Mark Cook is one talented young man. On his last outing, "An Evening With The Blues," he handled just about every chore, from writing to multi-instrumental duties to production and engineering. A fine debut, that project was marred only by unconvincing vocals.
Mark continues to wear many hats with "The Promise Highway"; not only did he write all the songs (with help on just one), he engineered, produced, mixed and arranged the project. Restricting himself to guitar, he's now working with a full band, and has solved his vocal dilemma quite nicely by recruiting two fine singers in the persons of Roman Broadus and DaRon Washington.
Mark's blues lean to the rock side (lots of fiery fretwork in evidence), spiced with equal measures of funk, a bit of jazz, even some pop. Whereas such a blend can often result in a lack of focus, Mark holds everything together nicely, sequencing things intelligently to deliver a satisfyingly integrated package, the variety a plus rather than a distraction.
The title track, a funky declaration of defiance, is fuelled by B3 and harmonica, Mr. Broadus' vocals just this side of overwrought; "Another Year Goes Passing By" (not, as one might suspect, an answer to Albert King's similarly-titled classic) is a bouncy shuffle. Mark shows his blues chops on "Down With The Blues," with Ms. Washington's soulful pleading deriving much of its passion from the church. Mark's work here shows both maturity and restraint. Again the B3, courtesy of Bobby Mobley, provides a solid and soulful cushion of support.
"Mood Swing" is a jazzy little jump number; there's a delta groove to "You Can Take Away My Woman (But Don't Take Away My Wine)," and slippery funk on "This Is My Life." Elsewhere there are furious shuffles ("Bummin's My Profession" and "Don't You Ever Leave"), more funk (the aptly-titled "Funk The Blues"), breezy, jazz-inflected pop (think George Benson) on ""When The Blues Takes Hold Of Me," even a bit of swamp with "The Bitter Truth," a duet with Ms. Washington and Roman spurring each other on to frenzied heights - toss in a fine sax solo by Randy Hunter and this one may well be the disc's highlight. Mark wraps things up with a solo "Blues For A Rainy Day," a moody instrumental that effectively conjures up a dreamy, almost otherworldly atmosphere. Short and sweet, it's very pretty, very relaxing, yet Mark manages to make it swing just a bit. Very nice indeed.
Still young by the standards of the blues game, Mark is enormously talented and shows great promise. He'd be well advised, however, to take some lessons on packaging; the cover shot is cheesy in the extreme. Given the quality of the contents, I sincerely hope it doesn't put potential buyers off. This one's definitely worth a listen.
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This review is copyright © 2002 by John Taylor, and Blues On Stage at: www.mnblues.com, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission.
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