Mark Cline Bates King of the Crows MarkClineBates.com
The roads navigated by the independent singer-songwriter are as unique as the individual. Mark Cline Bates’ journey has extended from West Virginia to California and back, a jazz scholarship, the West Virginian Police Academy, Mountain Stage, and one imagines a bunch of gigs and studios lost in the passage of time. Performing in the ubiquitous Americana piano-bass-drums alignment, Mark Cline Bates isn’t another dusty fool-on-a-stool, singing an interpretation of what he believes Steve Earle or Townes might have written. Nope, he is definitely breaking his own trail.
Produced by Don Dixon, King of the Crows presents an open, sparse approach to Americana, a method too seldom encountered. While Michael Lipton contributes some electric guitar, the bulk of the album is Bates’ piano with Jim Brock on drums and percussion (sharpening a knife on “I Don’t Know Why,” perhaps); Dixon contributes bass, trombone, and keyboard along with acoustic guitar. The result is dramatic: Bates’ words and singing are the central core, but the instrumentation goes with him—slashing and aggressive on “Caged Up Bull,” melodically connected within “Mississippi,” and somewhat barrelhouse-y on “Don’t Worry.”
A keen observer, Bates’ songs are strong. Whether communicating in the first person or as a witness, Bates finds his way into these songs, locating the truths that bind. Small town life (“Apathetic Moon”), shooting at the nuisance birds (“Animals”), and honest reflection of the musical poet’s condition (“My Heart Is Good”) are among the many topics explored. “Highway Signs” is damn apt for many, I’m guessing. “Ginger” hits hard, a tale of a proud, aging woman who can’t make ends meet.
There’s some Patterson Hood in Bates’ approach, for reference, but Mark Cline Bates is entirely his own cat. I hadn’t heard of him until last month. I’m guessing you may not have either. Fix that, would ya: he deserves a growing audience—let’s help him out.
Reviewed based on provided CD.