Today's technology allows just about anyone to make a credible-sounding recording without breaking the bank. As a result, there are a lot of indie CD's around that are little more than vanity projects.
It isn't vanity, however, that shines throughout Mark Cook's debut, "An Evening With The Blues." It's talent, pure and simple.
Not only did the multi- (maybe that should be mega-) talented Mr. Cook write all the songs, he plays guitar, bass, and keyboards, too. Oh, and he also produced, engineered, and mixed the whole thing as well.
Didn't I say he's talented?
Mark kicks things off in a big way with a brassy shout on the swinging "All Your Lovin," with a four-piece horn section pushing things along. "Nasty Old Feeling" is a minor-key slow burner, with Mark's ringing leads contrasting with Don Zlaty's moody organ; Mr. Zlaty, who helps with the horn arrangements throughout, also contributes a short but sweet tenor solo on this one. Things revert to a swinging groove with the jazzy "Bad Reputation," and venture even further into jazz territory with "Let It Go," the disc's lone instrumental. Here Mark displays a deft touch with some fleet fretwork.
The next two, unfortunately, are both missteps; "We'll Search For Tomorrow" starts out with a funky groove, but somehow the funk just isn't deep enough to sustain interest, and the synthesized keyboard blurts get old real fast. "Faded Memory," could be a moody late-nite masterpiece - stellar organ work from Mr. Zlaty is a highlight - but John Henderson's vocals are too tentative to be convincing. I much prefer the work of Tom McFarland, who handles most of the other cuts.
Mark gets proceedings back on track with "It's Too Late," featuring his own acoustic guitar, some nice National Steel work from Dave Kyle, and Steve Rusin's subtle, understated harmonica.
Both "I'm Walkin" and "No Concern" are fairly straightforward 12-bar tunes, nicely played. I can't decide which I like best about "Don't Come Knockin'" - Mark's very funky bass work or his stinging guitar. The very pretty "It's Your Sweet Love" is dedicated Mark's wife, Wendy. There's a touch of southern soul to this one, with Mr. McFarland's impassioned vocals a highlight. The obvious sincerity allows me, for once, to forgive the synthesized strings.
Mark probably should've ended things with "Sweet Love," 'cause the disc's closer, "Don't Let Me Hold You Back," marking the return of Mr. Henderson, is another exercise in funk-lite that doesn't quite work.
This is a largely satisfying outing; Mark's guitar work throughout is first-rate, he shows a sure hand at arranging a larger ensemble, and the sound, while a little on the bright side, is nonetheless clear with a well-balanced mix.
As auspicious as "Evening With The Blues" is, however, it's my guess there's more and better to come from Mark Cook. I'll be watching for it.
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.