Let me briefly describe the process of reviewing a cd for the uninitiated. I excitedly pop in the disc like I've been waiting for it to be released forever. In a scene reminiscent of a kid in a candy store, I want everything about this disc to encompass me.
As to this disc, I have a bit of inside knowledge. It belongs to Mark Browning, an indie folk musician from Vancouver, and it is a sampler of a record to be released sometime in the new year. It comes from a band called Ox, and this tentative album is to be called Dust Bowl Revival, the third from Browning and his band. To unlock the process and inspiration of this record, though, I will need to speak to Browning himself.
"Hey, so you got my e-mail, then?" he asks. We had been playing phone tag to set this thing up. I am told that the tour he is on now is in support of the coming album, and that he is playing it as a soloist. The singer songwriter label is one he would rather not use, though it best describes him.
"I kind of brought that one on myself," he notes, " but what else do you call a guy in a club with a guitar?" However, to simply write him off like this is a mistake. This album is a collaborative effort, based on a year in the life of a Greyhound musician. Mark goes for long walks, and the pieces seem to come together on their own. The first record from Ox was a week of tracking in a friend's basement studio, and the sophomore release took nine months to complete, so he certainly has his share of studio experience. I ask if there is any necessity to complete a song or finish a record.
"I kind of believe that things fall in to place when they have to," Browning explains. "Stripping a song down to three-an-a-half minutes is the toughest part." The result of all this walking, writing, stripping and touring is a seasoned vet, ready to put on an intimate show. What the faithful can expect is a one-man show that captures the intensity and spontaneity of a full band recording. He had to boil down the songs to their musical minimum, but assures us the mood of the record will still shine through.
The mood is mellow and gives us reflective music to relax to. Chord-based folk commonly follows a distinctive pattern, and this record has no deviance from the template. This is, and has always been lyric driven. These lyrics, and their placement within the emotion are what make this album great. Browning is not wrapped up in metaphor and rhetoric, but his stories manage to avoid cheesy ballad status. If you like early Neil Young, Dylan, or rem, you are sure to love this record.
Catch Mark Browning live at Karma on Sept. 19.