Mark Easton – Nothing’s Sacred
10 Tracks – 50 minutes
Very little information is available about Mark Easton on either his web site or with notes he provided with his album release. What I discern from the provided information is that Mark is from Australia. He has a long history in music with steps in punk rock, the glam scene, and more recently settling into blues. His early career found him on the stage with bands such as Cult, Cheap Trick, AC/DC, and Skid Row among others. Certainly not bands that we would think would have any connections to the blues.
He traveled throughout Asia in 2018 and 2019 and came back with new concepts for his music utilizing some exotic instruments he discovered on his trip. Mark is listed as playing, guitar, bass, drums, darbuka, morin khuur, dombra, jaw harp and vocals, including throat singing. If you are like me some of those instruments are unknown. So, let’s define them so we understand what we hear. A darbuka is a goblet-shaped drum, also known as a doumbeck or tabla and used extensively in Middle Easten music, particularly in belly dancing. The morin khuur is a traditional Mongolian bowed string instrument also known as a horse-headed fiddle. It has only two strings attached across a bridge generally tuned to B-flat and F. The dombra, sometimes also knows as a tambura, is another two-stringed instrument commonly used in central Asian cultures and most commonly used in Kazakhstan. The strings are strung down a long skinny neck and a pear-shaped body, flat on the front and rounded at the back. Lastly throat singing is a Mongolian form of vocals forming sounds in the mouth, jaw and throat at the same time.
Kim Brown is added on bass and Tony Cardinal on drums with special guest Marji Curran providing vocals on one song. The album was released in November and went to #4 on the Australian Blues and Root charts in December. The songs are all covers of classic blues artist’s songs.
The album opens with Floyd Jones “On the Road Again” from 1928, which was also performed by Tommy Johnson and later by Canned Heat in a more current and well-known version. It opens with horses neighing and features some of the instruments mentioned above, apparently the morin Khuur and utilizing throat singing for the chorus. Howlin’ Wolf’s 1956 song “Smokestack Lightning” is next with the middle Eastern instruments used in the lead with Mark utilizing a deep voiced growl to emulate the Wolf.
Two Willie Dixon songs follow. 1965’s “Taildragger” opens with the sound of a howling wolf, which I assume is a tribute to the Wolf, who also recorded the song. 1962’s “You Need Love”, originally recorded by Earl Hooker in 1962, continues the use of the non-traditional instruments mixed to a traditional vocal with Marji Curran adding the backing vocal. Joe Williams 1935 song “Baby, Please Don’t Go” continues the path of the earlier songs with Mark’s growling vocals accompanied by the unique sound of the instruments.
Two More Willie Dixon songs are up next. 1954’s “Hoochie Coochie Man” was again first recorded by Howlin’ Wolf as was 1960’s “Wang Dang Doodle”. Mark mixes some Eastern sounding vocals into the more conventional blues vocals. John Lee Hooker’s 1948 “Crawling Kingsnake” continues Mar’s approach to the songs. “Spoonful” written by Willie Dixon and again first recorded by Howlin’ Wolf in 1960 jumps as powerfully as the original version. “This Train”, also known as “This Train Is Bound for Glory” is a traditional gospel song first recorded in 1922 and later was a hit for Sister Rosetta Tharpe in 1930.
Mark’s gruff vocals certainly fits the classic feel of the songs he is interpreting. But as stated with the album’s title, nothing’s sacred about his approach to the music. There are times that the instrumentation reminds me of Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown’s use of the fiddle in his approach to the blues. If you are expecting the songs to follow along in a traditional path, then this album will probably not meet your expectations. The unique approach to the music will demand your acceptance of a sound way outside of anything released from Chicago. It is interesting and it is the blues, but it is not the blues as we commonly recognize them.