Mark Riley – One Word | Album Review

Mark Riley – One Word

PTM Records

CD: 8 Songs, 38 Minutes

Styles: “Traditional Contemporary” Blues

One Word, by Seattle-based Mark Riley, has earned itself a rather unique “Style” classification. All of the eight selections on this album are contemporary, yet their sound is so crisply classic that they might as well have been written in the ‘50s and ‘60s. The instrumentation is stellar, Dire-Straits-caliber on certain numbers, and Riley’s vocals channel Randy Newman. He presents seven original selections and one cover, a gut-wrenching rendition of “Lay Me Down Slowly Mumma” by Dean Haitani. The sincerity on every song is palpable. Riley’s playing the blues for real. Close your eyes and listen closely: you’ll hear the echoes of the masters, combined with the blues stars of the future. Even though it’s only thirty-eight minutes long, it’s fantastically filling.

Joining Mark (all guitars, banjo, bass and vocals) are Martin Vadalabene on drums, Ron Hendee on trumpet and flugelhorn for “Dream” and “Idyll,” Peter Evasick on violin for “Sonny’s Roadhouse,” and Patrick McDanel on double bass for “Idyll.”

From start to finish, this CD is a stunner. The title track begins with lovely acoustic slide guitar and perky pre-war style: “I’m gonna open up my heart, see what I can find. It might just be that one kind word could come and ease my mind. ‘Cause it’s gonna happen, gonna happen for everyone. I just hope I get to see it before my time is done.” “Serious Fun” comes next, combining the new with the old in funky fashion. It’s a take on the old ballad “Froggy Went A-Courtin.” “Now, Froggy loves Missy Mouse. He’s always hangin’ around her door. When Froggy comes a-courtin’, Miss Mousy hollers ‘more!’” The guitars growl and spit in the middle, leading into a solo that will set the wedding hall for these two lovebirds on fire. “Release” is a mellow breakup song that brings Riley’s raspy vocals to the forefront, backed by melody and melancholy. To perk up your mood, savor the “Idyll” of a smooth jazz number featuring Ron Hendee’s velvet-smooth horns. “Dream” follows the single cover on the album, an original tune in an alternative-rock vein. Now for the piece de resistance: “Sonny’s Roadhouse,” an atmospheric story without words. The instruments tell us all we need to know: the place is edgy yet homey, where everybody knows your name – and perhaps has punched you in the face. “Attitude,” featuring a funky wah-wah pedal, finishes the proceedings with a witty twist. “Grass doesn’t have to try to grow. Water doesn’t want to flow. It’s really not that hard, you know, but why do we make it seem so?” It’s always great when a blues album ends on an uplifting note.

If I were to encapsulate this album in One Word, it would be “sensational!”

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