CD: 12 Songs; 47:19 Minutes
Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues, Harmonica Blues
“You have four notes in your whole range. You can’t act, and you can’t dance,” sings a false Freddie Mercury to a false Frank Sinatra in one of the Epic Rap Battles of History on YouTube (yes, it’s a real thing). Some have accused “Ol’ Blue Eyes” of talking his way through many a tune, although in a voice that makes hearts melt and lovers swoon. This is not the case with Phoenix, AZ’s “Walkin’ Cane” Mark Brehm. He simply talks. Moreover, his voice sounds dazed, as if he’s just awakened from a long, deep sleep. It’s a crying shame, because his talent on harmonica is quite apparent. Having learned his first licks from Snooky Pryor, one would expect nothing less. It’s also clear Mark loves the blues, and isn’t tempted to dilute it with rock, soul or jazz. His latest album, Tryin’ to Make You Understand, contains twelve tracks with countless notes on harp and guitar, but very few truly musical vocal sounds. Such is hard to reconcile.
According to his webpage, “Walkin’ Cane Mark was born under a cactus in the heart of the Arizona desert. Surrounded by five generations of bluegrass based musicians, it’s ironic that instead of playing country-based music like his relatives, he quickly followed a passion for gritty blues, R&B and classic soul music early on…A fateful encounter with (Howlin’ Wolf drummer) Chico Chism literally by the back door of a Stevie Ray Vaughn concert would change Mark’s life forever…The great Willie Dixon dubbed Mark ‘Walkin’ Cane Mark’ in 1988 when he was recovering from an injury. ‘He saw me walking around with a cane and knew my name was Mark, and out of his mouth came Walkin’ Cane Mark and it stuck.’ It was also Mr. Dixon who first recognized Mark’s passion for the blues. ‘I asked him if he had a song I could do, and he gave me “The Gravedigger”, saying, ‘Mark, this song is for you — you record it,’ (shortly before his passing Willie heard Mark’s version of “Back Door Man” and said it was one of the best versions he had EVER HEARD). ‘My all too short relationship with Big Willie Dixon was one of the fondest of my lifetime.’
Along with Walkin’ Cane Mark on lead singing and harmonica are Kirk Hawley on guitar and mandolin, Brenden McBride and Gordon Lynde Jr. on bass, and John Rumbaugh on drums.
Out of four covers and eight originals, the following is the keenest example of traditional blues:
Track 03: “Arizona Woman” – This cheeky mid-tempo number sounds more like Chicago blues than Arizona blues, but it’s a good song nonetheless. “Arizona woman,” asks Mark, “how you like your rolling done? You like it early in the morning or in the midday sun.” Wouldn’t that be hot, in more ways than one? Check out the harmonica solo in the middle, because it certainly is.
Yours truly is Tryin’ to Make You Understand that Walkin’ Cane Mark may be Mozart on harmonica, but Sinatra on lead vocals, he is not.