was hooked on the sound of Ghost Tonight,
the lead-off track of Mark
new album Night Songsright
off. There was something about the choogling rhythm and the
smooth vocals, especially the harmonies , which caught my ear.
There was a strange mix of the sixties (say, B.J.
without the trademark Thomas vocals) and today which I find
intriguing. Maybe it's the density or the AM radio sensibility,
but whatever it is, I expected to be humming it in grocery
lines or out on walks. But that Bates guy threw me a curve.
Rather than the harmony-driven Ghost
I find myself playing Lucinda
my head at the oddest times, the first line of the chorus, “I
remember Lucinda...”, playing over and over and I have no
idea why. There isn't anything special about it, I don't think,
and yet it is like an invasive species taking over my brain. I
shouldn't like it that much, but evidently I do. It's like
falling in love and not noticing it until she's gone. I'm
finding that the more I listen, the more I love, but not until
it's over. Does that make sense?
Maybe the best albums are not supposed to make sense sometimes.
I mean, I'm always telling people that if you really love a
song, you should remember it, know who wrote it, and yet if you
asked me right now to name the songs on this album, I couldn't.
I might get three, but I don't think much more than that. I
will get there, though. I have listened to Night Songs
first thing every morning for the past couple of weeks
and it is slowly sinking in. When I first heard some of the
songs, they made a bit of an impression--- enough to make me
listen more. Now, they (and I mean each and every one) are
working their ways into my DNA.
As I said, Ghost Tonight was an automatic for me. I love
melody and harmony and there is plenty here. If you want to
rock a little, Simple Love does that, with maybe a wisp
of Tom Petty and a tad of Elvis Costello. Smile,
with its intro piano almost out of the Stephen Foster songbook
and outstanding offsetting chorus, is as good an example of
Bates' emotion as is on the album unless you count No One
There, a slow and introspective bundle of loneliness and an
odd despair which is not really despair but something else just
short of it. Bates shows attitude on The Fool That I Am,
a mellow rocker not unlike those Greg Laswell had on his
outstanding Through Toledo album.
Truth is, each song lives within itself here. The songs are
solid and, for once, the sequence seems quite secondary. I
can't believe I'm even saying that, but it is true. For once,
the King of Sequence admits that songs can live alone, inside
its own bubble. And Bates peppers Night Songs with
so many which bring other songs to mind that it might be a bad
thing except that he does it so damn well that you don't mind
the familiar. In fact, you begin to embrace the it because it
is so comfortable and it isn't until after a few listens that
you even notice that you don't hear the familiar anymore. Just
Bates. And he is enough.
I found during my searches on the Net that Bates gained a lot
of media attention in the past for his songwriting prowess.
After hearing this, I believe it well-deserved. The guy is a
monster songwriter. And he can sing.
aside: That pedal steel on some of these songs? Straight out of
You know! The
Well, you should know. McJunkins gets a sound out of the pedal
steel that few do. Except the guy who plays on Night
I have got to find out who he is. Like McJunkins, he is a
musician to follow.