Mark Harrison Band – The Road To Liberty
21 songs – 70 minutes
Any new release by English acoustic singer/songwriter/guitarist, Mark Harrison, is cause for celebration. With five well-received albums already under his belt (most recently The Panoramic View, which was positively reviewed in Blues Blast Magazine in November 2018), The Road To Liberty continues to showcase Harrison’s memorable song writing, in particular his erudite lyrics, ear for a catchy melody and captivating delivery.
The Road To Liberty is a double album, and Harrison wrote all 21 tracks on the album. Playing both National and 12-string guitars, Harrison’s finger-picking comes from the melodious Mississippi John Hurt “syncopated thumb and index finger” school and indeed his plaintive, aching voice has the occasional hint of Hurt’s quiet conversational vocal style. Lyrically, however, the artists are poles apart. Harrison has always enjoyed addressing unusual subjects in his lyrics, whether imaging the bitter musings of an overly romanticized re-discovered blues musician (“Skip’s Song”), the challenges of industrial and technological development (“Toolmaker’s Blues”), or a narrator’s perceived snapshots of other people’s lives (“Passing Through”). He is not averse to using modern idioms (perhaps most obviously in “Don’t Let The Crazy Out The Bag (Too Soon)”) while it is often difficult not to infer a number of levels of meaning in the lyrics, for example on “Doin’ Time”, which could be construed as both a simple ode to time spent in jail or an appreciation of the metaphorical chains that hold most of us down every single day. By contrast, “Last Bus Home” – Harrison usually includes at least one instrumental on each album – is a dreamy 12 string meditation on the closing of the day.
Harrison is offered subtle and sensitive support by long-time sideman, Charles Benfield, on double bass and Ben Welburn on drums and percussion. Benfield also produced, mixed and mastered the album (with engineering by Buzz Allen), which was recorded at Station Road Studios in Stroud, England. The songs were recorded live with minimal overdubs, and Benfield and Allen have captured a warm, natural sound that accurately reflects a live performance. The CD is also beautifully packaged, with top notch artwork by Andy Hall of We Are Frank, who also contributed the distinctive artwork to all of Harrison’s previous albums, lending a nice thematic consistency to Harrison’s oeuvre in a similar vein to photo-design company Hipgnosis’s work with the likes of Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin in the 1970s.
As with all Harrison’s work, The Road To Liberty is album of songs, not excuses for solos, which together celebrate the best of humanity whilst wryly noting how rarely any of us achieve such an exalted state. There is a thoughtfulness and maturity in his work that is all too rare in today’s music industry, but there is humor and compassion too. In this respect, there shades of Chris Smither in his songs.
The Road To Liberty is another essential purchase from a musician who is rapidly becoming a British national treasure.