Paul Mark's back and it's been much too long—not sure just how long, actually, having been in a drunken stupor since George W. Bush, arguably the stupidest man on planet Earth, ascended to the presidency, but I'm convinced it was more than just yesterday. Yep, it's been a while, and I'm going to demand an explanation in writing as to why…though it just occurred to me: What the hell's a 'Van Doren'??? Probably an important question, and I somehow get the hint it's related to the intellecto-literati family of the same surname, but I'm not sure I want to find out. Maybe it was a brand of hooch from his dad's era, possibly even a mullet or a merkin. Smartest Man in the Room already has quarts of piss and vinegar, low lifing, and mud wallows, not to mention such questionable activities as missile launches, and along with occasional rays of deliverance, there's venom and ichor to boot……so I'm a-skairt!
Mark's a Dickensian conglomerate of honked-off preacher, university professor turned spooky drunkard, and apocalyptic Socratic singing in a glotally Waitsian thundertone by way of David Johanssen, raw throat disgorging damnation, hellfire, Bukoskovian parables of the underside, grit-toothed regret, and dark redemption. Infectious as a virus, too. Even the instrumental numbers have that taste of, in the case of Barrio Stroll, the Ventures gone wrong, as if someone let 'em at the moonshine, they figgered out what was what, and now the bastards have a crooked grin in their formerly Pepsodent smiles. Well, this is because Mark's an allsorts, a polymath, a cat who licked up too much cream and found that satiety just brings on a whole new set of troubles. Which is fine 'cause that's what his music's all about.
This is why Smartest Man in the Room is modally a blues CD, as full of lowering clouds, cut glass, tired stumblebums, glowering cynics, and steaming rue as any Muddy Waters or Howling Wolf essay. And the guy's guitar at times gets even more back alley nasty and wobbly than before, spiky and ragged, notes spat out rather than played. In more than one song, Mark's not caressing the fretboard, he's fighting with it, and vice versa. The two reconcile, though, swinging nicely in Wrist Rocket amd elsewhere, almost behaving. Ya'd hardly notice they're pulling a George 'n Martha, Edward Albee quaffing at a brown bag in the corner. Forget any hope of hoity-toits in Kennebunkport, though, 'cause this ain't no Gatsby stroll through verdant meadows of corruption but rather Ingsoc on a bender, O'Brien laying face down, moaning, blood on his face, with Winston Smith looking like he wants another go at him. That is to say: expect no mercy this time out on the rough side, but also dust off them dancin' shoes, 'cause you get some breaks in between an' ya might as well hit the speakeasy and shake it 'til you fall down.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2012, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
Website design by David N. Pyles