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Mark Harrison Mark Harrison
Album: Turpentine
Label: Self Released
Tracks: 13
Website: http://www.markharrisonrootsmusic.com

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.

David Kidman