REVIEW: Paul Mark and the Van Dorens “Gravity” LP

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Paul Mark’s 11 th album Gravity is the latest release in a quarter century plus long musical journey The Connecticut native is now based out of New York City and produced this new album himself as well as penning eleven of its twelve compositions. He uses his familiar backing band, the Van Dorens, but Mark stands out for his versatility with multiple instruments. Mark plays piano, xylophone, bass, organ, guitar, drums, and accordion on this collection of songs as well as handling the vocal chores. The Van Dorens, however, make significant contributions across the board and the musical collective retains a consistent sound from one release to another despite the revolving door nature of the configuration.

ABOUT PAUL MARK: https://music.paulmark.com/

The album begins with its title song. “Gravity is Failing” is a freewheeling and cockeyed romp powered by piano and a careening arrangement. The woozy crackpot surrealism of the lyrics is perfect for our whacked-out age and Mark delivers the words with idiosyncratic dramatic skill that may remind some of Tom Waits but, ultimately, boasts a level of individuality all its own. The tempo transitions between the verses and chorus are handled with expert skill. Excellent backing vocals and tasteful strings further flesh out the performance.

The disillusioned but nevertheless affectionate lyrics written for “Forever” balances the specific and general well. It’s another track fueled, for the most part, but Mark’s eloquent piano playing and once again recalls prime Tom Waits, albeit with a less affected singer helming the track. Mark never leans on theatrical histrionics with the same weight Waits applies in his lesser moments. The string arrangement underpinning the performance is never obtrusive and gives the track added gravitas.

Bruised and bluesy “The Next Fight” makes great use of its boxing imagery and, though its clearly grounded in the fisticuff world, Mark writes it in such a way it can contain wider implications. Mark’s guitar playing fills an important role in track by adding hardboiled color without ever seeming ostentatious or overwrought. The bluesy bluster continues on the track “Con Man VIP”, a biting indictment of the current United States President, and you can’t help but revel in Mark’s inspired wordplay and alliteration. Mark is a more than serviceable guitarist; he brings the full gamut of his skills to bear during this performance with its biting lead lines and stinging vibrato.

AMAZON: https://www.amazon.com/Gravity-Paul-Mark-Van-Dorens/dp/B086V4TDVN

“OTB” is brief but gorgeous. It’s a character study in miniature of a man who has boiled his life down to the barest of personal essentials — in this case, betting on horse races. Despite the lyric insisting he isn’t lonely, this track exudes loneliness and a sense of finality as it comes across Mark’s character is simply marking time until his run comes to an end. His outstanding cover of The Yardbirds classic “Heart Full of Soul” features some of the best guitar work on this release. Mark does an exemplary job capturing the original spirit of the song without overstatement or embracing imitation. It’s faithful without being reverential. The finale “December at the P.O.” has deft literary touches on its lyric that are functional rather than ornamental and strikes a note of leave-taking that makes this an ideal closer. Gravity shows Mark’s creativity in full flight, undimmed after multiple decades working as a professional musician. It’s one of 2020’s best albums in any genre.

Colin Jordan

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Graduate: McNeese State University, Avid Beekeeper, Deep Sea Diver & Fisherman, Horrible Golfer

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