Album Review: Mark T. Small’s ‘Smokin’ Blues’


Growing up in a home with a mother who played piano had its benefits. For one thing, she was very good. I will always have fond memories of her, me five years old sitting next to the piano as she played. It was pretty cool, and whenever she played I would always ask her to play some good ole boogie-woogie. Of course, she would always accommodate me. It was simply her and the piano. That’s all that was needed, which brings me to Mark T. Small.

When listening to Mark T. Small’s new album Smokin’ Blues, it brings me back to those days as a kid with mom. Listening to his newest album I can just imagine some voices in the background saying, “Hey Mark, play ‘Step It Up And Go!’, play ‘Step It Up And Go’!” I have the feeling Mark would be the type of guy who would never say no.

For Mark this is his fourth album as a solo act, but he has been making music for over 40 years. He has aged like a fine wine. His music just gets better and better. So when you listen to his past projects, the question comes up, what’s next? Well one way is to pay homage to some of the greatest blues artist of all time through Smokin’ Blues. Can you imagine having a concert featuring some of the great blues artists, past and present, on the stage performing at once? Not sure if that is what Mark had in mind, maybe, but maybe not.

On the surface, it may just look like he is paying a tribute to many various artist and styles. However, it might be that Mark has developed a whole new genre or fusion of the Blues. No doubt there is the delta and chicago blues sound, but he also adds a twist of flatpicking, some new grass sound, and possibly a bit of “Travis” picking all wrapped in one. This is not an easy task, especially when you are a solo act. But having over 25 years experience as a front man, he has fused together a style of playing that is remarkable. As Mark states, it just seems to happen simply “by paying attention to the crowd,” and being in “the groove.” In fact, according to Mark it might be a “Hooker Groove.”

In the first track, Mark is definitely in “the groove” as one listens to the boogie-woogie sounds of “Step It Up And Go.” I believe John Lee Hooker would tip his hat to this one. But then again, “Pine Top” Smith would probably tip his hat to both artists. It is obvious that John Lee Hooker has had a major influence on Mark as he covers one of Hooker’s songs, “My Daddy Was A Jockey.” Mark also references him on the CD’s liner notes as well.

As Mark plays various tracks throughout the album, he continues to emphasize the delta blues with tunes such as “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed And Burning.” Once again, Mark’s approach to his music is much more complex than just delta or different styles of chicago blues. The other added genres and styles of music is what makes Mark T. Small so special when playing the blues. It truly makes him the “one man band” that he talks about. Generally speaking, his music has something for everyone who loves music in general. There is so much happening throughout this album.

One of my favorites “Moanin’ At Midnight,” offers some good harmonica sounds by Walter Woods. Walter and Mark have a long history going back many years. Referring to another song, Mark “got a little help from his friend.” They really sound good together.

“Early In The Morning” is another one of my favorites having that “Chicago” slant Mark is known for. It fits into the album nicely, as well as the flat picking sound of “Railroad Blues.” I can just see Mark in a boxcar playing his guitar as it is moving across America.

Which brings me to his last track, “America Medley.” Mark’s take on this tune is an interesting one. “America Medley” is a favorite patriotic piece that has a flavor taking one back to Arthur “Blind” Blake. Once again, Mark has seemed to cover all the bases with his complex genre of music and has given credit where credit is due playing that rag time blues sound.

For Mark T. Small, this business seems to agree with him quite well. Stepping out of that “one size fits all music” is probably something not every artist can do, but it seems to be what makes him Mark T. Small, and what makes him so different. As far as this writer is concerned, Mark’s fusion of different genres of music is Mark’s secret to his success and what makes him so unique and real. He truly is an entertainer that has so much to offer and can do so much for his audience. Smokin’ Blues as Mark states is a “sampler of all the styles and techniques.” It is here the listener gets to hear so much from one artist.

This is Mark T. Small and he is Smokin’ Blues.

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