Though it doesn’t do men like Mark Allan Atwood justice to compare them to others, I’ll try futilely to convey my impression of his album anyway. He’s somehow nestled between Mike Ness, Van Morrison, James Taylor and Guy Clark- plain spoken and accessible and clearly wise and seasoned. This album fits easily with the late 60’s early seventies, when session players were sages not mercenaries, and songwriters knew how to convey a message that was complex with subtlety and ease. Atwood plainly states as much when he references Zeppelin in the first track of the album.
It would be simple to say that the production on “Burned at the Crossroads” is understated, so I will say it. That is, understated compared to many of the albums that make their way to the radio today. I’ll amend that and say that the production here is true and appropriate. It isn’t hard to imagine that Mark Allan Atwood and Brimstone sound just like they do live as they do on this album. I’m sure they have much more energy and ferocity on stage. I just get that feeling from these songs, and from Atwood. I’m certain they’re a force to be dealt with live.
It is a testament to Atwood’s leadership and songwriting that the band of accomplished musicians that make up Brimstone would willingly lay back and let his songs remain the focus. Even several appearances by the legendary Lloyd Maines don’t detract from the songs, and at no time does anyone take an excessive solo or play something that isn’t completely tasteful. The tandem of Matt Nunn and Rich Tulp are in the pocket so deep that they could probably count Mark’s change, and are an Americana version of Tommy Shannon and Chris Layton. In a nod to their band name Brimstone, I’ll proclaim them to be the “Devil’s Deuce.” Mitch Connell is so subtle and doesn’t seem to be there until he stops playing. His B3 and piano work should be poured over by aspiring players to learn what and when to play, and why to play it.
“Oakalla Road” and “Good Old Days” are the stand out songs to me. The clever uses of harmony vocals on “Good Old Days” fit seamlessly and seem to be a nod to not only the sixties, but also to punk rock. This is where the reference to Mike Ness comes in. Wayne O’Neil has a nice knack for playing his “cheap telecasters and Les Pauls” with panache and makes the signature lick stand out even though it is simple. “Good Old Days” has a chorus better than most anything available on the radio right now, and pun intended, “better than what we got.” My only complaint is the song doesn’t have another chorus or two.
“Oakalla Road” is another song that stands up well against anything you can find on Texas country radio. I can Imagine Atwood lightly singing these lyrics to himself as he writes them while driving down a farm to market road after a show.
- With “Anyone listening” Mark Allan Atwood’s 80’s metal pedigree shows through in the production, instrumentation and in the delivery. This song would easily translate to the late 80’s with the likes of Tesla or Cinderella. This is actually a breath of fresh air considering the cookie cutter production that is so prevalent today.
- By the time “And Whiskey” rolls around, Atwood again refers to the green stuff. He doesn’t overdo or glamorize the substance like many in the music industry are known to do however.
- “From the Water” is a solid confessional about what makes Atwood, Atwood. Many of Texas’ residents will be able relate to this autobiographical tune.
“Liar” takes a drastic left turn and sounds a bit out of place amongst the other Americana songs. The album did need some more upbeat or blues infused songs, so the choice is excusable.
The album art is exceptional. Sepia tone and the old west are all old hat in North Texas, and nearly every red-dirt or Texas country artist it seems uses them. It grasps what countless others have tried to accomplish. The crossroads pictured are easily recognizable and universal, but the burning being and decrepit home on the corner represent what those images and archetypes mean to Atwood. The “outlaw” look is also overdone and has been beaten to death, but the design by Melissa Arnold of Texas Red photography deftly avoids the common missteps taken by other bands with their look. Mark Allan Atwood and Brimstone look dangerous to be sure, but look like men who would rather take care of business than worry about looking the part. No false bravado or empty stares, just men that will make you wish you would’ve chosen your words differently. Atwood doesn’t have to worry about his word choices however, they fit exactly what he wants to say and who he is.
Mark Allan Atwood clearly has years under his belt, along with the proverbial notches on it. These songs seem to be written from the correct place and are carried in a way that is fitting for his voice and style. He isn’t trying to take one last crack at fame and isn’t pandering to one demographic. I don’t get the impression that he is trying to get radio play, or the album would flow much differently and would have a lot more twang and a typical telecaster sound. That’s not implying the songs are not well written, or well produced; they are both. They are genuine and at times stark. Atwood throws away any concern for cliché or reinventing the wheel. He says what he has to say, tells his stories and then he moves on. There is no pretense and no attempt to be clever, just his vision of what is, and what was. His voice never waivers on this album, and he expertly walks the line between expressing his songs, and pushing it too far. “Burned at the Crossroads” is a fine balancing act delivered by a genuine songwriter with nothing to prove to anyone.
Richard Paul Davis