MARK ERIC – A Midsummer’s Day Dream (Now Sounds/Cherry Red) LP

by admin  25th Apr 2024 Comments [0]

It’s good to see Cherry Red branching out with some vinyl releases, and this California summer favorite is a particularly welcome arrival. Barely anybody noticed when Mark Eric’s album A Midsummer’s Day Dream was released in 1969, probably because its bright-eyed pop innocence, wistful melodies and strong ’65-’66 Beach Boys vibes were so out of step with the times. Three years out of date was the equivalent of about ten years in the sixties because music was changing so fast. But this throwback album is a real gem: great, evocative songs, fabulous arrangements by Vic Briggs of the Animals, a crack team of session players (including James Burton and Don Peake on guitars and Jim Gordon on drums), and a widescreen production by Norm Ratner.

Mark Eric Malmborg was 19 years old at the time, and his lyrics were reflections of his free-spirited Southern California surfer lifestyle: surfing by day and partying at night; cruising the Strip with his buddies, and picking up girls. On the album’s opening track, he sings longingly of his “California Home” as he wings towards it on an incoming flight; as he soars into the song’s sublime middle-eight he transports you into that world.

On “Move With the Dawn” he bids farewell to the girl he bedded down with the night before and, like every morning, heads to the beach to catch some waves. While the song is a celebration of his personal freedom, it also questions the callousness of this self-centered lifestyle, and that imbues it was an affecting poignancy: “In search of myself / I’ll use someone else / Whose bed will I sleep in tonight?” Quoted in the liner notes, Eric admitted that the song was all about him: “I didn’t see much of a life for myself. I always thought I’d be drifting. All I had envisioned for myself was being a surfer. I didn’t think anything would happen.” On an album brimming with wonderful songs, “Move With the Dawn” remains my absolute favorite.

Not far behind though is the magnificent “Night of the Lions,” about a night out in the urban jungle with his friends, cruising for girls and getting into fights. “Acne faces of an age / Are lost through a haze / in a street network maze / Laughter turns into tears / We realize our fears / But nobody hears / Night of the lions / Showing our teeth tonight.” This over a chunky, Motown-like dance groove with vehement acoustic guitar strumming and French horn flourishes.

That upbeat Motown meets “Fun, Fun, Fun”/ “Dance Dance Dance” approach also propels standouts like “I’d Like to Talk to You” and “We Live So Fast.” These are balanced out by some yearning Beach Boys-like ballads such as “Take Me With You,” “Sad is the Way That I Feel,” and the heart-stopping “Where Did the Girls of the Summer Go,” each with some lovely orchestral touches.

In some ways, the album feels like a California cousin of another sought-after album from this era, Billy Nicholls’ Would You Believe. But, as much as I love the Nicholls record, for my money Eric’s album is the stronger of the two by a wide margin with more memorable songwriting and superior arrangements and production. It’s a complete, full-realized work from top to bottom.

Unfortunately, Mark Eric’s career as a recording artist was brief; A Midsummer’s Day Dream was the first and last album he ever made. He went on to work as an actor and a model in the ‘70s and ‘80s, including parts on Hawaii 5-0, Room 22 and The Partridge Family, and a couple of movie roles. He died in August 2009 in Huntington Beach, California at the age of 59.

This vinyl reissue looks and sounds fantastic; the original cover art enhanced by a gatefold cover with rare photos and updated liner notes by Steve Stanley. Your life will be immeasurably better with this album in it. (Mike Stax)



Written In Their Soul: The Stax Songwriter Demos

by admin  20th Sep 2023 Comments [0]

By Harvey Kubernik


In its heyday, Stax Records was synonymous with soul music’s biggest stars – from Otis Redding and Carla Thomas to Sam & Dave and the Staple Singers.

Stax Records, now owned by Concord, was founded by Jim Stewart in 1957 in Memphis, Tennessee. It rose from a small, family-operated company to become one of the most influential record labels in the world, helping create “The Memphis Sound” and launching the careers of icons such as Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Booker T & the MG’s, Steve Cropper, the Staple Singers, Sam & Dave, Eddie Floyd, Rufus and Carla Thomas, the Bar-Kays, and dozens of other artists who helped change popular culture forever. In all, Stax placed 167 hit songs in the Top 100 in Pop and 243 hits in the Top 100 in R&B.

But behind their iconic hits was a talented team of songwriters. Craft Recordings celebrates the work of these unsung heroes with a brand-new collection, Written in Their Soul: The Stax Songwriter Demos. The CD and digital, the 7-disc box set includes 146 demos (140 previously unreleased) from Stax’s legendary roster of songwriters, including Bettye Crutcher, Homer Banks, and William Bell. From early sketches of classic ’60s and ’70s hits to never-before-heard songs with full-blown arrangements, Written in Their Soul offers fans a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes of the storied Memphis label.

The terrific collection was restored/mastered by multiple Grammy-winning engineer Michael Graves. It includes a new essay by Emmy and Grammy-winning writer/producer Robert Gordon and Stax’s original Director of Publicity and two-time Emmy winner Deanie Parker, who later served as the founding President and CEO of the Soulsville Foundation, which encompasses the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, among other educational organizations. Ms Parker, who joined the Stax fold in 1962, was also a songwriter at the label.


THE PRETTY THINGS – Bare as Bone, Bright as Blood (Madfish) LP/CD

by admin  17th Dec 2020 Comments [0]

By Mike Stax


IT ENDS LIKE IT BEGAN. Two men digging into the blues, finding something new to lift them out of the mundane and into the sublime. When it began, they were art students: Dick and Phil, 20 and 18. A Howlin’ Wolf song on the record player in the common room, a Muddy Waters song in the cloakroom between classes, “Hey, Bo Diddley!” in Dick’s front room in Dartford.

It’s the same two men here on Bare as Bone, Bright as Blood: a guitar player and a singer, now with more than a half-century of hard road behind them, a half-century of life experience, of triumphs and failures, of family and friendship, and music. With “I Can’t Be Satisfied” and “Come Into My Kitchen” they’re back in that cloakroom at Sidcup Art College, digging the blues, finding something new. If you saw the Pretty Things live in the past ten years or so, you’ll know that these two songs were a featured segment of their set with just Dick and Phil playing together acoustically. The room held its breath and it was magical. And so it is here: Dick’s slide playing is magnificent (as it is throughout this album) and Phil is in fine fettle. They draw from that that same deep Delta well to bring us fresh interpretations of Robert Johnson’s “Love in Vain” and Leadbelly’s “Black Girl” (the CD also includes a fine version of Muddy Waters’ “I’m Ready”), as well as a pure bluesy reading of the old gospel song “Ain’t No Grave,” with more superb slide playing from Dick along with some tasteful harp by Sam Brothers; Phil throws in some of his trademark yelps as he improvises over the coda: “Not down… not down!”

But this isn’t just a blues album. As well as digging into their roots, they’re also on a journey of discovery—just as they were in the beginning—finding newer material to dig into and find their own resonance with. “Faultline,” a song by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, feels completely natural in their hands: a stark, simple arrangement with lots of empty space for Phil to place a nuanced vocal into, and a lovely, dirty slide guitar solo by Dick. “Redemption Day,” a Sheryl Crow song also recorded by Johnny Cash, is extraordinary. You can hear the weight of a lifetime in Phil’s world weary, fathoms-deep vocal. The song is laden with an unutterably heavy sadness yet at the same time the arrangement is so understated, moving like ripples across a vast, dark lake with huge rain-heavy clouds reflecting from above. Mark St John’s pure, uncluttered, analogue production is perfect throughout this album but no more so than here.

Gillian Welch’s “The Devil Had a Hold On Me” has an Appalachian folk-blues vibe that works really well with Phil’s voice, as does “Bright as Blood,” a remarkable, dark, stark folk-blues piece written by George Woosey, the Pretties’ long-time bass player. George’s acoustic guitar drives the song, which is enhanced by Sam Brothers’ banjo playing and Jon Wigg’s mournful fiddle.

The ominous, rootsy mood of the album shifts for the two closing numbers, like rain clouds parting to reveal the sun. “To Build A Wall” is a wise, tender song by Will Varley, and Phil embraced its sentiments completely: his voice straining with emotion, he never sounded more vulnerable. His frailty is exposed for all of us to hear, and I have to admit that the first few times I heard this—just after it was completed, while Phil was still alive—it was difficult to get through: the emotions were too real, too intense; I could hear in his voice that he knew he was reaching the end of his road. Listening now, I still hear that vulnerability, but I also hear strength and dignity. Phil asked that on the album cover the song be dedicated to his kids. What a remarkable gift he left them.

The vinyl album closes with “Another World,” a lovely, remorseful, romantic number composed by a young, unknown songwriter called Pete Harlen. Phil sings it beautifully, finding an asset in his fragility. And then it’s over.

No one wanted the Pretty Things to end, but all things must, so let it end as it began: two men digging the blues, finding something new to lift them—to lift all of us—out of the mundane and into the sublime.

One man remains. For Dick Taylor new music and new horizons still lay ahead. The music will endure.


This review also appears in Ugly Things #55, which can be ordered at this link.