Flyinshoes Review

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On his myspace site, Mark Bates seems such a sweet, gently spoken young man, it's hard to believe that this is the same person who has produced an album that so melodramatically deals with all the darker sides of life, as chronicled by generation after generation of folk song writers. His liner notes suggest a troubled personal past - no details - for which this explosion of music has been a catharsis; indeed there is the suggestion that these dark tales of murder, pain and depression are directly inspired by his own life. Well if so, he seems to have seen way too much of that sort of thing for one lifetime. Mind you, sometimes it's the cheeriest of people who focus on these things in their imaginative lives.


Teaching himself guitar and piano to give himself the tools with which to express himself he has paid close enough attention to his masters - Townes van Zandt, Tom Waits, Neil Young, to name three - to show he has learnt how to put a song together, to give it a flow and a hook that will lodge in the brain. Clearly, too, there is a degree of experimentation as different forms and arrangements are tried out. Clean Through, which opens the album and tells of devotion in the face of emotional pain, sounds like white soul, Steve Dawson style. Mark has a good voice for it, the stretch for the high notes sounding like emotional intensity. Forbidden Love, also quite a soulful track, has a modern alt-country feel to it but the guitar break for the middle eight could have been lifted from Guns'nRoses or some such band and sounds slightly bizarre. Daisy is a blues amble with a country lyric: "I got the blues/ If your wife was a whore/ Well wouldn't you?", whilst Death Sucks has a vaudevillian air with the banjo, trumpet and clarinet fronting the arrangement. That arrangement in itself suggests he's laughing at his own morbid obsessions, but make of it what you will. His one cover here is Townes Van Zandts's Flyin Shoes ("won't be long/till I'm trying on/my flyin shoes"). It's not a bad cover at all, but all this gloom makes me want to put an arm round his shoulders and encourage him to find the bright side.


The absolute stand-out track is A Drunkard's Holiday; the drunkard in question has his life fall apart around him and this song is his declaration of intention to make a dramatic public demonstration of his anguish. I'd be surprised if you don't wince the first time you hear this, as I did, at the unflinching bitterness of it all. Often , in song, you're hearing the voice of an observer but this is the voice of a man seeking out how far down he can go, and it's remarkable stuff for a young fellow to write. I suppose when you're young you're more able to see the world in all or nothing terms; as you get older, no matter what life has dealt you, you're more likely to see the world in a steadier, day after day, sort of a way.


There's loads of good, interesting stuff going on, here on Down The Narrow. I like Mark Bates' soulful singing, his use of piano based songs and his intensely personal and honest approach to writing; he's serious about his art, which bodes really well for the future; I'd say that Down The Narrow is too disparate for me to love it in it's entirety but I reckon he's around for the long haul and I'm already looking forward to what comes next.

John Davy


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November 2017

1
JW Roy & The Royal Family
80 pts.
A Room Full Of Strangers
Royal Family Records
EM,BH,RST,LK
2
Chris Hillman
79 pts.
Bidin' My Time
Rounder
BP,FS,HD
3
Turnpike Troubadours
46 pts.
Long Away From Your Heart
Bossier City Records
HM,TK
4
Jolie Holland & Samantha Parton
36 pts.
Wildflower Blues
Cinquefoil Records
TJ
5
Eilen Jewell
34 pts.
Down Hearted Blues
Signature Sounds
 
6
Lucinda Williams
31 pts.
This Sweet Old World
Highway 20/Thirty Tigers
BR,MW
7
JD McPherson
29 pts.
Undivided Heart & Soul
New West
JS
8
Mark Martyre
26 pts.
Rivers
Independent
FC
 
Tom Russell
26 pts.
Folk Hotel
Frontera Records-Proper Records
SP
10
Anna Tivel
25 pts.
Small Believer
Fluff And Gravy Records
MG
 
Margo Price
25 pts.
All American Made
Third Man Records
JB
12
Fred Wickham
22 pts.
Mariosa Delta
Thirty Days Records
RK
 
Joe Henry
22 pts.
Thrum
Ear Music
HVB,PJ
 
Whitney Rose
22 pts.
Rule 62
Six Shooter/Thirty Tigers
 
15
Dick LeMasters
18 pts.
Incompatible Things
Longneck Road Music
HDB,JJ
 
Jim White
18 pts.
Waffles, Triangles & Jesus
Loose Music
LM,SZ
 
Peter Gallway
18 pts.
Feels Like Religion
Gallway Bay Music
CVL,DHO
18
Thomm Jutz
17 pts.
Crazy If You Let It
Mountain Fever Records
 
19
Kris Delmhorst
16 pts.
The Wild
Blue Blade Records
 
20
Daniel Crabtree
15 pts.
In The Shadow Of His Wings
Independent
 
 
Jeremy Pinnell
15 pts.
Ties Of Blood And Affection
Sofaburn Records
 
 
Julien Baker
15 pts.
Turn Out The Lights
Matador
EZ
23
Amber Cross
14 pts.
Savage on the Downhill
Independent
 
 
Chris Blevins
14 pts.
Better than Alone
Horton Records
 
 
David Rawlings
14 pts.
Poor David's Almanack
Acony Records
 
 
Grainne Duffy
14 pts.
Where I Belong
Independent
GC,RW
 
Jeff Crosby
14 pts.
Postcards From Magdalena
At The Helm Records

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