being heard in the sort of places where they played – loud juke joints, street corners, etc. The music was there to accompany people’s fun, the people drank and danced and generally made a racket, these were not sit down and listen concerts! The cone (the metal bit that amplifies the sound) made them louder than ordinary guitars. In the 1940s, the electric guitar was invented, and that was the end of resonators. With an electric guitar, you could not only be heard easily, you could also deafen people! There started to be a market for resonators a couple of decades ago, firstly vintage ones and then new ones started to be made again. Some people connect the image of them with blues music, even if they don’t know anything about the music.
The secrets of fingerpicking? I don’t know! I have my own totally individual style, using only thumb and forefinger. People don’t believe that’s all I’m using, sometimes they come to check with me after a gig! I didn’t get taught it, I just developed it myself, it’s what comes naturally to me. I’ve never analysed or dissected it and I don’t want to. You can spoil things by thinking about them.
What is the impact of Blues music and culture to the racial and socio-cultural implications?
If you play or listen to blues music of any kind, you are in some way honouring the obscure and undervalued people who invented just about all modern music that it is possible for a decent human being to like! You are also drawing water from a well of common humanity, a feeling for life that acknowledges the misery and celebrates the joy, sometimes all at the same time.
It’s impossible to be genuinely interested in or perform the music without being aware of the racial implications, and therefore of the dignity with which many people at the time the music was invented, and for many years afterwards, including the present day, endured some of the worst behavior people can inflict on others.
Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?
I’ve read so much about it that it would be great to spend a day observing a day in the life of Charley Patton, or Son House or Sonny Boy Williamson I in all their glory.
Cover CD of Acoustic Magazine
Andy Snipper, 10 exceptional artists that people should pick out
Mark Harrison interview
Mark Harrison really does find a new path through the prickly forest that can be the marriage of folk and blues. His new album is something of a masterclass in tapping into the essence of folk, blues and roots music - all too often they are blended in a superficial manner that loses their integrity - Harrison knows just what makes each strand to his music strong, then he has a field day with the possibilities. We caught up with him to ask a few questions.
Can you tell us a little bit about your guitars, which is your favourite?
The main one is my National Trojan woodbody resonator, made in 1934. I picked it up by chance a few years back and it's what got me started. I hadn't played for years, started to take an interest in music again and decided to get a resonator. The great Eric Bibb had just brought it into the shop and it suited my playing perfectly. It's a thing of beauty, with a unique sound. I started writing songs on it and then went out and played them. It's an integral part of everything I'm doing. As well as that I play a wonderfu1 12-string, made by the Finnish company Landola. I recently got a brand new National from the factory in California, another woodbody resonator, an M-14. I also have a 1978 Yamaha FG700, a 1975 Telecaster and a 1964 Hofner semi-acoustic and they all get an outing from time to time.
Your songs combine different musical traditions and you write modern narratives that sit perfectly with them - how have you got to that point, did you always have the gift to combine them or is it hard won?
Thanks! That's certainly what I'm trying to do. I'm trying to show that you can write and perform songs about all sorts of subjects not normally covered in songs, including very modern themes and issues, in the style of the great 'old' music. There's no reason why you can't have striking lyrics and a memorable, even catchy, tune in a blues style. I've taken it all from my love of the early blues artists, the acoustic ones of the 1920s and 1930s, who unwittingly invented all good popular music. But I've never wanted to copy anyone, and am not competent enough to do that even if I wanted to. My instinct has always been to do my own thing, to be myself. The tradition I'm in dates back to before things started to be categorised and so the ingredients include what would now be called folk as well as New Orleans rhythms. That's just what comes out of me, it's not something I've ever worked at or sat down and thought about when playing or writing. There should be some things in life you just do, without analysis or forethought, and for me music is that.
Do you think the blues, and roots music in general, tap into the human condition at a deep level? Is that what hooked you?
Yes, well actually at a deep and at a fun level, because a lot of real blues music is about lifting the spirit – it's a misconception that's it's all expressions of misery. Certainly for me the original blues music, before it all went rock in the 1960s, is the music that most reflects the human condition, or at any rate my notion of that. But it's a natural connection, not a cerebral one, it connects instinctively, without any requirement for intellectual engagement. As Muddy Waters put it '... the blues is for me. It's like a shoe. You take a number seven shoe, you can't wear a size four. You wear the one that fits. The blues fit me.' It speaks to me, and for people it connects with, it's an intangible thing, it just sounds and feels right. I think the same is true of what I might regard as real folk music (by which I don't mean just the traditional kind), and it's true of other 'roots' music drawing on the traditions of the original American music – Ry Cooder and The Band spring to mind from the 70s.
And why do you think they have survived so well into our busy modern world?
Well, partly because these styles can be identified as 'real' music, as opposed to the sterile, corporate stuff that passes for popular music and dominates the landscape. There are plenty of people who will always identify with what they regard as 'real' in the face of that. These styles of music are usually accompanied by a standard of musicianship that appeals too, the antithesis of the 'anyone can do it' mentality. And they relate to people on a personal level, whereas the kind of music that's been mostly making the money since the 1970s has relied on mass appeal that leaves the individual out. Another point is that the modern world isn't all new and it's not the only one to have been busy – the details may have changed completely but the music speaks of a world that has much in common with the modern world – people's joys and fears and ups and downs remain rooted in more or less the same things.
Where do the songs come from, the head or the heart?
They come from my interests and musings and they also come from my knowledge of the history of the blues and its times and people, so I guess the answer is both places, maybe at the same time! I'm using the idioms of the original blues to say things about the present and the past. Once I decided that I could use the musical style and the spoken idioms of that music to write songs about just about anything, I was up and running, I felt that I had found my thing. It freed me to write about anything I feel people might connect with and any subject that crosses my mind or animates me. I'm not writing about me, I'm not interested in the minutiae of my own feelings, I'm interested in telling stories, describing things and people, discussing issues, getting to grips with life, and in providing people with some fun too of course.
Which particular elements (styles and artists) of the blues and folk have influenced you the most?
The influence is primarily of feel, style and rhythm rather than concrete elements of what anyone else played or sang. I've always been especially keen on the early acoustic blues and folk/blues artists, people like Blind Willie McTell, Mississippi John Hurt, Charley Patton, Skip James, Sleepy John Estes. Their style is present in what I do but as I say I haven't slavishly copied them, it's just a natural thing, what comes out of me. They all have the thumb going for the rhythm, while playing riffs and melodies on top, and that's what I do and how I construct the songs.
Do you think there is a greater acceptance of mixing different styles of roots music today, a realisation that some of these songs and traditions have been travelling around the world and coming back to us and are ever changing?
I think that's probably the case among the minority of people who are knowledgeable about such matters, though mixing roots styles was very much a part of the golden period of musical innovation in the late 60s and early 70s. What I find more of as go out and about playing is, happily, a lot of people discovering this sort of thing for the first time. And many of those people are young and not really familiar with the genres at all. They like what they hear and often ask what kind of music it is. I think that's a very good sign.
You get some fantastic musicians to play on your albums, do you have arrangements in mind when writing the songs or is that a process that you get into once you are in the studio and playing live?
Well, yes, they are fantastic but they do loads of gigs with me and don't just come in for recording. Charles (Benfield, double bass) and Will (Greener, harmonica) have been with me from the start about four years ago and Josienne (Clarke, vocals), Ben (Walker, mandolin) and Ed (Hopwood, drums) from not long after that. They are all individually brilliant and it's great for me that they want to be in it! The whole thing has developed organically, from people picking up the songs by doing them at gigs and working out their own parts. We have pretty well never rehearsed and the few occasions when we've done that have become more like discussions than rehearsals! What that does mean is that there isn't necessarily a definitive arrangement of the songs, and so we decide on one when it comes to recording. I definitely don't have a fixed arrangement in mind when I write the songs, I just play them and see what the others come up with. They come up with something individual, that adds to the song and certainly something I wouldn't have thought of. And they're listening people, so they put the song first, an essential but pretty rare quality.
You perform as solo, duo, trio, quartet, 5-piece and 6-piece line ups - what is your favourite?
Not sure I have a favourite, they're all good with me. The beauty of the set-up is that I can do all kinds of gigs in all kinds of places, from rowdy bars to pin drop quiet churches and all points in between. It's a blast to do a festival with the full line-up but duos and trios in quiet rooms are great too. In some places with the smaller line-ups, I get to tell the stories attached to some of the songs and that always seems to go down well from what people say to me afterwards, but there's also a great joy in putting out the bigger sound with everybody. And the songs work equally well however they get done. I like doing them solo too, and that always goes well, but I'm not a solitary kind so it's always good to have someone with me!
Plans for the future?
I started out with no big aim, I just wanted to do a bit of playing, write some songs I felt had some value and put them out there. It's about the joy of doing it first and foremost. But, it's gathered a momentum of its own, reaction has been fantastic and very encouraging and I'm seeing how far I can take it. I'll keep on doing all the gigs that come my way, keep writing, keep recording and see how far I can take it. I think I'm doing something very individual, and unique in its way, and doing it brings a feeling not available outside of music. So I'll keep on being myself and see what happens ...
CLASSIC ROCK MAGAZINE
BLUES & RHYTHM MAGAZINE
BLUES IN BRITAIN MAGAZINE
Blues Blast Magazine (US)
Mark Harrison is approaching “national treasure” status in the UK. In an era when the British blues scene is dominated by rock bands with a blues influence playing over-driven, over-loud and over-long guitar solos, Harrison’s exuberant music harks back to a much earlier age, featuring only acoustic instruments in a variety of line-ups, from full band to Harrison alone with his guitar. The musicians are all top notch players, but it is the song that matters, not the player.
On his latest album, Turpentine, the songs themselves also stand out from the crowd both through their construction – sitting squarely within the blues genre but rarely relying on simple 12-bar progressions – and through the stories they tell. Harrison wrote all 13 tracks on the album and, as with his previous releases, he turns his pen to a wide range of topics, from acute observations on the challenges of living in the modern world (“Hardware Store”) to taut reminders of how the original purveyors of blues had it so much harder than we do (“Shake That House”). There is often a moral to be found in the verses, although not always the one the listener might expect – in “The Treaty Of Dancing Rabbit Creek”, Harrison relates the story of Chief Greenwood Leflore and the Choctaw Nation losing their land in what is now known as Mississippi in the 1830s, but with an added twist.
Of course, he also addresses more traditional blues lyrical concerns, but he does so with rare wit and invention. In the opening track, “Black Dog Moan”, his opening lines are: “I’ve got a girl in Meadowland and I really love the bits of her that I can stand. The rest I can take or leave, and I’m pretty sure she feels the same about me.” It’s a great kick-off to a great album.
Harrison sings and plays guitar, and is superbly supported throughout by Charles Benfield on double bass and Ed Hopwood on drums, percussion and harmonica. Guest Paul Tkachenko adds subtle mandolin, piano, organ and accordion to various tracks. Hopwood in particular has a gift for playing minimally yet utterly musically at the same time. Harrison’s finger-picked guitar is continuously inventive and rhythmically driven. On “Hell Of A Story”, his 12-string guitar recalls the ragtime playing of Blind Willie McTell, while the instrumental “Dog Rib” features a lovely, slightly discordant, slide melody. Interestingly, Harrison’s main guitar is actually a 1934 National Trojan, a wood-body resonator guitar that used to belong to the great Eric Bibb and there are certain similarities between the two artists, both of whom openly display their folk/blues influences in well-constructed songs featuring intelligent, often uplifting lyrics and adroit finger-picking. There is also a gentle joyousness to the music of both. Even on potentially downcast tracks such as “So Many Bad People (Out There)”, Harrison’s slide playing conveys a sense of hope, or at least the possibility of hope.
Superbly produced by Tim Bazell, Turpentine is a very impressive release from Mark Harrison. There is a confidence and maturity about the album that suggests the musicians knew they were working on something special. Highly recommended.
Blues Blast Magazine (US)
Elmore Magazine (US)
Blues Magazine (Netherlands)
Mark Harrison is a London-based, UK acoustic bluesman. Turpentine is his latest self-produced release, featuring thirteen self-penned tracks that showcase his acoustic picking and tasteful slide-work.
Harrison is always interesting. Originality sparkles with every album released, and he works in a real old-school style, but always gilded by his mordant wit and refreshingly reflective thinking at the core. Old school with a positive, contemporary twist pretty much illustrates this guy’s style and musical approach.
Roots music is always his main base, and he has a wonderful ability to take unexpected subjects, twist and tune them up with humor, innovation and downright originality.
Harrison’s last release in 2015, On The Chicken Sandwich Train, was an album that burst at the seams with his skewed, piercing take on normally taboo subjects like death and disposal. It was also one of the finest UK independent traditional blues offerings of the year.
Now, once again, with Turpentine, Harrison has pushed out the musical and lyrical boat to deliver a truly unique album that is immediately appealing and arresting. An exceptionally clever, thought-provoking release from an acoustic blues/roots craftsman of note, Turpentine, and Harrison, is clearly one to keep on your music radar.
I 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.
Turpentine’ from Mark Harrison - maintains its intense presence
Holding a reputation for both genuine old-time rootsy feel augmented by writing songs with ‘messages for today’ themes, Mark Harrison takes his idiosyncratic style, absorbs a range of influences and produces individualistic, original music. There's early blues mixed with contemporary folk, accomplished songwriting, and a generous slice of acerbic observation coupled to a plentiful feel for rhythm with gutsy hooks - take that and you’ve got ‘Turpentine’ from Mark Harrison.
This album is fresh as morning sunshine and as sharp as a well-honed razor. The vocals take you inside their narratives, while the music pulls you along without you ever feeling the slightest tug, you’re just there with it. As each song follows its predecessor with the same honest attraction, Harrison’s rhythmic finger-picked style on ‘Turpentine’ maintains its intense presence.
Which tracks standout? Well this album is so good it’s hard to choose, however for my money the best of the best are ‘Black Dog Moan’, ‘The Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek’, ‘Dog Rib’ and ‘Fade Away’ – will you agree? There’s one sure-fire way to check - buy a copy.
There are literally thousands of British Blues players out there and the vast majority are poor copyists of the classic styles – I’ve lost track of the number of SRV stylists, Muddy Waters wannabees and John Lee Hooker boogiemen.
So when you come across a British artist who has his own voice – not even an attempt at an ‘American’ accent – and who writes songs that are relevant and modern with the feel of the classics then you have to laud them to the hills.
Mark Harrison has been around for about seven years or so and I have seen him live probably a dozen times either solo, in a two piece, three piece or – very rarely – full band format and however he appears his songs have the ring of truth about them. On the face of it very simple and when you look deeper they are loaded with subtleties and pithy observations on human nature.
Musically the core is his jangling twelve string and resonator but here he adds mandolin, harmonica, Charles Benfield’s wonderful double bass as well as Ed Hopwood’s drums and percussion and the wider setting emphasises the songs rather than taking them over so that the focus is where it should be – the words and Harrison’s dry and elemental delivery.
He writes about modern traumas such as visits to the hardware store – ‘Hardware Store’ - as well as American presidents trapped into decisions they don’t want to make ‘The Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek’. Simple and beautiful songs such as ‘Josephine Johnson’ and more complex and relatively powerful numbers like ‘Mister Trouble’.
13 songs all together showing a wonderful variety of texture and style and following on from his last studio album ‘The World Outside’ showing he has developed his style and continues to progress.
Mark Harrison is a delight to see live and this has the feel of one of his live shows, just missing the between song tale-telling. One of the best albums I have enjoyed this year.
Down At The Crossroads
Mark Harrison is a very modern blues troubadour. His music evokes the blues and old-time American roots music, without ever being in thrall to it, but his songs address very modern issues. He says he owes a debt to the early acoustic blues and folk/blues artists, people like Blind Willie McTell, Mississippi John Hurt, Charley Patton, and Skip James, and for sure you can hear that in his music. Mark Harrison clearly knows his blues history. And he’s a fine guitarist, with rhythmic finger-picking and expert slide driving his songs. He’s been described as “one of the UK’s foremost acoustic blues performers.”
Harrison says that “real blues music is about lifting the spirit” and that it’s a misconception that it’s all expressions of misery. He’s dead right – though the blues often functioned as the expression of the harsh reality of life for African Americans, more often than not the blues singer used the song to work his way through the hard times to a better place.
And this is very evident in Turpentine, Mark Harrison’s fourth album. Here is a wonderful album of modern blues, clearly acknowledging its heritage in old blues, but each song sounding fresh, both musically an lyrically. The album has thirteen original songs, all with catchy tunes, and driven by Harrison’s nifty picking and sweet slide guitar work. There is one instrumental, Dog Rib, which showcases the artist’s fine slide guitar chops, and the rest are highly engaging lyrically, with stories, philosophical and ethical musings, and historical reflections.
Dirty Business equates dirty lying and stealing in the alleyway with dirty deals in the boardroom. Fade Away bemoans the madness at large in the world but takes comfort that “there’ll come a day when it’ll all fade away” – it brings to mind the Hebrew wisdom writer who tells us there’s a time for everything under the sun (remember the Byrds Turn, Turn, Turn?). So Many Bad People also takes up this theme of the world going to pot, but Harrison advises us to dance our way around the bad ‘uns – it reminds me of the Greek Poet Menander, “bad company corrupts good character.”
We get great stories in the songs as well – in Hell of a Story and Josephina Johnson for example. The latter is a finely observed portrait of a woman who “wasn’t going to sit there mainlining misery,” a “woman who does what she has to do.” She may have an angel smile but she has no heart of gold and there’s “no one meaner.” Brilliant.
My personal favourite is the amusing Hardware Store, written specially for all those men who are useless at DIY and, not only that, feel utterly worthless when faced with the simplest home improvement task. Yes, I am that man! All those things they sell at the hardware store, sings Harrison – “I don’t know what they do and I don’t know what they’re for.” I get it Mark. Everybody else in the hardware store loves browsing around those drills, hammers, tools boxes and other little gizmos which I have no idea about – but not me! “There are things I’m good at for sure, but you can’t find them in that hardware store.” Thanks, Mark, I need to keep reminding myself of that.
This is one very fine album, full of strong songs, cool arrangements, and lovely guitar work, with a joyous vibe evident throughout. This is a fresh take on the blues which should be in every blues and roots music lover’s collection.
I last reviewed London-based Mark's music on this site in 2012, when I was very taken with his second album, Crooked Smile, not least for its seriously tasty bluesy-folk groove. Four years on down the line, and Mark's reached album number five (following fast on the heels of last year's live set On The Chicken Sandwich Train).
Turpentine follows naturally on in the vein of its predecessors, in that it's another fresh set of original compositions penned by Mark himself, songs that provide a relevant, conversational, sometimes playful commentary on contemporary life, often with an underlying political edge but reflecting rather than sloganeering or preaching and likely quite subtle. And stylish too, dealing authentically with real issues.
Some songs are couched in the form of stories (Josephina Johnson and The Treaty Of Dancing Rabbit Creek for instance), while others (Hell Of A Story for instance) may take conventional story formats and give them a more than slight twist or shakeup for their own good, and others (Hardware Store) celebrate the oddball and non-conforming aspects of modern life. Black Dog Moan has a chirpy kind of resignation and a swirling momentum, Mark's assured vocal taking on something of a Chris Smither vibe.
Generally speaking, the songs purvey a kind of protective reassurance, you might say. In keeping with this, Mark's musical settings tend to be loosely feelgood in their demeanour, with a bouncy tempo and a syncopated upbeat. Much in the Ry Cooder mould, especially on songs like Dirty Business and Hell OF A Story. Other tracks (Next Of Kin and Fade Away) are more in the tradition of the dust-bowl blues era.
In fact, a lot of what I said about Mark's earlier album applies here too, albeit with an even greater conviction in his writing. Additionally, Mark's able backing crew has a common denominator between the two albums - the animated, bustling rhythm section of Charles Benfield and Ed Hopwood who fit behind Mark's expert guitar work (National resonator and 12-string); this time the lineup's completed by Paul Tkachenko who provides some delicious fills on mandolin, piano, organ and accordion.
The intelligently rootsy feel of Mark's music is most convivial, and his writing is genial yet irresistible in the best traditions of the relaxed country-blues. There's a more live feel to the disc's Cajun-inflected finale (Shake The House) which visits the local juke-joint and even finds room for a couple of cheeky little solos. And midway through the disc there's a fresh-minted slide-guitar instrumental cut (Dog Rib) that proves more substantial than just an excuse to rest the voice.
Mark's got a great sense of style, and Turpentine continues to develop his winning formula. Just occasionally, repetition of an obvious sentiment wears thin, as on So Many Bad People (Out There), but Mark's deft and idiomatic picking always keeps us listening, and he's not running out of ideas just yet. As you can confirm by perusing the lyrics, all available in the booklet of this well-upholstered package.
American Roots UK
I wrote a positive review about Mark Harrison's 2014 recording 'The world outside,' praising every element of his musical skills from his excellent song writing, virtuosic guitar playing and his warm expressive vocal style. Much of that can be transposed to this review because he certainly hasn't gone downhill! If there is a difference it is that this excellent recording has taken the quality up a notch, because if memory serves me right, whilst I enjoyed 'The world outside' it never struck me as having quite the variety of this new recording.
The thirteen songs on this album were all written by Mark and whilst rooted in the blues, in many cases there is a strong folksiness, even elements of country. The sound is always sparse but includes extra little pieces of instrumentation such as bass, percussion, even an occasional mandolin, harmonica and accordion, but nothing gets in the way, neither should it, of Marks incredibly melodic guitar sound and his warm expressive vocals. This is Marks fifth album including one live recording and it is quite incredible to think that a man as skilled and as authentic at playing a brand of American roots music that few others would be capable of, is actually British and lives and gigs in and around London.
Maybe one of the things that made me feel this album is a slight improvement is that so many of the songs on this recording can easily be imagined as being from an early Ry Cooder album. I know Cooder is a man who can't really be copied, thanks to his ability to inhabit a variety of styles and I am certainly not suggesting Mark has tried to do so on this recording. He is completely his own stylist but It is more the feeling that Cooders early experimental mantle has been passed on to Mark and he too cannot be tied to a hard and fast genre such as the blues. Certainly, in the case of guitar playing, originality and talent I detect very little difference; where there are differences are in the superior vocals and better song writing that come from Mark. Although I've mentioned Ry Cooder several times no one should get the idea that Mark is a Cooder clone or even that the similarities are particularly pronounced. He is very far from a clone of anyone but both men's original guitar sound and ability to invent their own genres that borrow from myriad roots styles is what links them and sets them apart from others.
And so to the songs. So many bad people (out there) is a lovely song that is driven by Marks beautiful classy guitar sound and evocative vocals with a little percussion and an occasional bass drum thud plus some excellent harmonies, but it is his guitar that wins out on this song. It is followed by Hell of a story, with its easy going guitar sound and excellent percussion on a song that is probably a much more defined blues, also includes some really nice harmonies. It has the feel of a song that Ry Cooder could have recorded for one of his early 1970s albums and whilst Cooder was rooted in the blues much of his output was generically ambivalent as is Marks. There is a lovely chiming guitar with a little percussion and deep bass supporting Marks vocal that is at its expressive best on a song that could be as easily descibed 'hillbilly' as blues. In fact when you think about it rural blues and 'hillbilly' are about as closely related as two supposedly separate genres could possibly be. A lovely mandolin adds just the right amount of colour to an exceptional song. On Dog rib there is more excellent guitar work that almost sounds as if it could have been lifted from the 'Paris, Texas' soundtrack, with some tremendous percussion adding to the sense of drama despite the lack of vocals. Could be the best instrumental I've heard so far this year! Final mention is of Dirty business with some nice varied colour added in terms of the accordion, with the usual tremendous guitar playing plus heavy driving percussion that combine to bring a light feel to Marks vocal on another song that could be plucked from the young Ry Cooder!
Many will feel I have made too much of any similarities with Ry Cooder and after listening a few times may still feel the same way. There is nothing that I can clearly define but the feeling I get is that neither artist can really be compared to anyone else but both have their roots in the blues and are not prepared to sit on their laurels in one genre. They both have an easy vocal style, although Mark Harrison's voice is the better of the two, both have a classy and virtuosic command of the guitar and they both push the boundaries outwards on their albums. For me this recording merely confirms what I and many others already knew. Mark Harrison is a hugely talented musician who deserves to be heard by many more people and on the strength of this recording that could well happen very soon!
The Alternate Root (US)
By maintaining a distinct individuality, Mark Harrison honors multiple periods in Blues history. His recent release, Turpentine, distills 1940’s USA-born Blues, his resonator guitar echoing and emulating the styles of Blind Willie McTell, Charley Patton, Sonny Boy Williamson blending with British Blues as he dusts off the 1950/1960’s sound of London buskers on Soho’s Wardour Street, and the music coming from The Flamingo Club.
Mark Harrison is a natural, the music a fit for his delivery as he warns of “So Many Bad People (Out There)” on slide guitar and sparse percussion, spreads sparkling note patterns over marching drums and accordion breaths with “Dirty Business” and rattles out trouble with “Shake This House”.
The songs of Turpentine flow on a steady current of Blues music as it speaks Mississippi history in “The Treaty of the Dancing Rabbit”, lets the playing take a bite of “Dog Rib” as the instrumental weaves over a solid beat, and lightly touches notes for “In the Dark” as Mark Harrison enters with a traveller’s wisdom while he tells a “Hell of a Story” on a rolling rhythm section.
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.
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.
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 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.
Phillycheeze Blues (US)
UK musician Mark Harrison is one hell of a story-teller and songwriter. He delivers his roots-rich music acoustically using National and twelve string guitars. His latest album, Turpentine, is a delightful listen to say the least. Playing alongside Harrison on this thirteen track album of all original material is Charles Benfield on double bass, Ed Hopwood on drums, percussion and harmonica, and Paul Tkachenko on mandolin, piano, organ, and accordion.
Make the best with what you have, is the message shared in “Black Dog Moan”. The light and carefree melody captures my full attention. I can totally relate to the frustration Harrisonsings about in “Hardware Store”, as he sings ‘”All those things they sell down in that hardware store. I don’t know what they do and I don’t know what they’re for”. The fabulous instrumental, “Dog Rib” is a haunting bluesy treat with a tribal beat. This is acoustic blue at its best. Tkachenko straps on the accordion and sprinkles some New Orleans-style Cajun seasoning into “Dirty Business”, a song about greed and thievery.
I absolutely adore the “The Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek”. This amazing song tells the story of the deal made in 1830 between the US government and Chief Greenwood LeFlore of the Choctaw Nation, in what is now known as Mississippi.
One listen to Turpentine, and it is quite apparent why Harrisonreceived two nominations in the British Blues Awards, for Songwriter and Acoustic. The album is an instant treasure in my books.
You’ve probably already been seduced by those adverts.
You know the ones, the ‘summer’s coming, al fresco living, let’s all have a picnic, bring a guitar!’ ones.
Well Mark Harrison’s Turpentine is the ideal of what one of those should sound like, instead of the ugly reality.
Mark (with able assistance from Charles Benfield double bass with Ed Hopwood drums and harmonica, and additional keys organ and mandolin from Paul Tkachenko) has produced an excellent album that distills the essence of an ad hoc summer beach party or off-the-cuff picnic jam. Good time songs, fresh as the daisy-chains adland kids love to make, presented simply: and as we all know that kind of casual simplicity requires a lot of hard work!
From the folky stomp of Hell Of A Story to Black Dog Moan’s Okie two step, and from the pared-back, street-corner troubadour offering of Josephina Johnson to the Albion Band meets jug band Mister Trouble the sunny tunes keep coming. Revivalist mission singalong vibes underpin the dextrous finger-picked resonator slide of So Many Bad People (Out There) and Dirty Business with its accordion and marching band snare. There are darker undercurrents to the bouncy Hardware Store (what does he really mean?) and in the ominous slide-led back porch blues The Treaty Of Dancing Rabbit Creek, a song that shows Mark’s love of a quirky subject and the less obvious moral of a story.
Next Of Kin is an unexpected dark New Orleans slink, with a rare splash of reverb, but largely the instrumentation and production is kept simple and organic, as in the moody slide instrumental Dog Rib, which has more than a hint of Trucksian Indian flavours and appropriately exotic-sounding percussion, or the delicate folky picking, atmospheric harp and sweet harmony vocals of Fade Away, the song that epitomises the outdoor impromptu jam vibe. Turpentine closes with skiffle-via-North-Mississippi-Hill-country-Zydeco mash up Shake The House, that features short solo spots for drums and slap upright bass.
The only thing lacking is Mark’s now-legendary inter-song aperçus but he has thoughtfully included some in the liner notes that you can read out to yourself if the urge strikes. So if you are planning to emulate the ads, stick this on and enjoy some quality tunes: it’s got to be better than listening to your mate murder Wonderwall on his guitar for the umpteenth time…
Turpentine is available now from his website here: http://www.markharrisonrootsmusic.com/shop.php and it sounds just as good indoors, when it’s raining, on the tube, up a mountain...
Rhythm & Booze
Turpentine, Bottled By Mark Harrison
Mark has the habit of producing albums, packaged in lovely ‘vintage’, artwork sleeves, and this is no exception. Inside, a 6 page booklet, lists credits, lyrics, and a few pictures. All songs are written by Mark, and as you would expect are observational, social commentary on a tough life in recent US history, and often an introspective self-deprecating view of himself. All done in the best possible taste, with a hint of an inner smile, vying with serious intent.
Joining Mark in the recordings are Charles Benfield on double bass, Ed Hopwood, on percussion and harmonies, and Paul Tkachenko, on a mix of mandolin, piano, organ and accordion.
The album starts with 'Black Dog Moan’, that reflects on a life scratching out a living from an exhausted mine. Survival with a faithful woman in a shack, and nothing but the spirit of turpentine to dull the edge, as the dogs moan outside. The picture Mark paints, and it is a picture, is a regular theme for Mark, 'The Treaty Of Dancing Rabbit Creek’, covers a much larger canvas, the demise of the Choctaw Indians as their chief seeks solitude with his false standing in a fascinated Western society. Its 'One Hell Of A Story’, and the paint has long dried and cracked on that one.
'Dog Rib’, is an opportunity to hear Mark’s guitar take the spotlight, I picture him on his old National, proving he is not just a word-smith, a lovely 'break’, that slots neatly into the centre spot.
Mark is ably accompanied by Charles, Ed, and Paul to the doors of the 'Hardware Store’, but he’s reluctant to enter. Its a 'Dirty Business’, they’re awaiting payment, a lost cause, but no one cares. Our lives are under the microscope, as we 'Fade Away’, opportunity and aspirations evaporate, its all a gloomy outlook, but that’s life, and we are going to hear about it, as Mark charts the way through his songbook.
The musical structure is roots acoustic, pared down, but delightfully delivered, no one is going to feel compelled to the dance floor, that’s not Mark Harrison’s aim. He will sit on his podium, and tell us that life is a trial, and always has been, especially if your from the wrong side of the tracks, whilst those with the power, are intent on maintaining the status quo. Mark is the recorder, logging all in his deadpan way, never sounding too excited, rarely smiling, but there’s that narrow seam of humour that’s embedded in the pathos. The album ends on an upbeat note, 'Shake The House’, it ain’t rock 'n roll, but its deftly picked out on the guitar strings, as the drum rolls in and accordian accompanies, never mind what awaits, lets just get on with now. A finely crafted, easy listening, album of roots blues. The Cajun style of, 'Dirty Business’, the 'Treaty Of Dancing Rabbit Creek’, and 'Hardware Store, for me, stand out, but I am always happy to listen in on Mark’s music, live or recorded.
Words And Photo Graham Munn
The 525 to Glasgow
Sometimes in life you stumble across an artist or band who perhaps doesn’t naturally fit with your preferred genre of music but who swiftly become your guilty pleasure.
Since I was first introduced to rootsy blues/folk maestro Mark Harrison, when I was asked to review his third album, The World Outside, almost two years ago, he’s become my guilty musical pleasure.
Turpentine is Mark’s fifth release and follows swiftly on the heels of his live album, On The Chicken Sandwich Train. It was recorded at London’s Heart of Gold Studios and produced by Tim Bazell.
Armed with his trademark National and 12 string acoustic guitars, Mark is ably accompanied by fellow musicians Charles Benfield (double bass and backing vocals) who appeared alongside Mark on 2015’s live recording, Ed Hopwood (drums, percussion, harmonica and backing vocals) and Paul Tkachenko (mandolin, piano. Organ and accordion).
Turpentine brings us thirteen, lucky for some, songs, all written by Mark Harrison. Three of these, Black Dog Moan, Hell Of A Story and Hardware Store, premiered on On The Chicken Sandwich Train but these, along with the remaining ten, are fresh and vibrant.
The album opens with Black Dog Moan. Instantly toe tapping, this upbeat song delivers a positive message in a slightly downbeat fashion that life’s not always perfect. This song contains perhaps my favourite line from the whole record. “And I really love the bits of her I can stand.” I’m pretty sure we’ve all felt like that about someone at some point in life!
One of the highlights of this record is The Treaty Of Dancing Rabbit Creek. This is a solid rootsy blues tale, telling the story of Greenwood Leflore and the Choctaw Indians in Mississippi in the 1830’s. Love the harmonica on this one. Great track!
Dog Rib is the only instrumental on the album and showcases not only Mark’s musical prowess but that of his fellow musicians. Stunning slide guitar work here. The bowed double bass is a subtle touch. When the drum beat begins, the toe begins to tap. Love it!
Next of Kin brings things down a notch and adds another dimension to proceedings. It’s slow rootsy blues vibe creates slightly sleepy mood. I can visualise myself sitting on a swing or a rocking chair on the front porch of a house in the Deep South at dusk while this is played. There’s a dark, swampy, gothic edge to this one. A powerful piece of music.
I want to meet Josephina Johnson! Maybe we’ve all met her. Maybe some of us are part Josephina. This track spins the tale of a formidable lady who might be walking down the street in downtown Chicago during the Great Depression or down the main street in a small town in the Mississippi Delta or she could be walking down the street ahead of you. Can you see her? Great simple song. No frills. Just good old honest playing. Inspired!
Turpentine is brought to a fitting close with Shake The House. There’s a real upbeat feel good vibe here. A ray of hope! As the liner notes explain “when blues music was invented, juke joints were the social scene- bars and shacks in small towns or on the edge of plantations for partying away from the gruesome rest of life”. The story goes that on occasion folks partied so hard that they went straight through the floor. (Cue a vision of the scene from Disney’s Aristocats where Scat Cat and his band crash through the floors of the house and keep on playing.) Great track to end on! We’ve shaken the house to its very foundations with this one! This would be a great set closer in the live arena…hint!
I’m going to be honest. I don’t have enough technical musical knowledge to do justice to describing Mark’s musicianship. To my uneducated ear, I recognise brilliance when I hear it and it resonates through every one of the thirteen songs on offer here.
Mike Harding, renowned folk musician and TV/radio presenter, has described Mark as “one of the British Isles’ great blues singers and guitarists…totally and absolutely original.” He’s right but he perhaps forgot to add that Mark is an incredible lyricist, spinning stories with every song.
So, if you allow yourself only one guilty musical pleasure this summer, treat yourself to a copy of Turpentine and Shake The House! 9/10
I first came across Mark Harrison a few years when I organised a music festival called BAMfest in Bedale, North Yorkshire.
I was looking for up-and-coming blues players to give them a helping hand with their careers, and being a blues player myself, was delighted when Mark, who hails from London, got in touch.
Needless to say, he went down a storm at the festival, and I have taken a keen interest in how he has progressed since then.
Turpentine is Mark's fifth album by my reckoning, and follows his last effort, a live recording called On the Chicken Sandwich Train, recorded in Wigan.
There are 13 tracks, all original songs, which have a heavy bias to the blues but are not slavishly following the genre.
It is a delightful collection of modern lyrics that use the backdrop of the blues to tell their stories.
The opener, from which the title comes, Black Dog Moan, is an upbeat song with lovely percussion, organ and syncopated guitar.
So Many Bad People (Out There) is a slower slide blues, with Mark displaying a fine touch on his vintage National. Hell Of A Story is a whimsical tale that moves along sweetly. There is more fine tinkling guitar on Hardware Store.
This is a neatly produced album which shows a musician who is enjoying himself playing his brand of blues.
There are clearly influences of the likes of Mississippi John Hurt on songs such as the delicate Josephina Johnson, but throughout Mark puts his own stamp on his songs.
The final song this fine album is Shake The House, another upbeat song with the introduction of accordion to give another flavour. The band stretch out with some fine double bass, harmonica and drums - a fitting way to wrap things up.
Yes this a fine collection of blues-influenced songs. If you love acoustic blues I heartily recommend.
Liverpool Sound & Vision
Liverpool Sound and Vision Rating 8.5/10
It is in the simplicity of music that many battles are fought and won, the everyday alignment of words and images in a harmony that just catches the ear in a motion of peace and the result is that life can viewed as not being so bad; verging on pure, wholesome and more interesting than can be appreciated when revelling in self-doubt and unjustified melancholy.
It is a situation to which Mark Harrison excels, the comfortable velvet tones, the clarity of expression and to one in which the texture of Turpentine adds gloss and a flavour in the air. The resin, the polish, the protection offered by the musician makes his latest album feel homely, calm and content, safe in the knowledge that what is ever thrown against it, it will stand resilient and with purpose. Turpentine is the restful with something deep to say but related not as anger but with security in mind.
That is not to say that the words are full of fluff or painted on with cotton wool, they are coated firmly, with one thing at the very centre of their life, a tale well told and charming in its existence.
Mark Harrison finds these musical gems with the same depth of persistence that a diamond hunter might strive in the middle of a dense and unforgiving jungle, the prize of enlightenment and riches can be seen as one and the same thing when viewed with myopic eyes, however when seen with the benefit of open heart, enlightenment is a crown best worn with honour and one that outweighs the mass of all jewels on the Earth.
The album is full of riches; truthful endeavours which shine brightly and which add a strong grip beneath the velvet glove. Tracks such as Black Dog Moan, Hell Of A Story, the fate of The Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, Next of Kin and Josephina Johnson all serve the musician well and add weight to the growing discography of the man. If riches are measured by what they offer the soul rather than the pockets of the idle then Mark Harrison has hit such a opulent vein that it cannot be kept secret; nor should it be seen as such.
Turpentine is a terrific addition to the continuing story of remarkable story teller, one that is coated and primed with security.
Ian D. Hall
Mark Harrison has returned with a new album, taking his flair for songwriting and musicianship to a whole new level.
It's been a while since we reviewed albums here at Marsh Towers so we are now reversing the trend and hoping to add our thoughts about new music on a more regular basis.
The works of Mark Harrison have appeared here twice before, namely with Crooked Smile (2012) and The World Outside (2014).
Checking my earlier thoughts, I found:
"If Crooked Smile was Mark's view of the world from his own personal standpoint, then Outside World sees him step through the door to encounter the rest of the world in all its glory, from the eccentric to the scary, from hectic modern life to the hard times of a bygone era."
I was intrigued to see how Mark's third album would sound and in which direction he would take the listener. The song titles revealed Mark has not lost his penchant for the quirky and unusual.
The songs hit the ground running with Black Dog Moan, setting the scene for the rest of the treats in store. In typical style, Mark sets dark lyrics to a jaunty tune. This has the dual effect of making the foot tap while making the brain think; real happy/sad blues. The lyrics depict a man who is almost making excuses to be happy in a world conspiring to bring him down. If there's no liquor, he'll drink turpentine...which gives us the name for the album. This is already very clever writing. Anyone who has ever used turpentine will find the title conjuring up the unique smell and feel of the oil, evoking many memories from times past. Ultimately, despite the charade and facade, there is no outrunning the black dog.
The characters in the songs stand out as eloquent outsiders, observing and commenting on the world around, full of So Many Bad People.
Paranoia raises its head on Hardware Store, which encapsulates the fish-out-of-water feeling we all experience when forced out of our comfort zone. This is undoubtedly one of the album's highlights. The lyrics are very amusing - some will make the listener laugh out loud - but the social message lurking barely below the surface is quick to emerge following a single scratch. It is, in short, a song to which we can all relate.
Let's face it: we live in a world where 'breaking news' is all about who may or may not still be part of a channel-changing cookery program; a world in which headlines regarding top-dollar divorce proceedings scream from the highest rooftops. Is it any wonder these songs of isolation, alienation and despair really hit home?
Hell of a Story is another standout track. The subject appears to have turned his life around in the most unlikely fashion, but the twist of the song casts doubt upon the veracity of the account.
Throughout the tales of people at odds with modern life, we are musically satiated by an almost endless supply of catchy riffs. At the end of the journey we are encouraged to 'never mind that now' but to Shake the House; a positive note on which to finish.
This is roots music at its best, offering up the ideal combination of folk (narrative songs), blues (happy/sad down-and-outs) and country (songs evoking the Dust Bowl). The entire album is thought-provoking. The songs, riffs, lyrics and messages will stay with the listener long after the immediate listening experience has come to an end, leaving an indelible impression - just like the smell and feel of the turpentine itself.
Breaking news: there is a new live album, which includes songs from Turpentine. Let the good/bad, happy/sad times roll!
A clue to how British blues singer Mark Harrison came up with the title of his fifth album release might be found in the opening song Black Dog Moan, but also the idea might pertain to Hardware Store, a lilting country blues, which aptly addresses this reviewer's own particular fear of everything DIY.
If we can for a moment rid ourselves of the prevailing smell of turps, we also discover a further ten songs and just the one instrumental, each of which somewhere along the folk end of the blues spectrum, with a nod to such notable influences as Charley Patton and Blind Willie McTell on both National steel and twelve-string guitars respectively. The general feel of the album is of a jingle-jangle guitar picking nature with occasional electric guitar runs thrown in. There's a lightness of touch rarely heard on blues records these days, which makes the album feel relaxed and even dare I say, cheerful.
The Cajun feel to the concluding track Shake the House, shows a further side of Harrison's repertoire and allows for a bit of a band workout. Produced by Tim Bazel, TURPENTINE also features Charles Benfield on double bass, Ed Hopwood on drums, percussion and harmonica and multi-instrumentalist Paul Tkachenko handling the rest.
Just Listen To This
The CD booklet has a stern image of the star plus song lyrics and pictures of a resonator guitar, band members, Harrison smiling and a stage shot of him playing an acoustic twelve string with his band. Oh and some liner notes on the songs included. From these, Harrison seems taken with blues history and origins and has a lyrical bent to what Canned Heat dubbed ‘ The Human Condition’.
The players are Mark Harrison vocals, national and 12-string, Charles Benfield vocals and double bass, Ed Hopwood vocals harp and drums and Paul Tkachenko mandolin, keys and accordion. Production by Tim Bazell.
Opening with nimble guitar we hear a voice that sounds more folk in timbre than bluesman. This song Black Dog Moan includes reference to ‘turpentine’ the album title. So Many Bad People features slide resonator guitar and tells it like it is. This would and probably does sound great in an intimate folk club room. Out with the 12 string for Hell Of A Story which a has a ragtime feel and a tinge of Dylan. In The Dark seems like a nod to early Ry Cooder, albeit with a lighter voice; Dog Rib has some effective slide. Dirty Business could be a Jesse Fuller tune, the accordion fattening the band sound.
The gentle tumble of Fade Away is a pleasant interlude; Next Of Kin is the most atmospheric song on the record and sounds unremittingly sad. Mister Trouble is very much the kind of number that Paul Jones would play on his radio show.
This is a mixed bag of a record for me – the musicians are excellent and tasteful and I like the fact that many of the songs are stories. I think Mark is from the UK and I never like the adoption of a quasi-American accent, so many performers do this and it’s not for me. Harrison loves these styles of music, it is clear. But at present he sometimes seems more curator than creator. For all that, this record oozes love and positivity and moreover skill.
Celtic Connections concert at Glasgow Art Club
January 2015 review in Blues Matters magazine by Iain Patience
Celtic Connections gig promo in festival brochure
A double bill of leading British blues artists, each with a highly distinctive style and a growing international reputation. Mark Harrison’s rootsy folk/blues sound combines superb picking and slide work, on 12-string and National resonator guitar, with richly burnished vocals and inventive original material, earning comparisons with Eric Bibb and Chris Smither.
Ealing Blues Festival
The English language has a new simile: as dry as… a Mark Harrison song introduction.
Not content with being an accomplished roots musician, Mark has taken the normally banal art of inter-song banter to a new level of wit: “This is a song about World War Two. There aren’t many of those: Sonny Boy Williamson did a couple but he was a bit sketchy about the geography and exactly who was involved…”
This particular gem, delivered in a deadpan that makes Paul Merton look like Lee Evans, introduced the deceptively upbeat ‘Bombs Coming Down’ handling the grim subject of Coventry’s blitz with a gallows’ humour light touch.
Mark, with Paul Tkachenko on bass and Ed Hopwood drums and occasional harmonica, interspersed his bon mots with what are really very fine original (in both senses of the word) songs: from the earthy resonator slide-led back porch stomp of ‘Bombs Coming Down’ to the finger-picked, harp-backed Okie two-step of ‘Georgia Greene’, and a traditional backwoods jug band vibe to ‘Dirty Business’.
Despite the down home rootsiness of the tunes the playing is first rate and shows considerable sophistication: the jangly Appalachian number ‘Hell Of A Story’ featured crisp stop/start rhythms and the band managed the considerable feat of a live fade-out on the hillbilly noir rag of ‘Next Of Kin’.
Introducing ‘The Demon Drink’, “a moral tale of booze in four carefully wrought verses” Mark confessed to having taken the pledge himself: “Not that I’m recommending it. Who was it (possibly me) who said, if you give up drinking you can more clearly realise just how pissed off you really are…” Well if that’s true it at least also leads to top notch entertainment for the rest of us.
Review of Ealing Blues Festival, Gourmet Gigs
The Mark Harrison band were captivating, a trio who commandeered the South Stage, playing a set of their own compositions. Mark Harrison offered listeners a more cerebral experience, entertaining the crowds not only with music but with his informative introductions too, where we learned about the inspiration for his songs, all done with his pleasingly dry wit. He switched between a 12-string guitar and a beautiful National Resonator, memorable songs included his ‘greatest hit’ Crematorium Blues.
Preview of Ealing Blues Festival, This Year in Music
Mark Harrison makes the kind of music that is impossible not to listen to. Full of clever hooks and witty arrangements he is slowly making a name for himself in rootys blues scene. Musically he is similar to Alabama 3, but stripped back and not as lairy. Harrison’s set at 18:45 on the South Stage will be perfect for when the Sun starts to dip behind the tree line.
Ealing Blues Festival 2015
review in Gourmet Gigs
A standout act at Ealing Blues Festival 2015 was Mark Harrison – wry observations, beautiful guitar work (on a variety of guitars) and lovely compositions.
review in Music News
The basement at the Green Note is a compact and very personal space to listen to artists and Mark Harrison put on a delightful show last night.
I have seen him play a number of times and he always puts in a performance filled with original songs and anecdotes that bring the audience right in to his music but last night he was missing two crucial parts of his group of artistes – Will Greener (harmonica) who has left the country and Charles (drums and mandolin) who is sadly sick. In their stead he was accompanied by Ed Hopwood who played drums and filled in on harmonica, doing a fine job and more than just filling in.
Most of the songs were from the new (yet to be released) album and I would describe them as utterly contemporary but in a very classic Blues style. With Harrison finger-picking his resonator guitars and Ed’s gently brushed snare and cymbal as well as harmonica, the new material is intense but it also carries a sense of sardonic humour.
These aren’t songs of how badly the world is treating him, nor are they love won or lost – his songs represent his view of the world, whether it be economics or the plight of Midlands engineering and his lyrics are both clever and meaningful. The stories that accompany his songs are sometimes excruciating (in a good way) or engender debate with the audience. The two played nearly an hour and a half and I for one would have been happy to sit through another 1.5 hours.
With some impressive support from Lane Hines who played Blues classics in the manner of the original Delta Bluesmen – a great version of Robert Johnson’s ‘Terraplane Blues’ – this was a gentle evening of musical delights and highly engaging stories.
Lakefest, August 2015
review in Slapmag
'Mark Harrison offered a captivating set of stripped back, acoustic blues, complimented by jazzy double bass. Mark's dry humour and winning delivery shone through with the likes of 'Dirty Business' and 'Your Second Line' both intoxicating.'
Famous Monday Blues, Oxford
review in Blues in Britain
The Cellars, Southsea
review in Blues in Britain
Folk On The Water Festival 2016
Mark Harrison played at our festival on Sunday and he was nothing short of brilliant. His set was very well received - his earthy, sometimes cutting view of the world finding resonance with the audience. Accompanied by some slinky bottle-neck blues guitar - what more could you want on a warm summer evening by the water! We bought this CD and his live "On the Chicken Sandwich Train" - both well worth the purchase and already on our Spotify playlist.
Blues In The Barn, The Fleece Inn, 2014
The Fleece is an ancient Inn belonging to the National Trust, it has an equally aged barn in the courtyard, which is used to host a variety of music and arts. Sunday evening was designated Blues In The Barn with Mark Harrison performing with a '34 National resonator guitar, a 12 string guitar, and to help him, percussionist Ed Hopwood, alongside Charles Benfield on double bass. Mark started off the evening in a relaxed, country blues style, a 'Panic Attack', was linked to a film, with Mark as source material, and shown in Cannes Film festival. 'Mississippi' is inspired by old '20's blues, performed on dusty porches in the cotton fields of the deep South.
Mark's songs are written about life experiences, both his own and those from the past that have moved him to express his feelings in word and through his guitars. The old National itself had a bit of heritage, having belonged to Eric Bibb, who Mark tells us, promises to drop bye one day to reacquaint himself to the old 'woodie'. There are plenty of other asides and anecdotes, most of them creaking with a dry humour, it adds to the evening and links the music nicely.
A nod to the likes of Muddy Waters, people with no paper trail, no definitive origins, like many of Afro American descendants born in an indifferent America, 'Next Of Kin', played with finger-picking, style tells the story. Time to lose your inhibitions with 'Reckless', before waking up to a superb 'Crematorium Blues'. Ed, empathetic to Mark's lead, stroked his stripped down drumset, mainly with brushes, but sticks, mallets and even a cowbell, were never far from reach. More tales and songs relating to temperance, the demise of workers and loss of livelihood to mechanisation, an oddly named Chicken Sandwich Train from that era with 'Changes Coming Here'. We are hearing a brief history of the roots of blues before Chicago and electric had its influence.
Mark has written 3 albums over a 4 year period, the songs he performs are taken from across the 3. 'Pearly Gates', is from Crooked Smile, and seemed apt a title to lead into 'your Second Line' which relates to the musicians following the funeral cortège in New Orleans.
We are nearing the end of what has been an entertaining evening, some background stories, well written songs and fine musicianship, in the lovely old timbered barn of The Fleece Inn. Time to give a bit of freedom to Ed and Charles, as they grasp their moment to 'Shake The House'.
St Pancras Old Church, 2014
St Pancras Old Church has a history that, apparently, goes back to the 4th Century AD although the current church was built in the 1800s and it has been hosting occasional concerts for many years.
Mark Harrison was playing his 1934 Resonator in the main plus a 12 string for 'Crematorium Blues'. Live, Harrison is an education in the Blues but not in any preachy way. His short set included little stories about the music and even an explanation of why his guitar sounds the way it does and the crowd responded warmly.
He played songs from his latest album and also from the 'Crooked Smile' album and included a delightful 'Your Second Line' and 'Crematorium Blues' as well as 'Panic Attack' and 'Marching On'. His 'Greenwood' was chilling. The audience appreciated the music and he showed that a solo voice with a guitar can actually capture and enthral a crowd of around 100.
Music.News.com, Andy Snipper
Next is Mark Harrison. His best song is a short and pointed number about a man named Greenwood LeFlore. He was a mixed race Choctaw in the mid-19th century, and having risen to a position of authority within his tribe, worked hard to negotiate a settlement of land for his people. Displaying considerable talent in realpolitik he recognised that fighting against European settlement was like trying to push back the tide. So, with this half European heritage and Western education he negotiated a decent, if pragmatic, agreement. With this under his belt he went on to become a US Senator - a sort of race relations success story right? Well after that he went on to become a slave owner in Mississippi.
The moral? History is mixed up and complicated and life rarely conforms to a narrative. Harrison spins this tale well, and I appreciate a bit of a history lesson in my music.
London City Nights
PURBECK FOLK FESTIVAL, 24 August 2013
"... That was followed by a lesson in the blues from Mark Harrison, who includes Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker in his band, amongst others. Mark took us all on a fantastic musical journey, following the blues from the Mississippi Delta to Chicago as it followed the work. It was definitely one of the sets of the festival with Mark coaxing the reserve out of the crowd and getting a load of people dancing and that rare festival honour, a genuine encore.
I rounded the evening off on the Fire Stage with a local singer-songwriter, who had the tough task of following Mark Harrison. Whilst I found myself enjoying the music, I'm a sucker for songs, her material seemed more suited to a more intimate setting and struggled a bit against the fireworks of its predecessor ..."
"... On the main Fire Stage, Mark Harrison was the discovery of the night. Listening to his sensitive, atmospheric bluegrass guitar, we could almost believe we had wandered into the world of 'Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?' With stories to go with his songs such as the Chicken Sandwich Train and the Second Line, he achieved a well-deserved encore. I'm definitely adding his CD to my most wanted list..."
"... Mark Harrison twisted blues and folk into his own style ..."
"Mark Harrison took to the stage at the Finchley Arts Depot with three friends – Charles Benfield on the double bass, Canadian Ryan Carr on mandolin and on harmonica and backing vocals, Will Greener (aka Capt Bliss). He and his friends then proceeded to treat the assembled audience to an hour or so of excellent acoustic blues, all of it played with a real sense of enjoyment and lack of the arrogance that some performers can leak into their music.
They started with 'Pearly Gates', pleasantly low keyed and getting the feel of the place. Harrison's playing was delightful and it is nice to see a genuine finger picker today. His 1934 Trojan Resonator was sounding very clean and sweet and Ryan's mandolin added some texture and fullness. Sometimes it's easy to miss the importance of having a shade in the music that lays down a bedrock for the lead to stand in relief from but the mandolin was doing that with some real aplomb. Will Greener's harmonica was its usual simple and effective and it seems that the less he does the more effective his contribution.
'Early In The Morning' followed and the audience started to get right behind the band – Harrison is very good at the little comments and stories that make the context real and the crowd appreciated his knowledge. Numbers like 'Reckless', 'The Demon Drink' and 'Primrose Hill Street Rag' showed off his skills on the 12 string guitar as well and the whole band were making subtle contributions as the music flowed.
It was a rare thing to see a band that had no need to either play loud or solo like loons and the time spent with the band was very much worthwhile. More gigs like these please Mr Promoter."
Andy Snipper , Blue Matters magazine, live review
"He plays blues that speak to the soul. His tunes are superb and when he plays with his entire ensemble, it is truly mesmerising. "
Emma Harley, Lincs to London blog
"Mark Harrison plays a 1934 National Trojan guitar with distinctive sounds from the past filtering into the present. Incorporating elements of blues and folk his solo sets are just as mesmerizing as when he collaborates with some of London's finest roots musicians in line-ups featuring mandolin, harmonica and double bass."
Favela Chic, London venue
The Harrison, King's Cross, London, October 31st, 2012
"I discovered the delight that is The Harrison for the first time on Wednesday but it will not be the last time I find myself in the tiny downstairs club for an evening of unplugged folkism.
I was there to see a gentleman called Mark Harrison - a Blues singer and guitarist who plays with a bewildering number of possible sidemen (and women) under the title of 'Mark Harrison'. On this occasion he was joined by Will Greener on harmonicas, one of the capital's finest, alone.
He was debuting tracks from his new album – reviewed on this site – and the crowd was treated to nine or ten moments of understated joy. Harrison's guitar playing has a soft and really tuneful tone and I can't help but think of the Blues and Folk pickers of the 30's whenever I hear him.
Harrison opened with 'Georgia Greene' from the new album with his 1934 National Resonator sounding jaunty and perfectly pitched against Greener's harmonica and Harrison's soft sung vocals. 'Bombs Coming Down' was prefaced with a little tale of the bombing of Coventry and the fact that all the engineering had been moved out well before the city was bombed into rubble. He has a gentle humour in the way he speaks to the crowd and they warmed to his playing as well as his songs.
The whole set was a capsule of quality playing from both musicians and the crowd was leaning in closer and closer as the intimacy of the performance drew them in; when they finished the set on 'Easy Does It' there was a genuine feeling of loss – the encore of 'Highgate Hill' was that rare thing – a genuine additional number (it isn't on the set list!)
It isn't often that I go to a gig where the music leaves me without a buzz in my ear and on this occasion the volume was perfectly pitched even without any mikes or amplifiers – it really can be done."
Andy Snipper, Music news
'wonderful rootsy blues ..... innovative'
'his music is intriguing ... singular ... really very good and it's different'
David Freeman, Blues & Boogie Show, Jazz FM
• live sessions
'one of the British Isles great blues singers and guitarists ... totally and absolutely original'
'I really love that good timey old timey feel'
Mike Harding, The Mike Harding Folk Show
'one of the top blues men in the UK with a big following and rightly so ... really good stuff''
Frank Hennessy, BBC Radio Wales, Celtic Heartbeat
'his star has certainly ascended to where it deserves to be'
'absolutely cracking tracks … Mark has such a great way with words too'
'so much variety, so much originality''
Ashwyn Smyth, Digital Blues
'the effortless gorgeousness that is Mark Harrison's playing ....'
'a brilliant lyricist and a wonderful musician .... love his voice .... got some great people with him on the album .... a great album and you need to go and buy it'
'a phenomenal album ... subtle fusion of styles, you've got blues, folk and New Orleans'
Rick Stuart, Roots & Fusion
• live session
'a great, great album ... leapt out at me '
Dave Raven, Raven'n'Blues show
• live session
'I absolutely love it, there's no tricks in it, there's no synths, there's no drum machines, just pure rootsy blues'
The Blues Magazine Show, Team Rock Radio, Billy Rankin
'a really cool album ... great stuff''
Dave Watkins, The Blues Train
• British Blues Awards Winner, Best Show 2014
• live session
'very tasty indeed .... it's a great album, very rootsy feel ... even the design of the cover has a great feel'
Gary Grainger, The Blues Show
'the sort of album that begs you to sit down and not only appreciate the music but also listen to the words …. songs with meaning, intelligence and stories'
'you really need to sit down and listen to the words, listening to the words is the key to discovering Mark Harrison'
'the arrangements are great, the musicianship is great ... go and see him'
Richard Dunning, Blues On The Radio
• live session
'It's getting rave reviews, it's an excellent album, really worth checking out'
'I can't recommend this enough'
Big Boy Bloater, The Blues Magazine Show
'a great talent'
Kevin Black, Black on Blues podcast
'blues at its best, just fantastic, buy it'
Tony Fitton, Blues in the Nite, Phoenix FM
'acknowledged as being one of the best blues and roots artists in the UK, he's got a distinctive voice and a distinctive sound'
Martin Hodge, Roots'n'Shoots
'Mark Harrison has a very unique sound, he's instantly recognisable'
Tony Corner, Blues Corner
'Mark's very good and so is this album'
Howling Dick, Downhome podcast
'the mark of a good song or good album is that it leaves images in your head,, Crooked Smile takes me back to a train journey'
Dave Chamberlain, Acoustic Routes
'... an absolute cracker ... absolutely great'
Kevin Beale, Blues On The Marsh, Channel Radio
'With an understanding of Blues from day one. he has inspired a great band of young musicians and displays the right mix of tradition, creativity and musical excellence which would make his favourite band - The Band - proud of his achievements.'
Dr Wart Hoover, The Blues Hour, Severn FM
'good to have you and your band in session today....another wonderful musical experience, great playing and a very hot session'
'Again it was a pleasure to work with you folk today, you have gathered a very cool band around you.'
Barry Marshall-Everitt, House of Mercy radio
• Live session
'I really rate what you're doing and I'm all for supporting artists that have the balls to do something different, or follow a particular genre which may not be obviously mainstream. There's a lot of considered, quality musicianship in your band – the young lady has a really interesting powerful voice too.'
John Drummond, promoter, Brewery Blues, Cirencester
'Very fine track you sent me. I dig the story line and the music. The band is cooking. Thanks for sharing it Mark.'
Michael Frank, manager of Honeyboy Edwards, about the song 'Honeyboy'
On The Chicken Sandwich Train Reviews
Music News, Nashville
Mark Harrison is an English acoustic guitarist with his heart and soul in the Deep South of Mississippi, The Delta and the blues in general. The title of this, his latest release, comes from the vitals many old black musicians and share-cropping migrants carried on the long rail journey North to the anticipated riches of Chicago and other northern cities where developing industry offered a possible income and escape from the grinding poverty of the southern states of the USA in the pre-war years.
Harrison is an all-round entertainer, a troubadour who has wit and an evidently astute understanding of his favourite music and its extraordinary history. With twenty-two tracks here, mostly self-penned, he displays a rare talent and enjoyably quirky squint at themes and topics often ignored by his acoustic picking peers.
For me, at least, three tracks positively stand out as gems of the genre, all his own compositions and clear illustrations of his style and ability – ‘Big Mary’s House’; Crematorium Blues’ and the wonderful, funereal ‘Your Second Line.’
Harrison is genuinely remarkable in many ways. He doesn’t just play blues with a traditional touch but instead moves it on, always thoughtful and complex with, at times, hints of musical trickery. He shakes the music by the scruff of the neck and with Chicken Sandwich Train succeeds in delivering an excellent, sparkling album of striking originality. Highly recommended.
If you’ve been bingeing all Christmas on blues turkey maybe you need something lighter, like a Chicken Sandwich?
Too rich a diet, or too much of the same thing aren’t good in any situation so Mark Harrison’s new album is the perfect palate cleanser. Recorded live at Wigan Parish Church this stripped-back, rootsy Americana collection won’t overpower you with more ingredients than you count, rather its simplicity is its virtue: guitar (of various varieties), upright bass and percussion mixed expertly and leavened with a generous pinch of wit, both in the lyrics and the inter-song banter.
It would have been a crime to leave out Mark’s drier-than-Twelfth-Night-drumstick asides and stories and there are many here: from the management consultancy crash to the Shoreditch film director glut, from ‘50 years of British social history, all in four verses. I think that’s something of a bargain’ to channelling Kenneth Williams.
Mark’s deceptively simple songs capture the spirit of Appalachian back porches or Okie camp fires, fresh and seemingly spontaneous although the lyrics often betray the careful thought that has gone into their making: from sly digs at contemporary mores to hard-edged critiques of bigger issues from economics to war, all delivered in a similarly matter-of-fact tone as his song introductions.So if you’re diet requires something a little less heavy, something with a little more substance and fibre in it, this would hit the spot nicely.
The 525 to Glasgow
It’s almost eighteen months since I was first introduced to the music of Mark Harrison.
At that time, I’d been given Mark’s 2014 release The World Outside to review.
I’ve been hooked ever since!
Unfortunately, I missed Mark’s visit to Glasgow back in January when he performed as part of the Celtic Connections festival.
On The Chicken Sandwich Train, a live album, recorded as part of Acoustic Roots at Wigan Parish Church on 17 April 2015, is Mark’s fourth release.
Live albums are a bit of a love/hate thing for music fans. Some people love them; some people loathe them. Me- I love them!
Listening to this almost makes up for missing the Glasgow show!
This fourteen song record is interspersed with a handful of “stories”, little insights into the story behind the song and little insights into the gentle, dry humour of this talented performer.
The album opens with Big Mary’s House, from The World Outside. This is possibly the quirkiest start to a set being played in a church! Love it!
Mark has a beautifully subtle finger-picking style that sparkles throughout this entire album. Playing either his 12 string or his 1934 National, he’s equally at home creating his distinctive soundscapes.
In the past, Mark has been accompanied by a variety of equally talented musicians. On this outing, the lucky gentleman is Charles Benfield on double bass and additional vocals. He compliments Mark perfectly.
I’m not about to go through On The Chicken Sandwich Train track by track…or should that be carriage by carriage?. That’s a journey I’d strongly encourage you to buy a ticket (CD) for and enjoy at your leisure.
Even to pick out the highlights here was a challenge. Long Gone Miles and Panic Attack, both from The World Outside, stand out for me. Crematorium Blues from Crooked Smile is instantly toe-tapping but also subtly different in style to many of the other tracks. Love Your Second Line, again taking this musical journey down another track.
One of the main attractions for me to Mark’s music is his ability as a songwriter. His musicianship is beyond question but as a songwriter he’s fantastic. This album echoes with fresh, vibrant lyrics that tell stories, several of which hark back to days gone by as do a lot of his musical influences, but it all sounds as fresh and new as if it were penned only this morning. That’s a rare talent that comes straight from the soul.
This album finishes with Georgia Greene, another finger clicking, toe tapping tune. Perhaps it’s the edit of this record, but where’s the audience? I’d have loved to hear a bit more passion from them here.
Normally it’s the 5:25 to Glasgow I’d be boarding but I’m very pleased to have journeyed On The Chicken Sandwich Train.
Fantastic musical journey.
Who knows, if and when Mark returns to Glasgow, I may yet board the 5:25 to see his show.
Oh, and if you want to know the story behind the Chicken Sandwich train, buy the album! You won’t regret it.
I think that artists like Mark Harrison get less than their fair share of kudos and appreciation.
He plays beautifully and writes songs that both move the listener and produce a wry smile from time to time and in his various live forms – in this case he is ably supported by Charles Bonfield on Double Bass – he creates a bond between singer and audience that is rare in this day and age.
Harrison is a storyteller in the classic Blues form, tales of his experiences and of the different themes to his life. The stories are relevant to his audience and he has somehow created a genuinely British Blues within the classic form.
Playing his National Resonator or a twelve string, there are no ripping solos or pyrotechnical playing, his guitar chimes like a bell and the gentle playing lulls you into following his words instead of being the be all and end all of the song. Couple that to the tales he tells of the songs or little self-deprecating jokes at his own or his fellow musicians and it would take a hard hearted type of person not to be smiling all the way through.
The songs are, mainly, from his latest album ‘The World Outside’ and the simple presentation adds to the quality of the songs from opener ‘Big Mary’s House’ to his personal statement about modern masculinity in ‘Hardware Store’.
He has a relatively deadpan delivery (he does originate from Coventry after all) but there is no shortage of understated emotion or subtly twinkling humour. However, when the song requires it he manages a harder edged sound – ‘Crematorium Blues’ or ‘Bombs Coming Down’.
The recording quality of the album is superb, every note and lyric coming over clearly and with a sense of the size and acoustic of the Wigan church he was recorded in. Harrison is an excellent guitarist with very much his own sound either finger picking or playing occasional slide and Charles Bonfield’s double bass and percussion gives him just enough backing but never dominates. <
All told this is a lovely album and perfectly represents what sounds to have been a fine night in Wigan.
Blues Magazine Netherlands (translation)
The fourth album from the British blues musician Mark Harrison is a live album in which the bulk of the tracklist from his previous album The World Outside. Lome fingerpicking songs, interspersed with very dry British humor.
Mark Harrison (Coventry, England) is outside his homeland not as well known in the blues scene. However, he has so far been three albums released: The World Outside (2014), Crooked Smile (2012) and Watching the Parade (2010), he was in the act for include The Holmes Brothers and Doug MacLeod and by the British press described as' one of the UK's foremost acoustic blues performers.
Harrison plays mainly on a 1934 National resonator guitar and 12-string guitar. As he puts it on his website: "I'd never had a lesson, knew nothing about tabs and video tutorials. I just played what came into my head and fingers. The music is rooted in the blues, but it's not stuck in the suit. I'm tapping into the timeless quality of the early blues to produce music totally irrelevant to the present day. I'm trying to do something fresh and different. I'm picking the guitar, using the strong rhythms and feel of the originators, and putting hopefully memorable tunes on top. "(1)
His latest release On The Train Chicken Sandwich is a live album, recorded in the Wigan Parish Church (Wigan, Greater Manchester, England) on 17 April 2015. The board is assisted by Mark Charles Bonfield on double bass. The majority of the tracks on this release are live performances of songs from The World Outside (2014). Between songs - and also featured on the album - Harrison tells very dry way (the famous English humor) about the songs, music and everyday affairs. It makes the listener feel as if you were actually present at the concert.
Mark Harrison you will not catch on solid blues rock or lavish and super fast guitar explosions. He has a pleasant way of playing with a delicate fingerpicking style. Opener Big Mary's House is a blueprint of the album: an understated yet refined guitar playing with a backup of the double bass. A tone and atmosphere that is extended on songs like Hardware Store, Run, Panic Attack and Black Dog Moan. Beautifully intimate and small are the songs The Numbers Game, Hell Of A Story and Crematorium Blues; continue yak Office is Your Second Line and Easy Does It.
The songs also seeps Harrison political and social commentary through. Bombs Coming Down is about the social ecocnomische development of England, about how his father grew up when he was 21 and how Harrison grew when he was the same age. Changes Coming Here is preceded by a presentation by Mark in the title of his album, On The Train Chicken Sandwich, and is about how mechanized cotton picking was and what that meant for those who were looking for work.
On The Train Chicken Sandwich is perhaps not for everyone by singing or sometimes tricky susceptible English humor. But it is an intriguing picture of a musician who can play damn good.
Patrick Struijker Boudier
Number 10 in the UK Independent Blues Broadcaster Association chart
The World Outside Reviews
THE BLUES MAGAZINE
Mark Harrison's "The World Outside" is a Work of Art
The World Outside, the third album from Mark Harrison, stands on its own. From the start of the album, it is a journey with the listener wondering what's next on their travels. Each new song is a new location with a new curiosity, and you can't help but be continually fascinated. There is always a new sound or some quick highlight that makes the song stand out, be it a wind instrument or a style that sounds just a tad bit jazzy.
With all the old fashioned sounding vocals layered over each other, "Panic Attack" becomes a quick favorite, and probably the most notable song on the album. "Long Gone Miles" has a chugging rhythm that carries the onerous flute melody, providing itself a stand-out instrument in the composition. Harrison is definitely a superb artist.
The grim plucking of the low string on "Not Alright" feels like a lost folk song from a person haunted. It reminds of someone singing in the dark of a secluded tavern at the coast of a sea. The image and the sound are equally profound and paint an altogether sublime portrait. "Long, Long Way" sounds like a forgotten pioneer song. "Floating Around" is great with the harmonies, and "Hard Times Now" leaves you feeling good once the album ends.
What's so great about the album is that it paints images in your mind. You get these beautiful, folk ballads and old fashioned sounding folk songs, and they leave you with pictures. This album is pristine, and is worth every penny.
AMERICAN BLUES SCENE
Cashbox Magazine, Canada
Harrison is one of the new current crop of English bluesmen, busy carving a reputation as a leading-edge writer and guitarist in the bars, clubs and music festivals of Europe and the UK. All twelve tracks that make up this release were written by Harrison and more than adequately illustrate his mastery of style and subject.
What makes this guy stand out from most of the rest is the simple key element that underpins everything he does: he plays acoustic, generally slide guitar in a traditional style but with his own material which is bang up to date. An interesting mélange that few can pull off with success, Harrison, not only succeeds he positively triumphs.
On this release he is joined by his old buddy Ed Hopwood on drums and vocals, plus a number of other fine backing musicians; the Harp work of Will Greener is particularly strong and the vocal support from Josienne Clarke, who also doubles up on Tenor Sax, Flute and Piano, is a positively welcome addition.
The twelve tracks here are fine examples of modern blues in the UK today from a guy with his ear to the musical ground coupled with humour and a deft turn of phrase and pacing. Many themes are modern while others reflect an interest in social issues with lively thought.
At times introspective, 'The World Outside' represents a very fine slice of British acoustic blues music from a clearly talented singer-songwriter with a finely balanced sense of self-deprecating wit.
Cashbox Magazine, Canada
"The World Outside" is a far far better place with Mark Harrison in it.
Having pretty much played Mark's previous album, "Crooked Smile" to death, I was intrigued as to where Mark Harrison was going to go with his next album, well "The World Outside" provides that answer and then some.
"The World Outside" sees Mark Harrison really find his stride, both musically and lyrically, not that you would find the previous albums out of step, it's just that this new one has a really relaxed fluency that you can only get by being totally in the zone.
This is an album that couldn't sound more of the Delta if you switched the Mississippi for the Thames, it's only Harrison's accent that lets you know that this album wasn't born and raised on the bayou, it completely captures the essence of that pre-war blues sound, aided and abetted by an incredibly strong musical team consisting of Charles Benfield, Will Greener, Josienne Clarke, Ben Walker, Ed Hopwood and Guy BenneTt, all top musicians in their own right and all capable of suppressing the self for the benefit of the whole and what a whole it is.
There is a real passion that sits beneath the sounds of the album. Sometimes you can hear it almost turning to seething anger, but it's that quiet restrained anger that can often have way more of an impact than letting the rage get the better of you, powerful indeed.
Harrison has quite a turn of phrase that can simply fill your mind with thoughts and images. More importantly when he's trying to say something, it doesn't take on that preacher style that some bluesmen are inclined to take, rather he seems more like he's encouraging to think for yourself, to take inspiration rather than answers.
Leaving the narrative aside for a moment, you can't help but fall for Harrison's guitar style. Regardless of whether it's the 1934 National resonator or twelve string, you can't help but be fascinated by his combination of slide and fingerpicking styles.
"The World Outside" will be following its predecessor in spending a significant amount of time on my cd player, in fact I think if this was vinyl, I would be worrying for the record's physical integrity. Mark Harrison and co has found a way of making addiction legal.
Britain today is blessed with a number of utterly unique and original musicians and the current Blues scene is blessed by the musicians that it has spawned – including Mark Harrison.
This is his third album and the characteristics that made his last, 'The Crooked Smile', such a joy to listen to and inhabit, are still there but he has refined his songwriting skills and the collection of musicians with him are playing with real joy and passion.
His music is Blues. Old fashioned in many regards, especially the way that he uses original instruments and phrasing, but completely original in his words and the way that the songs are constructed. His themes are as modern as yesterday and as timeless as forever.
The musicians on the album are Harrison's usual coterie of chums and acquaintances – Will Greener on harmonica, Charles Benfield (Double Bass), Josienne Clark on vocals, Ben Walker plays mandolin, Ed Hopwood drums and Guy Bennett adds some keyboards – but they are used only when the song needs them and no two songs have the same complement of artists so the sound is always fresh and every song has a character and identity of its own – there is no formula.
Opening song 'Panic Attack' sets the scene beautifully with Greener honking on harp and the mandolin giving the song a distinctly New Orleans feel and Harrison's midlands accent bringing the song back home. Harrison plays in his usual finger picking style and delivers a delicious statement on modern day life.
'Your Second Line' has been a live favourite for a while now – the second line is the group of musicians and dancers who follow the coffin in New Orleans and the quality of the musicians is determined by your status in the community – and he has captured it brilliantly. His 1934 resonator guitar set against Will Greener's harp has a lovely rhthm and the harmonies with Josienne are sublime.
Every track has a story and a meaning, every track brings you to a different facet of Harrison's music but none more than the haunting 'Not All Right' with Josienne on lead vocal and her folk phrasing set against Harrison's Blues resonator really setting the hackles on your neck up – in Harrison's own words "the world divides into people who do dreadful stuff that they shouldn't and people who are on the receiving end of that; just because that's always been the way of things doesn't mean its OK".
He sings about things that actually mean something to him – people's ignorance and the soma generation, loan sharking credit companies, youthful indiscretion and the like – but he does it with style and grace. Harrison never shouts but every word is designed to make a point and you can't help but smile and enjoy while absorbing some lessons you might rather not ignore.
Personal favourites include his autobiographical 'Long Long Way To Go' but every track works and he is a joy on record or live.
I urge you to see him live – either on his own or with some of his collection of musicians – he is one of Britain's quiet gems and deserves to be heard.
Mark Harrison's music has a unique Southern country blues flavour with folk blues and roots. This album showcases his talents as a writer and highlights some superb musicianship from the members of the band. All the tracks on the album are self penned by Mark.
The line up consists of Mark Harrison (lead vocals, guitars), Charles Benfield (double bass, vocals), Will Greener (harmonica, vocals), Josienne Clarke (vocals, sax, flute,) Ben Walker (mandolin, vocals), Ed Hopwood (drums, percussion), Guy Bennett (keys, vocals), Sonny (bass, vocal)
The first track, 'Panic Attack', gives us a taster of what we can expect from the album. Some great finger picking on guitar and mandolin with input from sax and harmonica. Mark brings a strong storyline in the well sung vocals with great harmonies. The next track 'Long Gone Miles', provided a bit of 'déjà vu' with flute playing on the intro', (a touch of vintage Canned Heat maybe?) A great track anyway, with excellent mandolin playing again from Ben, with an interesting storyline, this time about a travelling Lightning Hopkins.
'Your Second Line' one of my favourite tracks on the album, provided some 'stomp' with great slide on the resonator guitar and vocals from Mark. Some perfect backing vocals and harmonies from the talented Josienne and some good harmonica input. Following this is a folk blues, 'Run', with simple but effective percussion and great finger picking guitar on the 12 string guitar, with the addition of a bit of slide guitar and Hammond input.
A simple rolling track 'Big Mary's House' gives some great rhythms and magic slap bass. Nice harp input and excellent finger picking guitar with good vocal harmonies too. A change of pace on the following track 'Not Alright'. Josienne has a beautiful voice and takes the lead vocal on this deep, folk blues number , with slide on the resonator guitar. A very moving track with some class harmonies.
Changing the tempo with the lilting 'Where Ignorence Is Bliss' a Dylan'esk country track. Great mandolin playing with flute, harmonica and well put together vocals. 'Long Long Way' is a lovely country song with acoustic intro and superb mandolin playing, the band then comes in with keys, harp and great vocal harmonies.
Now for something completely different. 'In The Neighbourhood', an up tempo 12 bar blues with a full on band sound, featuring sax, harmonica and a good 'fuzzed' electric guitar solo. Next 'Floating Around' is a folk blues number with Josienne on vocals. Beautiful harmonies with added flute and mandolin.
'Numbers Game' is a laid back blues with a story. Guitar and mandolin work well together on this track. The final track on this exceptional album is 'Hard Times Now' , an upbeat blues with Hammond, electric guitar and harmonica input. Another well put together track from these exceptional musicians.
A great easy listen album with superb vocals, guitar playing and story lines from Mark. Josienne has the voice of an angel and with her flute and sax playing she brings the 'added extra' to the album. The input of the rest of the band puts 'musicianship' well at the forefront. A well put together and well mastered album so if you like folk blues and roots it will make a good listen.
BLUES IN BRITAIN
There's something so completely restful about Mark Harrison's approach to music. Adopting a laidback, rural sound that fuses equal parts traditional folk to the sort of earthy, country blues that John Mayall was dishing out back in the late '60's, it's the aural equivalent of a sunny day, a breeze-fueled hammock and a tall, cool glass of fresh-squeezed lemonade.
All original material, Harrison surrounds himself with like-minded players who embellish his lead vocals with a flurry of complementary instrumentation – mandolin, an assembly of largely acoustic guitars, banjo, harp, flute, keys and the warm embrace of an inventive rhythm section. Each song is a carefully arranged revelation, Harrison's occasionally thin vocals augmented by the generosity with which the ensemble makes individual contributions.
From the buoyant chorus of "Long Gone Miles" with its "going to the country" flute to the powerful New Orleans-inspired treatment of "Your Second Line" with its propulsive percussion and driving harmonies, each outing is unique. Adding the authoritative vocals of folk dynamo, Josienne Clarke, could've been a backfire, her robust sound potentially overpowering all others – yet she's woven into the whole like a favourite fabric. Standout tracks include the hypnotic "Big Mary's House" which, thanks to Ed Hopwood's percussive twists and Will Greener's 'chugga-chugga' harpwork, grows an elaborate groove all its own. Clarke's lead on "Not All Right" proves an elegant departure, yet stays within the confines of Harrison's stringband-oriented perspective. The mellow sleeper, "Long Long Way To Go", features superb harmonies (Harrison/Clarke) against a lush backdrop of mandolin while the ebullient, "In The Neighbourhood", quickly proves an animated 'state of the union' address with an amiable chorus and jaunty attitude.
A brave, satisfying and most subtle release – Harrison's third.
PENGUIN EGGS, CANADA
Eric G. Thom
The World Outside captures you from the first note with its fun rootsy beat, you know this is an album you are going to enjoy and listen to long after the review is written.
This self-released album is full of confidence, with a dozen songs written by Mark. The band is loving what they are playing Charles Benfield (double bass, vocals), Will Greener (harmonica, vocals), Josienne Clarke (vocals, sax, flute,) Ben Walker (mandolin, vocals), Ed Hopwood (drums, percussion), Guy Bennett (keys, vocals), Sonny (bass, vocal) and Mark Harrison (Lead vocals).
This album is full of bluesy roots textures and tones, lovely finger picking guitars, drawling vocals, percussion that drives the beat along and the overlaying superlative playing of a variety of instruments especially the mandolin delivered by Ben. Throughout there are overtones and a nodding of styles to Dylan, Honeyboy Edwards and more as they fleet on by and you are then back with an original sound that is put together with class and cohesion. Amongst these twelve strong tracks I love the country feel of Long Long Way To Go; the beautiful guitar intro that makes this track stand out, followed by the lyrics that flow as you watch the world go by.
Josienne's vocals are wonderful whether as a backing that adds depth or taking the lead. Not Alright, a folksy bluesy number where the slide guitar is used to great effect with harmonies to enhance this emotional track. The tempo never stays in one place every track takes a different approach to singing and playing roots music so the album is full of contrasts, as the mix of instrumentations are changed so that nothing overwhelms the song-writing skills of Mark Harrison.
The World Outside is an authentic roots based album where it is the words that drive the instrumentation so the story shines through, as demonstrated on the final track Hard Times; a tribute to the superb early blues artist Honeyboy Edwards with a great mix of blues-harp and Hammond organ. Mark and the band have put together an album that is full of rhythm, emotions and above all fantastic skills on every instrument played with the vocals always centre stage, I love the mix of styles and approaches there is no doubt that angelic voice of Josienne combined with her skills on flute and saxophone gives the album something special that makes it stand out from the crowd.
A special roots album that provides a great listening experience.
Mark Harrison really does find a new path through the prickly forest that can the the marriage of folk and blues. His new album is something of a masterclass in tapping into the essence of folk, blues and roots music - all too often they are blended in a superficial manner that loses their integrity - Harrison knows just what makes each strand to his music strong, then he has a field day with the possibilities.
The World Outside has a brilliant set of musicians on it as well as Mark on guitars and vocals, Josienne Clark and Ben Walker lend their considerable talent to the line up. Clark take the lead vocal on some tracks and gives a real depth to harrison's songs.
'Rootsy-blues-folk' is the best description of the music on The World Outside, its roots go deep into the strangely uplifting melancholy heart of the blues, whilst the folk elements bring a lightness to it all. This really is an album that will satisfy fans of both genres.
THE WORLD OUTSIDE SHINES BRIGHT FOR MARK HARRISON
Mark Harrison's third album release, The World Outside" takes the listener straight into the world of rootsy blues based folk with a smattering of jazz. This record is a follow up to the highly acclaimed "The Crooked Smile" and "Watching the Parade" and it doesn't disappoint.
Mark has composed all twelve tracks and there is a refreshing air to this album. The opening track, "Panic Attack" is catchy and quirky enough to grab your attention instantly. "Panic Attack" showcases Mark's finger picking skills along with the delicate mandolin of Ben Walker and strong harmonica of Will Greener.
As I listened to" The World Outside" I was reminded strongly of sound of created by The Humblebums, a Scottish folk group from the late 1960's who were fronted by the late great Gerry Rafferty and featured the musical talents of Billy Connolly. "Long Gone Miles" also has a vibe that harks back to the summer of 1970 and Mungo Jerry's "In The Summertime".
"Not Alright" offers the listener a contrast of style with a deeply emotional vocal performance from Josienne Clark. This beautiful folk/blues song has clear echoes of Joan Baez.
Mark's lyrics bring this genre back into the 21st Century and my personal favourite line can be found in "Where Ignorance Is Bliss" – "everything I know about women could be written on a rat's ass." A lyric perhaps that Bob Dylan would be proud of as the song overall is reminiscent of his style.
This album falls into a musical genre where there have been many iconic names in the past that are a hard act to follow."The World Outside" is a refreshing addition to this genre of music and brings it bang up to the here and now. It harks back to bygone days of delta blues/folk and jazz but it also proves to the listener that this world is safe in the talented hands of Mark Harrison and his 1934 National resonator. "The World Outside" is a strong rootsy album, true to its heritage, perhaps a little repetitive in parts, but is an album that I will be listening to for some time.
PHOENIX MUSIC ONLINE
A tremendous recording of some highly original folksy blues songs by a master singer, songwriter and guitarist who really should be a household name.
Mark Harrison has been feted as an accomplished, highly skilled and original blues singer/songwriter as well as guitarist, and yet in the music world nothing is ever quite that simple. You really can't place a man with his abilities in one narrow genre, although the comments about his skill are correct, but there is a lot more to his music than just the 'bluesman' label. He is an excellent and expressive vocalist and a tremendous resonator guitar player as well as being a terrific songwriter who tells a variety of stories, with all twelve of the compositions on this album being excellent Harrison originals.
None of the instrumentation is ever overdone, with every song having a sparse open feel and sound, and although it's difficult to define why, the overall sound, to me at least is reminiscent of Paul Simon's 'Graceland' without ever actually being much like it! Maybe it's some of the instrumentation or the spaciness of the production, but despite that comparison Mark Harrison has a refreshing and totally individual style.
The lineup on this recording is Mark Harrison on National and 12 string guitars, as well as lead vocals,Charles Benfield handles double bass, Hammond C3 organ, harmonium, percussion, electric guitar and backing vocals, Ryan Carr is on mandolin, vocals and electric guitar, Will Greener, harmonica and vocals, Ed Hopwood on drums and percussion, Ben Walker on mandolin and electric guitar, Josienne Clarke's extraordinary vocals add some tremendous harmonies and lead vocals on the exquisite Not All Right as well as on Floatin' Around. The album was recorded at Livingston Studios, Wood Green, London and produced, mixed and mastered by Charles Benfield, a man who, on the strength of this recording, seems able to allow plenty of space around every instrument and vocal giving a degree of separation that we are not often treated to.
The songs themselves are beautifully arranged and performed, with some, whilst not overtly 'blues,' getting very close to that classic genre, such as Your Second Line. It has a tremendous resonator guitar sound and some highly skilled playing on an excellent composition that includes some terrific propulsive drumming. This intensely dramatic story has some gorgeous harmonies from Josienne Clark giving the song a slightly eerie, ethereal feel all added to by some terrific harmonica support. Big Mary's House has an excellent repetitive percussive sound allied to Mark's resonator guitar on a song that has a bluesy, folksy, country feel in the mix giving the song a pretty much unique sound with nice double bass and driving harmonica joining in on another excellent lead vocal and harmonies. Not All Right starts with a slow moody resonator guitar before being joined by the gorgeous and hugely atmospheric lead vocals of Josienne Clark on a slightly spooky song that has a strange otherworldly feel, gradually building in intensity, blending folk with blues that in many ways feels like a throwback to the music of many decades ago. Long, Long Way To Go is a lovely slow moody, reflective song with resonator guitar, mandolin and the excellent bass and drums with Josienne Clark's atmospheric harmonies blending beautifully, whilst In The Neighbourhood includes an excellent horn sound giving more variety to the album on a lyrically dark, but musically easy going atmosphere and tempo with Mark's usual excellent resonator guitar sound.
This is a terrific album by a high quality artist who has developed his own style, one that includes a strong bluesiness, a powerful folksy feel and, strangely, a little of the laid back feel you might expect from music made somewhere such as the Caribean. All this combines to ensure a highly atmospheric and original recording that should grace the music collection of anyone who likes something a little different from their roots music.
AMERICAN ROOTS UK
Mark Harrison is a London-based acoustic guitar player/singer/songwriter and this is his third album. It is also a little gem of a release, combining early acoustic blues and folk influences with a very modern lyrical perspective and a contagious energy and good humour to create something new and highly enjoyable.
Harrison wrote all 12 songs himself and, like the music itself, his intelligent lyrics draw inspiration from a wide variety of sources, primarily from the recent American past, but often finding a connection with the modern world. "Big Mary's House" is an ode to a Mississippi Delta juke joint from the 1920s, while "Hard Times Now" reflects on the fact that the great Honeyboy Edwards survived the brutality of a segregated Mississippi as a young man, only to be horrified by the casual street violence of the Chicago he lived in as an old man.
"Your Second Line" refers to the group of people at a full New Orleans funeral who march and play and parade a coffin. In a plea for people to consider their actions and their impact on the lives of others, he asks "When it comes to your time, who's gonna be in your second line?"
In "In The Neighbourhood", Harrison cleverly connects the charlatan medicine shows that travelled the southern States in the early twentieth century with the bankers and frauds who have blighted so many lives in the US and the UK in particular over recent years. He sings: "The whole place is rotten, but nobody lifts a hand. You could buy their souls if they had them, for a lousy couple of grand. And people keep on talking about how much things have changed. Well, the faces might be different but the picture's still the same."
"Where Ignorance Is Bliss" combines both sharp humour and wry observation as he notes: "Everything I know about women could be written on a rat's ass. Everything I thought was gonna happen, it never did come to pass. You can get yourself in a whole lot of trouble just from one little kiss. But everything is all right, where ignorance is bliss." Sometimes it really is folly to be wise.
Harrison plays a variety of acoustic guitars on the album, and he receives excellent support from his regular band featuring Charles Benfield (on bass, harmonium, nylon-string guitar and harmony vocals), Will Greener (harmonica and harmony vocals), Josienne Clarke (lead and harmony vocals, tenor sax, flute and piano), Ben Walker (mandolin and lead electric guitar), Ed Hopwood (drums, percussion and harmony vocals), Guy Bennett (Hammond C3 organ and harmony vocals) and Sonny (bass vocals).
The CD is beautifully produced, from the high quality recording (by Benfield) to the superb packaging with a full lyric booklet.
On his website, Mark Harrison writes: "The music is rooted in the blues, but it's not stuck in the past. I'm tapping into the timeless quality of the early blues to produce music totally relevant to the present day." That's a pretty fair summary.
The World Outside is a very enjoyable album of modern acoustic folk-blues. If you like acoustic masters such as Eric Bibb, you will love Mark Harrison.
BLUES BLAST MAGAZINE, US
Roots music enthusiasts won't need me to remind them about this stylish guitar picker's timeless approach to the charms of the acoustic blues. Mark's third album is arguably his finest offering to date,tackling topics as diverse as New Orleans funerals, the optimism of youth and the arcane workings of the economic system with grace,subtlety and charm,aided and abetted by the excellent backing band who've served him so well in the past. "Panic Attack," "Your Second Line" and the autobiographical "Long Long Way To Go" are particularly fine efforts.
MESSENGER NEWSPAPERS, 90 papers in the UK
Mark's a singer-songwriter of the bluesy-rootsy persuasion, with a personable performing style that, while (if only to attempt possible reference points) it may variously recall Ry Cooder, Chris Smither or Eric Bibb, remains individual and, once latched onto, distinctively identifiable – which may be a less extravagant claim than it sounds.
The World Outside is Mark's third CD, and to take a glance at the new album's packaging it might seem just a continuation of Crooked Smile, in that it adopts an identical presentation format, attractively designed with colourful artwork and integral booklet containing full lyrics, brief notes on the songs and photos of all participants.
As for Mark's songwriting, not for him the navel-gazing of the archetypal s/s, but he takes his subject-matter cue from the music which has so clearly been his inspiration – the delta blues of the 1930s and 40s and the various roots musics that the southern States have spawned.
Funky disc closer Hard Times Now posits the viewpoint of Honeyboy Edwards on the street violence he sees in the modern world; Long Gone Miles, which tells the story of Lightnin' Hopkins, has an easy-rolling flute, mandolin and snare-drum backing that harks back to the sound of country-blues master Henry Thomas, while In The Neighbourhood draws parallels between the old medicine shows and modern-day practitioners of medicine who are equally natural charlatans (plus ça change!). And the primitive percussion and gospel chant backing for Your Second Line evokes the parade spirit (if not quite the most raucous letter) of a New Orleans funeral. On that track, as indeed throughout the whole album, Mark's brilliantly idiomatic National guitar work impresses – as indeed does his prowess on all other varieties of guitar!
He commands further expert instrumental (and vocal) support from a small but effective team comprising Charles Benfield, Will Greener, Josienne Clarke, Ben Walker, Ed Hopwood and Guy Bennett. Of these persons, Josienne and Ben are already familiar names to folk cognoscenti, and their presence is a further guarantee of special quality (indeed, amongst the disc's highlight tracks can be numbered Not All Right and Floatin' Around, on both of which Josienne takes the lead vocal role, and Long Long Way To Go, where she duets with Mark); but to be fair, each member of Mark's valiant support-crew makes a comparably telling contribution that's completely in tune with Mark's own music-making and the tenor of his songs and artistic vision.
His companionable life-philosophy, as wryly espoused in songs like Run, Panic Attack and the chirpier Where Ignorance Is Bliss, is entirely right-minded, speaking simply but persuasively of contemporary, proven-universal truths; it may seem obvious, but its reasoning and context is sincere and the musical expression tasty in the extreme.
The World Outside is one of those precious albums which makes its mark on first impression, sure, but then proceeds to slow-burn its delights into your consciousness when and least you might expect it to burn deeper. That may be why it's taken so long for me to get round to extolling its timeless virtues in these pages; take a chance and grab a copy now – you'll thank me for the discovery!
FOLK AND ROOTS UK
BLUES & RHYTHM MAGAZINE
The third album from this Londoner with a growing reputation for making highly individual music flavoured with early blues, folk and some country. Harrison is a very talented song writer and, together with his six piece band, gives tremendous value at his gigs throughout the south east.
All the songs have an interesting storyline 'Long Gone Miles' was the name of the travelling companion of blues great Lightnin' Hopkins and the song has a country sound to it. But this album is mostly an attractive mixture of blues and folk 'Big Mary's House' raps along with harmonica to the fore the story of a rough and ready bar on the Mississippi delta. 'The Numbers Game' asks just how do the western economies work anymore? The pick of the album is 'Where Ignorance Is Bliss' which as everyone knows is saying that you are better not knowing about something then you can't worry about it. The pick of the support is Josienne Clarke on saxophone and lead vocals on a couple of tracks. A very good album.
The soft delicate guitar fused with a the coming out of a serene waking dream and accompanied by a set of vocals that could lull you into believing all is well with the world is perhaps the only way in which to pay respect to Mark Harrison and his new album The World Outside.
The World Outsideyour window, the safety net in which you can hide behind and peek at and write down observations is not as good as you make think it is. For the view is only as good as the sight you see and where it might be rosy in your garden, beyond your wall of misguided content lies many things that are wrong, disturbingly so and yet the veil that makes shields your eyes from the sun, also shields your eyes from the truth of the situation.
Mark Harrison's world outside is an honest reflection of what he witnesses, tied down with charming and picturesque musicianship and a more than amiable smile in which to comfort you whilst spelling out all the wrong in the world is there for you grasp hold of and feel the anger also. It is not anger that rises up like a strike of a match, over too quickly and none of the substantial beauty that is the roar of a well built bonfire, slowly starting, hard to contain but its message can be seen for miles around.
This Blues/Folk crossover is enhanced by Charles Benfield on double bass, Will Greener on harmonica, the wonderful Josienne Clarke on vocals, Ben Walker on mandolin, Ed Hopwood on drums and Guy Bennett on keys. The combination of intricate flowing music is the tome that people will no doubt first reflect upon as they hear each song; however it soon guides you in with an astounding subtlety, you only realise how angry life has made you when the lyrics hit home and yet a smile of straightforward satisfaction will appear on your face as you realise it cannot last forever given enough people open up the doors and see beyond the view endorsed by certain media and politicians.
Tracks such as Run, Not All Right, the superb Where Ignorance is Bliss, the disturbing dystopian feel of In The Neighbourhood and Hard Times Now make The World Outsidea better place in which to reside, for where there is truth in music, there is a natural beauty to be seen. Serenity may come with a price, Mark Harrison asks if you are willing to step beyond your narrow view and act upon the change needed. A great album in which to relish possible change, should you open the window of your soul more.
LIVERPOOL SOUND AND VISION
Ian D. Hall
Music cycled back to Mark Harrison. The first go-round with songs held a diversity of sound though nothing that connected. The arc was wide, lasting for a while before it circled back around to where Mark was waiting. By the time the sound reached his ears,it had fine-tuned its attack, offering only one line of defense to crush his resolve. The charge worked and the loose Blues took over is on display in The World Outside, the third Mark Harrison release. Not only playing, but soaking up the Blues was part of the process for Mark and he recalls that 'I assembled something of a collection of the greats, from Charley Patton to Muddy Waters via Blind Willie McTell and the first Sonny Boy Williamson. I read a lot of books about their world and their music. It all spoke to me in mysterious ways. I decided to buy a resonator. While trying out new ones in a London shop, I was directed to a recent arrival. 'The way you play, you'll like this one,' I was told. It was still in its case. It was a 1934 National Trojan, a wood-body resonator. 'It's got a sweet sound but it'll bite if you want it to,' the man said'.
The World Outsidehitches a ride with "Long Gone Miles" keeping time to a train click beat as strings flash by like the sun through the flat car walls, as music lazily glides lazily over a glistening watery surface, sun sparkling on the guitar notes in "Floating Around". If the Blues you hear in the music of Mark Harrison is familiar but not immediately recognizable the cause could be the steps forward in the genre that he makes with his take on tradition. Blues history is alive and well in the music. The song structure does not wander too far from the Folk Blues that frames the tracks. Frenetic percussion jumps out at Mark's resonator as it picks its way to "Big Mary's House", a choir of voices warn of dark times coming as a result of "The Numbers Game" and the economy weaves its story through the notes that fly around the arrangement of "Run". Mark Harrison re-airs the Blues that has become a part of his being, sending the way he hears the sound back out to The World Outside.
THE ALTERNATE ROOT, US
If Crooked Smile was Mark's view of the world from his own personal standpoint, then Outside World sees him step through the door to encounter the rest of the world in all its glory, from the eccentric to the scary, from hectic modern life to the hard times of a bygone era.
Inhabiting the dual worlds of blues and folk, each song has a story to tell. All 12 songs were written by Mark himself and no two sound the same. The range takes in everything from the riff-driven blues of Panic Attack to the gentle, almost lullaby folk of Floatin' Around.
Mark's vocals and guitars - namely, a 1934 National resonator and a 12-string - are augmented by his talented group, which consists of the following personnel: Charles Benfield - double bass; Will Greener - harmonica; Josienne Clarke - vocals; Ben Walker - mandolin, Ed Hopwood - drums; Guy Bennett - keyboards.
Each member is given time and space to play to their strengths. Check out the harmonica on Your Second Line, the bass on Big Mary's House, mandolin on Hard Times Now, Josienne's lead vocals onFloatin' Around...well, just listen to all of it and have fun picking out the key moments for each instrument. Mark's guitars are the glue holding the various musical elements together; the hooks and riffs draw listeners into the world of the song and the intriguing, original lyrics hold them there as each narrative unfolds.
The album presents a world of shady neighbourhood threats, escalating troubles leading to panic attacks and the closing comment, "It was hard times then and it sure is hard times now..." Yet like all the best blues, it gives a sweet side to counter and contrast with the bitter.
I enjoyed Crooked Smile but The World Outside represents a step further for Mark and his individual, original style. It's good know that in a world which sometimes seems to be filling up with manufactured bands and conveyor belt pop, people are still out there making real music and crafting real songs.
Mark Harrison is making quite a name for himself on the folk and blues circuits around London. Mark plays with various line-ups and has top-class band consisting of some of London's most highly regarded roots musicians and together they make a unique sound. With a very flexible set-up, he performs as solo, duo, trio, quartet, 5-piece and 6-piece with any or all of the above.
He has an attractive singing voice and is an outstanding, relaxed and effective finger picking guitar style. His last CD Crooked Road received many accolades and was played on a wide range of music shows. This music is a long way from traditional blues but is nevertheless deeply rooted in that genre.
The major strength of all this is Mark's songwriting skills. The lyrics are outstanding and each some has a unique feel to it. Mark has absorbed the genre so well that many are on the cusp of reminding you of something else; take for instance Long, Long Way, a song that would hold its own with the very best of Appalachian mountain music. It is beautiful!
If you like traditional American roots music delivered with skill and panache this for you.
BLUES IN THE SOUTH
Mark Harrison and his very capable band (whose members include the extremely talented duo Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker) play a curiously English take on American roots music. Their stylistic materials mine the cracks between country blues and old time country music, continuing a UK tradition that began with skiffle and was nourished by the likes of Ramblin' Jack Elliotand the pop-jug-band sounds of Canned Heat.
There's a sense when listening to American performers in such styles, particularly the older ones, that they are singing from beneath a heavy encrustation of experience and cultural difference, but Mark Harrison is much lighter in his vocal delivery, which is characterised by careful diction and clarity of enunciation, bringing a British folk-revival aesthetic to a rather more gnarled set of stylistic traditions. To some it may seem a little straight or tame, but to me it sounds like an effective fusion, essentially abstracting its communitarian stylistic materials to the purpose of supporting Harrison'spractice as an individual author of original songs. Really deep feels, beautiful playing, and a lovely sound.
Like Pokey LaFarge or CW Stoneking, Mark Harrison belongs to the kind of songwriters who are able to convey contemporary stories of life using classic musical elements and thereby bridging the gap between music from the early 20th and early 21st century.
Harrison's album "The World Outside" is musical blend of blues, folk, and ragtime. To give you a flavour of the atmosphere the album creates: If someone asked me to give an image what is going on out there in the world these days, it would be a pretty busy and rather hectic scene.
Personally, I think modern days' continuous stream of information, broadcasting significant, but also pseudo-relevant news to us, caught one up in a whirlwind of activity. It prevents oneself from developing an own point of view - simply because it pulls the rug out from under one's feet.
Mark Harrison's description of the world, in contrast, is incredibly laid-back: Either when he talks about the business in these days or the hard times that lie behind us – Mark Harrison maintains his apparently objective observer's position on things. In his album "The World Outside", he talks about diverse topics, from ambigious neighbours to wild sorrows, that eventually lead to panic attacks.
"It was hard times then and it sure is hard times now" is the conclusion of the album. Regarding the rich musical side, Mark Harrison convinces with his sliding techniques when playing a national resonator guitar as well as his finger picking on the 12 string. But this album is also rich of talented companions, namely the member of the versatile Mark Harrison Band:
Ben Walker on the mandolin, Will Greener on the blues harp, and Josienne Clarke on vocals just to name some exceptional member of the ensemble.
His first album "Crooked Smile", published in 2012, was already impressive – but Mark Harrisons new piece "The World Outside" clearly is a step forward: It brings finest acoustic music and lyrics from a great observer and storyteller together.
Translated by David Mehler
This is an unpretentious, easy accessible, engaging easy listen album. Better I can really Mark Harrison's latest album "The World Outside" not described. The twelve songs, from the man himself, are a pleasant mixture of folk, blues and country. The man also has an excellent band around have gathered to applaud the whole musical level to lead to an even more attractive.
The texts are of a particularly high quality level and with in or more limited phrasing he knows engaging images to mind. A good example of this is for example "Lone Gone Miles" where the intro on flute reminds us spontaneously to Canned Heat. But here also then stops any similarity to this band. Harrison tells here the story of the old blue master Lightnin ' Hopkins and his companion and lush Lone Gone Miles. He took out the inspiration at the sight of a picture of both and brings the sublime banjo game by Ben Walker hurry this story to life.
We were all treated to the equally beautiful opener "Panic Attack" with delicious fingerpicking work. That the man also proves he is an excellent guitarist on "Your Second Line" with engaging slide work. Even if Clarke fine vocal support goes, I then again think of the virtually unknown here but also admired by us Sidestreet Reny.
The album continues to fascinate, along the more bluesy song "Run" on the already fine vocal supported and with appropriate harmonica work spiced "Big Mary's House".
It remains easy to call all but the melodies and vocals are always charming. There is not one track that stands out, it's the kind of laid-back album you will be bored anywhere but you jump out of your seat will not do. A real favorite track, we also cannot see all we do have more than concentrated are listening to "In The Neighbourhood", an uptempo blues song with fine harmonica solo and strings already captivating game of "Will Greener".
Josienne Clarke takes the lead vocals in time for her account and does so with gusto. On "The Number Game" you will like this the most stand out, and oh yeah ... the Lady also ensures the sax and the flute here appropriate stripes. Who will with this very Edition of folkblues holds no bad buy.
Crooked Smile REVIEWS
"This sumptuously packaged album is the second in Mark Harrison's campaign to spread his brand of roots music beyond the confines of the M25. All twelve songs are written by Mark, who features on guitar and vocals. He is ably supported by half a dozen talented musicians. Charles Benfield, who produced the CD, also pitches in with double bass and occasional keyboard flourishes. Other notable elements to the mix are mandolins (Ben Walker and Ryan Carr) and harmonica (Will Greener), so no surprise that the sound is closer to that of the Delta in the '30s than of Chicago in the '50s.
Gentle loping riffs provide the foundation for Mark's singular lyrics – his aim being to tap into the timeless quality of the early blues to produce music totally relevant to the present day'. The sound is akin to the Mississippi Sheiks with the lyrics speaking of 'trains, tracks and levees, nickels and dimes in Honeyboy and wind blowing through cornfields in Blessed. The latter song features atmospheric slide guitar from Mark and a pleasing vocal contribution from Josienne Clarke.
This is an original take on song-writing, though. Not many sing today of the impact of Attlee's government on post-WW11 Britain, as Mark does in Bombs Coming Down."
Blues in Britain
"With his cap and beard, London roots singer/guitarist/songwriter Mark Harrison looks more than a little like a slightly less grizzled Seasick Steve. Although Mark's music is blues-based, his frequent use of mandolin in his small band accompaniment (played by Ryan Carr) recalls the Ry Cooder approach of the early to mid '70s, and more recently Eric Bibb's work with Bill Deivert.
All the material is original, with some numbers folkier than others, and more 'London-sounding' in the vocals. Like those just mentioned, the sound is generally warm and pleasant – and immaculately played - though more 'roots' maybe than blues."
Blues & Rhythm magazine
"It's never really the tools that maketh the man, but the fact that this London blueser writes and performs his rich and charming songs on the 1934 National Trojan - a wooden-bodied resonator guitar the likes of which are legendary within the world of blues - speaks volumes. Sometimes Harrison sings about his own woes, sometimes he tells the stories of the blues heroes who initially inspired him. But whatever the subject of his downhome tales, the lessons within them always hit home, good and true."
Classic Rock The Blues – covermount CD
"Coming straight out of early 20th century Mississippi via post-millennial London, Mark Harrison is a bluesman wearing his Delta influence on his sleeve. His conversational, stripped-back style is every bit as evident here as on 2010's debut album Watching The Parade. Opener Georgia Greene is a beautifully paced, folk-infused number, while his delicate fingerpicking and slide work is a joy throughout ….. an undoubtedly talented song crafter ..... gasp-inducing virtuosity ... superb ideas ....."
Classic Rock The Blues – album review
"For his second album, acoustic blues troubadour Mark Harrison has delivered a batch of original songs inspired by artists spanning Blind Willie McTell and Charley Patton to present-day equivalents Eric Bibb and Guy Davis. His PR may claim originality in his sound, but his forte is the manner in which he has successfully adapted an authentic 30s vibe.
Harrison's songs may be new but most could sit comfortably alongside any set list performed by the early country blues icons. With his gifted finger-picking and slide techniques, Harrison has developed a distinctive style, supported here by various sub-sets of versatile musicians that includes Charles Benfield (double bass, organ), Will Greener (harmonica, Ryan Carr and Ben walker (mandolin and electric guitar), Josienne Clarke (vocals) and Ed Hopwood (drums).
Most songs are mid-tempo, granting free rein to Harrison's storytelling vocal style. Despite the twelve songs being mainly acoustic, some of the best include Benfield's electric guitar, like 'The Original Dawg' with its wonderful interplay between Harrison's 12-string and Ryan Carr's mandolin, although to be fair, 'Honeyboy', the tale of a touring musician, with Harrison and Greener trading links on National Steel and harmonica respectively, is a gem that evokes the classic era of delta Blues. "
"Recorded at the Livingston Studios in Wood Green, London, Mark Harrison's sophomore album is a follow-up in similar vein to his debut Watching The Parade. It's a comforting act of low-key folky and rootsy blues numbers that give Harrison plenty of opportunity to roll over his National guitar with suitable vigour, whilst delivering his poetic self-penned songs in iconic scratchiness.
The songs segue sweetly into each other with no distinct difference in flavour (that's a good thing), except to be interrupted by the mid-album number Lay Your Burden Down, where Josienne Clarke shines with figurative focus. A fine cast of guests and colleagues add width with harmonica, mandolin and double bass at the right time.
Harrison is well-schooled in the discipline and knows exactly how to tag the song, whether that be for the ritual Honeyboy or the reflective Blessed. The low-key rumble is particularly ironic for the album's closer, Reckless, and sums up his whispering profundity."
Blues Matters magazine
"London-based Harrison may be plying his trade half a world away from the source of his inspiration, but his curiously timeless songs remain steeped in the spirit of the Mississippi blues, and 'Crooked Smile' should be required listening for anyone who's ever professed an interest in this fascinating genre..
The understated Mr Harrison and his like-minded musical cohorts have assembled a relaxed and deeply satisfying set for your delectation, with Mark wielding his trusty 1934 National resonator guitar to excellent effect with Mark wielding his trusty 1934 National resonator guitar to excellent effect during mellow gems such as Honeyboy and Georgia Greene."
"When I saw Mark play a short while back he featured a number of these songs in his live set so I had an idea of what to expect but when you hear these songs in the full band format they become more coherent and even more 'classic'.
Mark writes songs that sound as though they are Blues staples from the late twenties and thirties but his themes are as much 'now' as 'then' and with a sympathetic group of musicians he makes a noise that really is timeless.
He is helped out here by various combinations of Charles Benfield (Double Bass, Hammond C3, Harmonium, Electric Guitar, percussion), Ryan Carr (Mandolin, Electric Guitar), Will Greener (Harmonicas), Ed Hopwood (Drums), Ben Walker (Mandolin, Electric Guitar) and vocals from Josienne Clarke but the songs are the real stars along with Harrison's gently picked guitar – mainly his trusty National Resonator – and his lead vocals.
There is nothing here that tears it up, rather the songs are dictated by Harrison's vocal style which is almost conversational in tone, but his lyrics sing of his life and observations and while all the songs feel as though they could be rooted in the past they are contemporary and spark of truth.What there is here though is a collection of songs that will pull you in to the stories and allow the different musicians to play in an unstrained and very relaxed environment."
"Since 2010, Mark's been making a name for himself on the London music scene with his own personal brand of bluesy-folk-styled songwriting, and his debut album Watching The Parade was by all accounts very well received. If it's anything like as tasty as the follow-up, Crooked Smile, then it'll be worth my backtracking on - but for the moment let's stick with Crooked Smile.
It's a collection of pretty individual, though timeless-sounding, self-penned songs that largely comprise sanguine, often significantly wry philosophical observations on contemporary life. In that his songs deal with contemporary issues while stylistically rooted in the classic blues of the 30s, Mark's writing reminds me quite a bit of Ry Cooder, albeit without the same extent of political edge - and his unpretentious, relaxed, intelligently rootsy small-band-acoustic musical settings do the biz very nicely indeed, centred round Mark's own adept National resonator and 12-string guitar work, with intuitive support from Ryan Carr's ringing mandolin, Will Greener's harmonica and the busy rhythm section of Charles Benfield and Ed Hopwood, and all credibly balanced with due presence and immediacy.
The raw, old-school-roots feel of the whole set is very appealing, and it's easy to see why Mark's music has been so popular with audiences of different persuasions, not just blues fans. His singing has an appealingly conversational tone (which suits the gently thought-provoking or smile-inducing nature of his lyrics), and is easy to get along with.
Mark's songs invariably have a twist in the form of a canny message, and they're invariably reflective too; occasionally slightly preachy perhaps, but in those cases redeemably tongue-in-cheek. Best examples are where reminiscence crosses with resolution, as on Crematorium Blues, Pearly Gates and Bombs Coming Down, while Mark's "character songs" (Georgia Greene, Smiler John, The Original Dawg and the rollicking Honeyboy) are also authentically charged and believable - and memorable too.
Nice one, Mark!"
"Here's something a little different . . . . a smashing rootsy collection from London-based Mark Harrison, who has penned all 12 songs on "Crooked Smile" and also sings and plays some fine National resonator and 12-string guitar.
He has surrounded himself with some of the capital's kindred musical spirits in the shape of Charles Benfield (double bass, Hammond C3 organ, harmonium, percussion, electric guitar, vocals), Ryan Carr (mandolin, vocals, electric guitar), Will Greener (harmonica, vocals), Ed Hopwood (drums, percussion, vocals), Ben Walker (mandolin, electric guitar) and the featured vocals of Josienne Clarke.
To be honest a lot of the tunes are similarly paced, but are none the worse for that . . . the sound a kind of country blues, meets jug band and folk . . . Harrison being an observational type of writer focusing on the lives of ordinary people, thus giving the music a certain charm and depth.
Titles such as "Pearly Gates" and "Crematorium Blues" are not nearly as bleak and dark as the titles may suggest . . . with other odes to "The Demon Drink" and the world weariness of "Lay Your Burden Down" . . . well worth checking out, especially for anyone tired of blazing Stratocasters . . . . they may well be taken by the fare on offer here."
Blues in the North West
"Mark Harrison's Crooked Smile presents 12 self-penned, up-tempo blues songs with a modern twist.
His website provides a neat summary of what to expect: 'Mark's songs cover a wide range of non-standard themes, from observations of the way we live today to imaginings of the era of the early blues greats. They all have something to say or a story to tell. They'll make you move, make you think, make you smile.'
Mark's catchy guitar riffs - augmented by Will Greener's exemplary, bluesy harmonica - drive the songs along very nicely. Toes will be tapping after the first couple of plays of Crooked Smile.
Each song unveils a self-contained story, with subjects including: the contrast of a son's easy life as compared to that of his father (Bombs Coming Down); the perils of alcohol (The Demon Drink) and the changing of attitudes towards life (Reckless). The storytelling aspect ensures a strong folk streak runs along inside the blues exterior, an approach accentuated by the laid back vocal delivery."
"Sometimes the blues doesn't need dressing up and this is where Mark Harrison comes in. …. with a 1934 National Resonator guitar, an accomplished fingerpicking style, and tight backing, he plays the blues with an unswerving passion. Full of his own compositions 'Crooked Smile' is the culmination of years of honing his craft."
"Londoner Mark Harrison's second album, Crooked Smile, is a set of 12 self-penned songs that are as unique as they are original. There are hints of blues, Country and folk to take you by surprise and the results should sit easily with the recent revival in roots music.
The opener, Georgia Greene is a gentle, old time, homely acoustic blues and he follows it up with Pearly Gates, a jug band blues. Crematorium Blues is maudlin yet uplifting. Good mandolin playing from Ryan Carr and harmonies from Josienne Clarke. Clarke also adds her harmonic vocals to Mexican Gardener. This is in the same vein as the opener with good quality guitar and a simple drum beat to play behind the slightly political theme.
Bombs Coming Down is down to earth and back to basics. Well played, with rapid mandolin from the aforementioned Carr. The gentle feel to the album continues with Lay Your Burden Down. This time Josienne takes the lead vocal and the result is simple music, maximum pleasure. The Demon Drink is another homespun song with an authentic roots feel. Vamped harmonica from Will Greener and mandolin adds to the now familiar guitar signature.
Harrison's vocal style is almost childlike and quite idiosyncratic. The Original Dawg has an original Country Blues feel and this one will creep up on you with its one line chorus. Effective electric guitar over the acoustic makes for a surprising highlight. Honeyboy has a quirky delivery and he sometimes struggles to get all of the words in. Top slide guitar from Harrison and snappy drums from Ed Hopwood.
Blessed has prominent slide guitar throughout and highlights Harrison as a top slide and pick player. However, the manic mandolin is what gives this a true air of authenticity and the overall ensemble provides a highlight. Smiler John has more gentle sounds and is a lovely song whereas the closing track, Reckless, is a shuffling Blues based Country effort with a great lead from drummer Hopwood which gave me a warm feeling all over and provides a good finish to the album.
The more you listen to this album, there more you are going to like it – believe me!"
"Mark plays a 1934 National resonator and 12-string guitar and is renowned finger picker and slide player. He is backed by double bass, harmonica, mandolin, drums and, in some places organ.
Some of the songs are about characters like 'Georgia Greene' who was 'tearing up trees from the age of seventeen and 'Smiler John' who tries to solve everyone else's problems only to find this is a one way street. There are also some upbeat, catchy numbers like 'Mexican Gardener', much serious subject matter like 'Bombs Coming Down' and a cautionary song about 'people drinking their blues away'. The album has some very affecting moments as on spiritual blues like 'Lay Your Burden Down' and 'Blessed'."
Blues in the South
"If I had to explain what folk music is, I would say it is the popular music that comes directly from the ancestors and has been orally given from generation to generation. It is also a kind of music that does not have commercial purposes, because its main purpose is to make people participate and give benefits to all members of a community.
Mark Harrison is a pure folk singer and guitar player who writes his own songs. Since he appeared in London music scene, his music immediately called the attention of the audience, thanks to the originality of his compositions, all featuring a great rhythmic sound and a lot of twist.
The folk with blues details Mark Harrison plays covers a wide varied range of subjects, because he carefully hawk eyes daily-life situations. He also has a distinctive style and sound and he naturally controls finger picking technique, both when he plays twelve string guitar or his 1934 National resonator. Mark Harrison is backed by Charles Benfield on double bass, Ryan Carr on mandolin, Will Greener on harmonica, Ed Hopwood on drums and Josienne Clarke on vocals.
If you want to enjoy some folk music that will give you tenderness, beauty and poetry, then this cd is especially devoted to you. VERY GOOD."
La Hora Del Blues, Spain, translated from Catalan
"Mark Harrison spins a tale a lot of us can relate to. The London=based singer-songwriter took many years out from his first love of music to pursue a 'real job'. But his muse came back to him, he started playing again a few years ago and this is his second self-penned album of bluesy-rootsy numbers.
Harrison's got a fine style on that Resonator guitar. That hiatus put him mon fine form when I comes to playing slide and it's clear he studies the masters of the craft. There's the more upbeat style of Blind Willie Johnson and Blind Willie McTell to his style than the guitar-splitting Death Letter Blues of Son House, but he's certainly got the licks to count. And he surrounds himself with some excellent musicians in their own rights. It's also very nicely recorded.
This is going to sound contrary, but it's all a bit too up-beat. Tracks like Crematorium Blues' should be real wrist-slitters. Everything about the album otherwise is truly excellent.
HiFi Plus magazine
Watching The Parade REVIEWS
"Mark Harrison has some fine friends playing with him on his toe–tapping, head–swaying debut album, Watching The Parade. If you fancy tapping your toes, swaying your head and tuning in to some great acoustic blues that aren't trying to be something they're not, then this album is for you. Mark has a sweet voice and his guitar playing is as fine as anyone who came out of the Delta in the 1920s.
There are so many blues players around singing like Otto Man from The Simpsons that it's such a relief to hear a fresh British blues man who's simply being himself, and that's what makes this such a lovely record, along with the sheer musical talent of Mark and his band. His songs pull you into a space that's hard to define, but wherever it is, it's a real and true place that Mark has spent plenty of time in. If you like cowboy hats and strats blues don't buy this album, but if you like honesty you will love it. The disc's outstanding tracks include 'Easy Does It', '5000 Days', and 'Primrose Hill Street Blues'."
Bob Meyer (Bob's Folk Show, Radio Wey), Eyeplug E–zine
"... gets nice sounds from his 1934 National Trojan Resophonic, writes simple but effective songs in a contemporary folky bluesy vein, and has gathered a talented group of musicians to back him on his debut. The music is all performed and recorded to perfection."
"Harrison's own description of the contents, 'It's got a foot in the past but it's all brand new', sums up the contents perfectly..."
Blues Matters magazine
"Enjoyable and impressive collection of 14 blues-based originals from UK slide guitarist who knows his way around a resonator. "
Red Lick catalogue review
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