FAME Review: Mark T. Small - Smokin' Blues
Mark T. Small - Smokin' Blues

Smokin' Blues

Mark T. Small

Available from CD Baby.

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker

Ahhhhhhhhhh…acoustic blues again! It's a modus constantly in danger of disappearing in favor of overdriven, screaming, non-stop wailing that, much as I love that sort of thing to death, tends to forsake what made the genre happen at all: black musicians who at first could only afford cheap guitars and had to improvise new ways of playing beside a myriad of vocal techniques: fierce shouting, gravelly rumbling, mellifluous coaxing, threnodic ostinato, and so on. Marxistically, blues, 'y'all, arose from a lumpenproletariat struggle to create and innovate through strictures emplaced by economic privation. What resulted, along with rock and roll and jazz, changed the world. Since those inceptions, the trade-offs between black and white cultures have been interesting, to say the least.

Way back when, no less a figure than Leslie West, in his debut Mountain, the now obscure LP precursing the group of the same name, wed the electric with the acoustic (esp. in Long Red), and made more than a few wake up and go "Whoa!". Well, that was short-lived as West hit a zenith in Felix Pappalardi's group, then stabbed him in the back, decamping to sortie with Jack Bruce, producing a trio of meaty LPs before plummeting into unrelenting mediocrity for decade upon decade. In between then and now, various labels have issued acoustic blues gigs working to quench the fan thirst for same, but another disc is always needed and wanted. That's where Mark T. Small and Smokin' Blues step forward.

Small works the Delta / Chicago styles, here going it completely solo, just him and a guitar. He much prefers live work, though, and has opened for Coco Montoya, Savoy Brown, Johnny Winter, Albert Lee, and many others, but lately discovered a learning experience in resorting to studio work of this ilk. With an audience, the guitarslinger judges his effect by subtle and overt audience cues, but in studio he has to reach down to the mirror of his own soul, and burners like Hooker's My Daddy was a Jockey demonstrate just how well that's accomplished. Then it's follower, Goin' Down Slow, ratchets everything down, concentrating on picking within tempo contrasts. My favorite of the bunch? Small's take on Charlie Patton's Stone Pony Blues 'cause it's raw, energetic, and stocked with vivacity. It's here and elsewhere that one fully understands why the estimable Johnny Winter would want this cat opening for him. Neither plays the music, they attack it.

Track List:

  • Step It Up & Go (Rudolph Moore)
  • Sell My Monkey (Hudson Whittaker)
  • My Daddy Was a Jockey (John Lee Hooker)
  • Goin' Down Slow (St. Louis Jimmy Oden)
  • Buck Rag (Rev. Gary Davis)
  • Walkin' the Dog (Rufus Thomas)
  • Moanin' At Midnight (Chester Burnett)
  • Lamp Trimmed & Burning (Rev. Gary Davis)
  • Early in the Morning (Elmore James)
  • Railroad Blues (Sam McGee)
  • Stone Pony Blues (Charlie Patton)
  • America / Take Me Out to the Ball Game / Yankee Doodle (all: public domain)

Edited by: David N. Pyles

Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
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