Paul Mark & The Van Dorens - Blood & Treasure
11 songs; 46:35 minutes; Suggested
Style: Roots Rock; Rock and Roll; Blues-Rock; Soul
Ok, Blues fans, time to confess. Don’t you have some forbidden, secret pleasures? Well, don’t tell anybody, but it turns out that many Blues fans secretly like a group that is NOT a Blues band – Paul Mark and The Van Dorens. It started as an East Coast hipster thing with Mark being based in New Yawk City, but the buzz has steadily crept westward with increasing speed.
What Paul mark brings to the table is intelligent, witty, unpredictable song writing that goes way beyond my-baby-left-me-clichés (think Neil Young caliber) coupled with tone-sense and the ability to craft a song (think Bruce Springsteen – only better). Paul Mark is so smart that he realizes he “doesn’t know a damn thing. “...At this point I’m fabulously ignorant,” he says in an interview posted on his website. In his seventh CD on his own label since 1999, there is genius at work here. Trust me! You can read the included lyrics on pullout pages from the tri-fold deluxe packaging.
For example, everyone is familiar with the media finding someone guilty (even the innocent) as soon as he/she is arrested (or even just named as a “person-of-interest”). Perhaps the most striking case was the Centennial Park Olympics bombing in Atlanta in 1996. The poor security guard, Richard Jewell, a true hero, found the bomb, moved people to safety, and saved innumerable lives and minimized loss just minutes before it went off. Four days after the bombing, news organizations reported that Jewell was considered a potential suspect in the bombing. Though he was never arrested or named as more than a "person of interest," Jewell's home was searched and his background exhaustively investigated, all amid a media storm that had cameras following him to the grocery store.
Now, try writing a song about this phenomenon, and then set it to a provocative Blues-Rock groove. Mark reveals ageless wisdom in “Perp Walk.” “They say I’m guilty, but maybe I’m not... / We heard your story; we think you’re a liar...,” he sings in a voice less gruff, but similar to Watermelon Slim’s. “You might be a sinner or you might be a saint / Whether you done it or whether you ain’t / Media frenzy railroadin’ your ass / We’re ready to bargain / But you better move fast ....” Learn it; live it.
There are love songs in the CD, but again, far from typical. Love is honored in “Everything Is Nothing (after you);” Mark expresses how mundane everything is compared to his lover. “The Taj Mahal, that’s just a stack of bricks... The Mona Lisa, she’s just a schoolboy’s sketch... I ran with the Wall St. Bears / That’s just punks rolling dice....” This is the first track, a blast out of the box that opens with upbeat harmonic lead guitar over a kicking rhythm (James Strain – bass and Harry Peel – drums). Rick Steff takes a nice Hammond organ solo at mid-song.
The pain of lost love is soulfully expressed in “Don’t Get Me Started” with great background vocals by Susan Marshall and Jackie Johnson. More Soul, courtesy of the Memphis recording studio and Mark’s co-producer Jeff Powell, is found in “Raise the Roof” - full of construction metaphors: “How you gonna raise the roof / without stone love [foundation] down below....”
In “Lotta Things To Say” love is finally realized, but then it’s too-soon-sad-too-late-wise as his girl can out talk the protagonist. I’m betting the opening lines are autobiographical, “When I was a school boy I was a talking fool / The teacher’d snap her ruler / And keep me after school / She’d say you gotta lotta things to say / You speak your mind / But your mind’s always running away.”
The humorous side of loving devotion, where timing is everything, is revealed in “Wrong Pair of Shoes.” There is nothing the narrator won’t do for his lover, but! It will have to be “tomorrow, not now.” “I’d Waltz through a den of lions...I’d face down the world’s wildest army...I most certainly would, but today is no good / See I’m wearing the wrong pair of shoes.”
More great humor is found in “I’m Still High” about a monumental hangover. “Last night I laid down my head / Demons dancing round the bed / Thought by morning they would surely be gone / But in the dawn’s early light, much to my surprise / The party was still raging on.”
In a just-shut up-and-play moment, Paul Mark and the band throw down a killer instrumental to close the set. “Ruff House” showcases burning guitar over a boiling rhythm that doesn’t let up until the final note.
You know you’re going to be guilty of something. You might as well be guilty of digging this great band because this is not just another whiskey-rocket-roller!
PS You don’t really have to keep it a secret.
Reviewer James "Skyy Dobro" Walker is a noted Blues writer, DJ, Master of Ceremonies, and Blues Blast contributor. His weekly radio show "Friends of the Blues" can be heard Thursdays from 7 - 8 pm and Saturdays 8 pm - Midnight on WKCC 91.1 FM and www.wkccradio.org in Kankakee, IL
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