Winners of the last year's Toronto Blues Society Annual Talent Search, Big Mark and the Blues Express waste no time in declaring themselves; the first words heard on the autobiographical opener are "They call me Big Mark/'Cause I weigh 255 pounds." Voiced with a powerhouse shout that hearkens back to the glory days of cats like Big Joe Turner and Jimmy Rushing and supported by a swinging groove and blasting horns, you know right off that Mark Legault isn't exactly the shy retiring type.
Swing is indeed the thing on this tasty (pun intended - we'll get to that later) platter. Before heading into the studio (recording time courtesy of yet another of the band's awards) to cut "Steak And Potatoes," Mark and the boys - Mike Zablotsky on guitar, drummer Rob Marcheterre, Costa Zafiropoulos on bass - enlisted the horns of Frank Thiffault (sax) and Dave Marchand (trumpet) to beef things up. Guest Pat Loiselle's harmonica work adds additional spice to three cuts.
While energy is readily apparent from the start, subsequent listens reveal a tasteful and intelligent approach to covers including Willie's "Built For Comfort" (no surprise, that!), Muddy's "Mule Kicking In Your Stall," B.B.'s "She's Dynamite", as well as "Caldonia," "Oh Pretty Woman," "I Ain't Got You " (usually associated with Billy Boy Arnold), Joe Hill Louis' "Tiger Man," and Eddie Vinson's "Alimony Blues." Mark adds four of his own to round the menu out to an even dozen selections.
While there are no great surprises here, everyone acquits themselves admirably in what sounds like a one-take collection. If performances lean toward the workmanlike, it's countered by a buoyant and bouncy sense of fun throughout. There's grit and grease aplenty, anchored by Mark's big voice and mostly clean guitar lines, augmented with occasional and judiciously applied wah-wah and a bit of whammy. (Reviewer's note - it's damn hard to write "wah-wah" without feeling kinda silly!). The late addition of the horns is evident in the arrangements; they're primarily relegated to the background where they add a welcome punch, though Mr. Thiffault's solo on the closer, Mark's own "You Treat Me Wrong," is a highlight, making me wish he'd been given a bit more to do.
Like it's namesake, "Steak And Potatoes" is unpretentious fare. Throw it on at a party and you'll find your friends dancing for the simple reason that it's impossible not to.
About that "tasty" thing - if the disc's title doesn't tell you where Mark's interests lay, the liner notes include a recipe for steak sauce, and in one of the more - ahem - unique packaging enclosures, actually include (yes, include!) the requisite de arbol pepper.
To the best of my knowledge, however, there are no plans to market the disc in grocery stores.
Website - www.bigmarkblues.com
This review is copyright © 2001 by John Taylor, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.