12 songs – 45 minutes
Mark Harrison is a London-based acoustic guitar player/singer/songwriter and The World Outside is his third album. It is also a little gem of a release, combining early acoustic blues and folk influences with a very modern lyrical perspective and a contagious energy and good humour to create something new and highly enjoyable.
Harrison wrote all 12 songs himself and, like the music itself, his intelligent lyrics draw inspiration from a wide variety of sources, primarily from the recent American past, but often finding a connection with the modern world. “Big Mary’s House” is an ode to a Mississippi Delta juke joint from the 1920s, while “Hard Times Now” reflects on the fact that the great Honeyboy Edwards survived the brutality of a segregated Mississippi as a young man, only to be horrified by the casual street violence of the Chicago he lived in as an old man.
“Your Second Line” refers to the group of people at a full New Orleans funeral who march and play and parade a coffin. In a plea for people to consider their actions and their impact on the lives of others, he asks “When it comes to your time, who’s gonna be in your second line?”
In “In The Neighbourhood”, Harrison cleverly connects the charlatan medicine shows that travelled the southern States in the early twentieth century with the bankers and frauds who have blighted so many lives in the US and the UK in particular over recent years. He sings: “The whole place is rotten, but nobody lifts a hand. You could buy their souls if they had them, for a lousy couple of grand. And people keep on talking about how much things have changed. Well, the faces might be different but the picture’s still the same.”
“Where Ignorance Is Bliss” combines both sharp humour and wry observation as he notes: “Everything I know about women could be written on a rat’s ass. Everything I thought was gonna happen, it never did come to pass. You can get yourself in a whole lot of trouble just from one little kiss. But everything is all right, where ignorance is bliss.” Sometimes it really is folly to be wise.
Harrison plays a variety of acoustic guitars on the album, and he receives excellent support from his regular band featuring Charles Benfield (on bass, harmonium, nylon-string guitar and harmony vocals), Will Greener (harmonica and harmony vocals), Josienne Clarke (lead and harmony vocals, tenor sax, flute and piano), Ben Walker (mandolin and lead electric guitar), Ed Hopwood (drums, percussion and harmony vocals), Guy Bennett (Hammond C3 organ and harmony vocals) and Sonny (bass vocals).
The CD is beautifully produced, from the high quality recording (by Benfield) to the superb packaging with a full lyric booklet.
On his website, Mark Harrison writes: “The music is rooted in the blues, but it’s not stuck in the past. I’m tapping into the timeless quality of the early blues to produce music totally relevant to the present day.” That’s a pretty fair summary.
The World Outside is a very enjoyable album of modern acoustic folk-blues. If you like acoustic masters such as Eric Bibb, you will love Mark Harrison.