Mark May Band – Blues Heaven
Connor Ray Music/Bad Fork Records
CD: 13 Songs, 1 Hour 17 Minutes
Styles: Horn Blues, Contemporary Electric Blues Rock, Ensemble Blues
In 2007, I had the privilege of speaking at a business convention in Atlanta with two of my colleagues. We were only in the city for one night, so one co-worker of mine suggested dinner at a chic club called the Vortex. On its menu was a burger with this description: “So good you’ll see God!” I gaped and said, “Based on a claim like that, I have to try it.” Try it, and believe it, I did. Such is the case with the Mark May Band’s new CD, entitled Blues Heaven. With such a lofty name come lofty expectations on the part of genre enthusiasts everywhere. Will you, too, see God – or at least hear Him – in this hour and seventeen minutes of boisterous blues rock? It depends: If you’re a fan of Dickey Betts, horn-based blues, guitar shredding, and high energy, then you definitely will. If, however, you like your tunes less polished and more down-and-dirty, this offering might have a little too much grease – like that burger I devoured, but never mind.
On thirteen original songs, every musician drives himself to the absolute max, whether it comes to vocals or instrumentation. Mark May, front man of Mr. Betts, proves equally sizzling on lead, rhythm, slide and baritone guitars as he performs lead vocals. With him are Dave Absalom on lead and rhythm guitars, and lead and background vocals on track twelve; Tim Keefe on bass guitar, and Gary Jorgenson on drums. The entire band is joined by the heavenly Soul Satyr Horns: Ted “Teddy Boom” Basinger on trombone; John “Johnny B” Bonham on trumpet; and Joe “Smokin’ Joe” Reasoner on saxophones. Special guest stars include Greg Martin on slide guitar; Hadden Sayers on lead guitar; Ed Durante on rhythm guitar; Steve Krase on harmonica; Eric Demmer on saxophone; Matt Mees on drums; and John Popovich on B3 organ and piano.
The following three songs are knock-down, flat-out, in-your-face, horn-based blues gems:
Track 02: “Money” – Ah, the “root of all evil”. Technically, the love of it is, but even if you only have a little, it exerts its pull on you. “It’ll make you turn your back on the best friend you’ve ever had, and if someone tries to take yours, you know you’ll be fighting mad…” The best parts of this song are its edge and the exquisite minor-chord harmony of the Soul Satyr Horns. Its atmosphere is one part grit, one part groove, and one part glorious guitar.
Track 10: “All I Ever Do” – On this CD’s most danceable number, Hadden Sayers plays lead guitar at such a high temperature it could turn steel white-hot. As for the narrator of this song? His relationship is ice-cold: “Now she’s packing her things, and she’s leaving her rings, and the whole day’s putting me in a real, real fine mood…Seems like I just can’t win at any damn thing I can do.” One thing’s for sure: No one, whether in a live crowd or at home, will stay seated here.
Track 13: “Almost Like a Suicide” – Should such a jaunty closing tune have such a depressing title? Say no to drugs, kids – and musicians. “You gotta step up,” Mark May and chorus warn an addicted comrade. “You’re on that long, dark ride, almost like a suicide.” The tone here is at once bouncy and eerie, like a ghost story being told in the middle of a carnival at midnight.
For those who die for horn-based blues rock, the Mark May Band’s latest is Blues Heaven!