Mark Allan Atwood and Brimstone “Burned at the Crossroads” review.

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.

Production

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.

The Players

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.

High points

“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.

Low Points

“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.

Album art

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.

Wrap up

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.

http://www.markallanatwood.com/

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Burned at the Crossroads

Album art By Texas Red Productions.

Richard Paul Davis

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We are the Yankees

Required listening

We want our heroes like the Yankees. We want them like the Bambino, Joltin’ Joe and Mickey Mantle-even Thurman Munson. Any one that has ever heard “Mrs. Robinson” by Paul Simon has had the feeling-the sensation of something surreal that they cannot quite touch. I never met or saw Joltin’ Joe play, but I have felt the feeling. I felt it reading a giant tome of a book on the World Series as a child. I feel it hearing Costas talk about any Yankee, even Tim Raines. Perhaps especially Tim Raines. I say these things not as a Yankee fan, or someone from the Northeast. I say them as a Cardinal fan. Someone who is keenly aware of my own teams’ place in history. A place that is behind the Yankees. Far behind the Yankees.

We need our heroes to be as black and white as those famous pinstriped uniforms, with the shades of grey developing in between the pin stripes through playing… fighting. Sweating. Willing and bleeding. We need the stark contrast of black lines against a bright heavenly white. It is like the game itself-a crisp, brilliant and innocent white ball against the pits of dirt waiting to be dug. The blades of grass waiting to be torn apart then watered, grown and done again. The oddly shaped white plate within the brown of the batter’s box, surrounded by even more white powdered lines. We need to see that black and white image of Thurman Munson, his jaw clenched in a defiant bust of determination, with no hint of bravado; only of what is to be done. The imperfection of Mantle, the lives of Maris, Gehrig, Munson and Ruth that were cut short. The trials, triumphs and tragedies of Strawberry, Martin and Steve Howe. The possibility of what could have been, and the reality of what was.

Maybe we need to see them in that black and white image before they are elevated to demigod status. That stark image that is part shaded grey, and terrifyingly dull white before they are worshiped. Before they are legend. We need them to exceed and then fail and then in reverse. To battle, and to cry. To bleed and seethe at every missed opportunity, at every perceived injustice. To be just as stern and strong when they are wrong as when they are right. We need them to fight for us, and with us. The Yankees are us. They are you and I, they are America. We need a Bucky Dent for every Babe. We need Brosius and Boone and Leiter for every Posada Berra and Jeter. You see, every plaque that graces Monument Park is as equal as every memory talked about over chess games and dinner tables. Every bust in Cooperstown is no more important than every clipped newspaper or crumpled baseball card wrapper. Bucky Dent is you. Every David Wells is someone you have worked with, or knew. Every role player is like you, and me and everyone we have looked up to that has changed the world is Lou Gehrig. They are our teammates, and we are theirs.

All remember the heroes, but it is the role players that are remembered by the legends. Without those that play alongside the greats, the greats would be a lone star in a blank sky. Though they make history just as we make our cups of coffee, we all sit at the same tables and tell the same stories, and we all play on this team… the Yankees. America has been the bright morning star, that storied house on the hill. America is the Yankees, and we are all playing for them.

I imagine if there is a heaven, then there surely is a beautiful day with green grass waiting, and when we all arrive, Bob Sheppard will announce our arrival. The breeze will blow, and Mr. Layton will go into his organ rendition of take me out to the ballgame. Then the black stripes will stand out further, be more stark, and the role players will once again stand among the legends, and God will welcome all of us Yankees.

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