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Mark T. Small - Blacks, Whites & The Blues

Lead Foot Music

14 Tracks, 44:30

Solo acoustic blues is making a comeback recently. It's never really gone away and probably never will as long as hard times and guitars cross paths. Maybe this intimate style of blues is surging in popularity now due to over-blown excesses of pop music, pop culture, government, and banking institutions. History is repeating itself as the United States and other countries feel the oppression of economic distress just as it did in the depression when musicians carried guitars on their backs from town to town, entertaining people, empathizing through their lyrics, and generating smiles with good time boogies and occasionally bawdy lyrics. There is no shortage of artists keeping this tradition alive and Mark T. Small has thrown his hat into the ring.

Armed with a 1947 Martin, a 1958 Martin D-18, a trusty Fender Telecaster and a handful of other rustic guitars, Small takes a look back at the by-gone era of roaming musicians, dusty roads, sharecropping, and soul-crushing debt to the company store. Small's vocals aren't exactly steeped in cigarettes and whiskey, but his voice is filled with character. He inhabits the world of each song, singing it like he's lived it and though many of the songs are half a century old or more, he has probably seen similar situations in his years on the road. His guitar playing is impeccable and like musical alchemists of blues' early days, me mixes melodies and lyrics from various sources, creating something fresh and yet familiar. Small does this to great effect on the album opener, mixing the signature lick from "Smokestack Lightning" into Muddy Waters' "Trouble No More." If only Muddy and the Wolf had done this together, who knows what music may have followed.

Some of the song choices on Blacks, Whites & The Blues look like re-treads at first glance, but Small makes even the most over-done songs, like “Sweet Home Chicago” and “Catfish Blues,” sound relevant and neoteric. Small masterfully re-imagines "The Thrill Is Gone," making it sound like it's always been played by folkies and acoustic blues troubadours. Gone are the horns and overblown production and in place are minor chords and lonesome guitar lines guaranteed to move paupers and kings alike. Mark T. Small closes the album with a delicate, finger picked rendition of Scott Joplin’s “Solace.” As on many songs here, his guitar playing is precise and nuanced as he weaves a tapestry of notes around the melody, cradling the song with care and respect. He reveres the music but not to a point of simply duplicating it. He makes it his own in subtle ways that will keep listeners entertained over and over again; that is the point isn’t it?

Like the traveling bluesmen of yesteryear who, long before cassettes, CDs, iPods or streaming music, brought popular songs, regional hits, show tunes, and the latest Tin Pan Alley creations to the rural masses, Mark T. Small blends the best elements to create enjoyable music for not only blues fans but music fans in general.

Reviewer Jim Kanavy is the greatest guitar player in his house. He has been reviewing albums in his head for 30 years and in print since 2008, and is deeply committed to keeping the blues alive and thriving. For more information visit

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