Press & Reviews

My friends and I put a lot ourselves into the music we write and play, and I’m grateful to all the folks who put the time in to listen and review my music as well as the music and art of all the other great acts out there. We like to think we’re contributing in our own way to Americana, and the reviews and write-ups like the ones below are definitely part of that, too.

If you’d like to request a CD or other material for review purposes, please reach out to me at mark@unclebuckle.com.

Skin & Bone Review

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The following review of Skin & Bones is from Pure M Magazine “Ireland’s Music, Art and Culture Magazine”

Americana artist Mark Brown’s affinity with song-writing was originally inspired by an introduction to the work of Johnny Cash when he was just six years old. It was then that the seeds were sewn of a career that now spans more than a quarter of a century. The Maryland native recently returned to the studio to record Skin and Bone; his first full length outing since 2005.

The album features a fast and fervent beginning in the form of the upbeat melody and intriguing instrumental elements of “See You Next Time”. There’s an odd electronic edge to the music of “Trouble” afterwards as it resounds behind a delicate duet. The outcome is an unusual but not altogether objectionable fusion of classic country and contemporary electro-pop.

“Smashed” is an extremely energetic anthem that dances delightedly through vibrant vocals and a bustling beat. “Cried in Your Bed” succeeds it as a slow and stirring serenade that floats upon lightly delivered lamenting lyrics. “Creosote” creeps out of its predecessor’s wake into a solemn harmony that echoes out urgently. The instrumentation stays sedate, resulting in a song that’s slow and psychedelic.

The quick and catchy “Hatchet Man” captivates with its enthusiastic guitars, while its vigorous vocals excite before “Hurt” brings about a much more mournful mood. The warm refrain and affecting instrumentation of “When the Time Comes” take over next and trot tranquilly together to forge a relaxing yet weighty rhythm. “Pony” strips down when it’s done, being attired with nothing but a simple acoustic riff and a tormented, heartfelt harmony.

The vivid vocals of “Icy Bob” give birth to an incredibly cutting endeavour that’s quite chilling. “Sleep Little Angel” follows to sooth the senses with its gentle melody and soft symphonic sound ahead of “When Your Sister Comes”. This restrained but characterful creation paves the way to the distorted introduction of “Spaceship”, which prefaces a hushed harmony that drifts delicately towards a touching terminus entitled “Granny”.

Mark Brown has crafted an accessible assemblage of Americana anthems that rest relatively easy on the ears.

PureMZine

Skin & Bone Review

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A Country Diamond in the Rough

I guess that Mark Brown is one of those guys that you and I have seen countless times over the years in bars and clubs, and wondered why they weren’t a huge star. A singer-songwriter who has worked countless manual jobs and been on the road performing his own work for nigh on 25 years; Mark Brown appears to have only recorded one album prior to this; but that may not be true as apart from his website (and that’s sketchy) there is next to no info about him on the internet; which I found quite refreshing.

Skin & Bone opens with the delightfully quirky Country song See You Next Time. Timeless and classy; Brown uses a subtle melody to support his warm and slightly raspy voice; while Mike Meranda uses his banjo as a lead guitar. The cutesy chorus annoyed me at first but I found myself repeating it in normal conversation a couple of days later.

While he has a voice like a young and sexy Willie Nelson; there’s more than a hint of mid-period Cash to songs like Smashed and Hatchet Man among others; with Smashed being the best song Johnny Cash never sung. Seriously; if you hear that song on the radio you will swear it is a lost Cash song.

There’s even a song called Hurt included; which isn’t the one Cash reinvented; but just as well-crafted and hits a similar point square on the crown. It’s possibly/probably my favourite song here; and that’s quite an accolade.

Mark Brown is no simple copiest; the Cash ‘thing’ is probably because he has immersed himself in the Man in Black’s works over the years. This album is pure 100% Mark Brown, as the simply beautiful Sleep Little Angel prove. There’s nothing new in the theme of a father watching his child sleep; but the way Brown constructs everything and delivers it with a smile in his voice is excellence personified.

Another cracker is Cried in Your Bed, which must have been written on a stopover in Bakersfield, as it has that ‘feel’ about it from start to finish and the story will bring tears to a glass eye.

There’s even a Handsome Family inspired piece of American Gothic slid in halfway through; with some of the spookiest pedal-steel you will ever hear on Icy Bob. I’m pleased I’ve been listening to it on sunny days – not sure I’d want to hear it while a Winter storm raged outside.

Still using the Classic Country singer-songwriter template Brown closes the album with Granny; a love song dedicated to the memory of the woman who raised him.

I’m not keen on the twee Pony; but that’s a small price to pay when you have songs the quality of the rest on Skin & Bone. Who knows; if there’s any justice in the world Skin & Bone could make Mark Brown an over-night success after 25 hard worn years.

The Rocking Magpie

Review of Skin & Bone

Mark Brown’s long-awaited new CD, Skin and Bone, is finally here. And skin and bone it is, as it rips off the veneer of happy faces and genteel manners—forget easy living—and reveals the pain, longing, and despair you feel sometimes, be it for a lifeless tractor, a gal who just ain’t gonna be there, or just because the moon makes a face at you. Herein lies an artistic dilemma: if you only sing about happy things, you run out of material real quick.

Track 1, “See You Next Time,” launches straight into a catalog of equipment failure—a broken down spreader, pants that don’t fit so well, knuckles and dirt—and makes repeated references to a posthole digger, that essential tool of rural farm life. And it’s all moved along by some haunted Dust Bowl banjo pickin’ from Mike Merenda.

We segue directly into “Trouble,”—“and my old friend despair is usually there”—a jaunty, romantic tune, almost carefree, but for the dysfunctional relationship of the couple it depicts, as they cause each other a mountain of trouble, colliding with financial ruin, “but neither of us could afford a bus, or a ticket to be with you.” All of it served up in Mark’s scratchy baritone reminiscent of Mr. Cash.

The third track features a rollicking, cowboy polka about a guy who “don’t want to get smashed,” though he manages to in general. Check cashed, our blue-collar hero gets liquor and takes a nip or two in the parking lot. Kind of makes you want to join him. Somehow, Mark makes drinking and a picnic at the gravel pit hygienic and desirable. And don’t miss the classic modulation near the end of it.

“Cried in Your Bed,” sounds like a rediscovered Hank Williams gem, and floats along on the subtle, smart, floral pedal steel work of Guy “Fooch” Fischetti; he’s right up there with Ms. Cashdollar. Yup, real men do cry in bed, over girls, over boys, children, ponies, and the sheer, one-way cliff of good old existentialism.

“Creosote,” track 5, offers a more desolate work place opportunity than “See You Next Time.” An industrial site somewhere south of purgatory, you paint fence with poison, trying not to get it on your skin. But you do, and it burns like many of the songs do on this CD. They get under your skin, into your bones, and yes, they burn, they do their job.

Two guys you want to steer clear of are “Hatchet Man,” who has a secret trapped inside and won’t reveal it (know anyone like him?) and “Icy Bob,” who’d sooner slit your throat—tracks 6 and 10. Each is a violent super hero in his own right, Bob the more menacing of the two; both are irresistible. The descending guitar line on “Hatchet Man” is delivered by Ken McGloin, the celebrated, consummate side and front man. “Icy Bob” slides in with something of a horror detective theme that grows to fruition with a stunningly eerie saw solo by Wayne Monteclavo, innovative artist, band leader, and raconteur.

Both “Hurt,” and “When Your Sister Comes,” tracks 7 and 12, express smoldering sensual longing, the adoration of the female form and the not-so-subtle communication that sometimes goes with it. Mark’s lyrics are straightforward constructions, but often achieve poetic stature with lines like (from “Hurt”) “Those tangerines underneath your shirt / that makes me hurt.” And “I wouldn’t wash a glass if it touched your mouth / that makes me hurt.” “When Your Sister Comes” could be an aria for a more refined Stanley Kowalski, and is an edgy ballad of almost uncontrollable desire, not so foreign to our species.

The anthem-like “When the Time Comes” reminds you of the younger Van Morrison, embellished with a soulful, bluesy guitar statement by Ken McGloin. Another poignant misconnection, relationships our dealt out and picked up like cards on a table—love, the ultimate game of chance. “When the Time Comes” is brave, but fateful: “I know you won’t stand in line with me.” Sometimes it’s just too much to ask for.

The next gal who gets away is the one who loves the “Pony,” track 9. No accounting for what passes for attraction in the dating pool these days. The guy is beaten out by a skinny, boney, blue-eyed pony.

Lilting, island easy, and all so lovely, “Sleep Little Angel,” is something only a daddy could have penned: “Just call my name / I’ll dream of you.” It brings to mind John Lennon’s “Beautiful Boy.” Guy “Fooch” Fischetti raises the ante with a delicate celestial scarf he ties around the song with his pedal steel, from which flower petals fall. A gift, a turning from darker themes, is what Mark bestows on that one.

If you think of it, a “Spaceship,” track lucky 13, and a trombone have a lot in common, the trombone being the perfect instrument for interstellar travel. It is perhaps the roundness of the sound, the ever-so-mellow tone Dean Jones draws from it, perhaps an unintentional tribute to Jack Teagarden. Dean Jones is the Grammy-winning producer who has masterfully brought this record to life, into the public domain where it belongs. He’s added sparse brush strokes and flourishes along the way, which can be described as accurate, utilitarian, just what the doctor ordered, but truly, there are flashes of brilliance.

Finally, the poet / songwriter laments about his “Granny,” track 14, “she’d write me here / if she could hold a pen / but she lies down beneath the ground in the dress she’s buried in.” A tribute to a strong woman who must have been a bearing wall in his life. She seems to call to him from the other side: a man who struggles. Even “the codfish know I don’t have the luck I had,” but he takes strength from his “Granny” from a call box out west. So strong a bond with this woman whose image he carries with him, a wrenching memorial of enduring love, and perhaps the only right words to finish this record, “I’m still led by the ghost of her / and I wear her like my clothes.” That…feels.

So, here they are, fourteen of them, mined hard from unforgiving ground, plucked from a swirling night sky, drawn up from a deep personal well. In the end it’s about the voice. A roughed-up cabin floor of a voice. A voice of hardship, full of ruts and shakes, kicking up emotion in every line of every cut. Do we know the people in these songs, these tales? Maybe you don’t want to, but they move around in our souls and leave scars. Mark Brown knows them and made their portraits, stark, and black and white.

Go on and listen. Then... Drop your heart into a blender, a splash of Jack Daniels, …then drink up.

Mark Morganstern

Review of Skin & Bone

MarkBrown is a new name to me and Skin & Bone is his second self-released album due out in September. Fourteen tracks all written by the singer-songwriter who pours a lot of feeling into his songs, the album was excellently produced by Grammy Award-winning Dean Jones with just a handful of guest musicians. The result is a very intimate album that makes you feel Brown is just telling you his personal stories. The backing is beautifully balanced and sensitive leaving the vocals crystal clear on every track. I can never understand why producers don't give priority to clear vocals on folk and country atoums. To be fair it is usualy more folk than country that falls into this trap.

Mark Brown is a fine songwriter inviting comparisons to John Prine and several other greats. I would love to see him live so perhaps this latest album will help pave the way for a visit to these shores.

The Irish Post

Skin & Bone Review

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The following Skin and Bone review is translated from Dutch for the Belgium site http://www.keysandchords.com/

Mark Brown grew up in Maryland, where he was 6 years his first album of Johnny Cash was present. In 1975, a fellow blacksmith took him to a concert by Tom Waits and this was immediately initiated for Mark to make his first steps in music. Meanwhile, Mark, say 15 years musically active and worked in agriculture, as a mechanic, fisherman and carpenter in the Northeast of America. Both Cash and Waits have left a huge impression on Mark and this is evident in the 14 own ballads and country songs on this disc. Songs that were made both lyrically and musically artisan, and which should therefore be taken seriously. Seriously though, does not mean that there is no humor is present. Often humor which is hidden somewhere in a corner of the song cunning. The dark side of Waits and the relative calm of the older Cash Making Skin & Bone a mysterious no ordinary album. The toolbox contains guitar, bass and drums, occasionally trombone, ukulele, fiddle, banjo and pedal steel, which is the special character of Brown's compositions reinforced.

In the delightful 'Smashed' seems Browns voice intonation and even a bit like the 'man in black', while 'Cried In Your Bed' emotional Waits exposes him.

It's a mystery why Brown is not better known. Probably has something to do with it is not always present commercial character in his music, but the status of cult artist is definitely him like a glove. 'Skin And Bone' is certainly not a 'skin and bones' but a somewhat mysterious but expertly crafted album.

Who a 'Cash meets Waits' visible, will be with 'Skin And Bone' by Mark Brown, on a drizzly evening with a glass of wine, soon discover the sun behind the clouds.

Keys & Chords

Mark Brown, 'Skin & Bone' (Self-Released)

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Mark Brown may not be a household name just yet, but this Maryland native's rare ability to distill the essence of the human condition via a few well chosen words has already prompted comparisons with the likes of Tom Waits, Jonathan Richman and seventies acoustic icon John Prine of 'Sam Stone' and 'Hello in There' fame. Mark's songs are peopled with colourful characters doing their level best to cope with the less appealing aspects of the fabled American dream, and newcomers to his beguiling approach to music-making would be well advised to lend an ear to fine tracks such as 'See You Next Time,' 'When The Time Comes'  or the touching closer, 'Granny.'

Gloucestershire Echo in the UK

MARK BROWN SKIN & BONE

by Matthew Boulte

Mark Brown is a Maryland native whose life reads like a Guy Clark story song; he’s worked on fishing rigs in the Pacific and been a carpenter for a time in the north east United States, amongst many other things. His life experience shines through in this mature and insightful record that is equally matched in its sonic landscape. Produced by Grammy Award winning Dean Jones, the album readily wears its old school country outlaw sensibilities, akin to Johnny Cash, but also pushes arrangements into newer and arguably more exciting territory. Songs like ‘Trouble’ exemplify this approach and provide catchy hooks while Brown sings about the good and bad things in life, all with an underlying sense of mischievousness. “Trouble comes cheap” he sings.

Americana UK

Skin & Bone Review

Four star review from R2 Magazine - Simon Hughes

An intriguing character, Mark Brown has certainly been around. Since growing up in Maryland he’s spent time farming, working as a mechanic, commercial fishing in the northern Pacific and working as a carpenter in the north-eastern United States. ‘See you Next Time’ opens an album of fourteen eclectic, rough and humorous songs that sound like they’ve been hauled out of a wooden cabin, given a stiff drink and let loose on a wary community. ‘Smashed’ tells the tale of a man fighting, unsuccessfully, to avoid getting drunk again.

Typically with Brown, he has a lot of fun along the way. ‘When the Time Comes’ is a bellyful of soul, with gorgeous Hammond organ accompaniment. The humorous ballad ‘Pony’ tells a tale of unrequited love, where our hero loses out to a milky eyed, skinny pony. (‘I love a girl, but she loves a pony/ I want this girl, but she loves him only’.)

Skin & Bone is produced by Grammy Award-winning Dean Jones and features Ken McGloin on Guitar, John Parker on bass, Dean Sharp on Drums, Guy ‘Fooch’ Fichetti on pedal steel and Jones on everything else, with a few guest appearances thrown in for good measure. It’s pitched somewhere between Johnny Cash, Nick Cave and Tom Waits, with a refreshing dose of raw honesty and sly humor. Pour a drink, pull up a chair and treat yourself.

R2 Magazine

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