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Mark Robinson - Have Axe – Will Groove

Blind Chihuahua Records

11 tracks/43:05

For his second solo project, guitarist Mark Robinson looks to build on the success of his first recording, Quit Your Job – Play Guitar, released in 2010. That disc took a walk through the American roots music landscape, showcasing Robinson's talents as a singer, songwriter, and guitarist. Featuring a batch of originals and three covers, his new release finds a more confident Robinson reaching for a wider audience.

He seems to be most comfortable on the slower-paced tracks. The cover of the Doc Pomus classic, “Lonely Avenue” builds a dark mood with Robinson effectively switching between rock and jazz modes during his solo. “Blue Moon Howl” is a primal dirge that makes you feel like the Devil is right around the corner. Robinson utilizes a specially-tuned electric resonator guitar to create the eerie guitar tones. Another highlight is “Lifetime Prescription” with Robinson's sorrowful voice rattling off the trial and tribulations of his life, punctuated by his clean, fluid guitar lines. Even better is the soulful ballad “Angel of Mercy”, written by Slats Klug. Robinson sings with a laid-back, yearning intensity over an organ-drenched arrangement.

The other tracks range from the over-driven boogie riffs on the opening cut, “Drive Real Fast” to a nice tribute to Johnny Otis, “Cool Rockin' Daddy”, sparked by some hard blowing by Ben Graves on alto sax. The backing band includes a rhythm section comprised of Daniel Seymour on bass and Paul Griffith on drums, with Justin Amaral taking over on one cut. Randy Handley plays piano on four tunes while Michael Webb appears on five tracks on Hammond organ.

Robinson shares his passion for Elvis on “Baby's Gone to Memphis”, a cover of a dark, rockabilly-tinged tune about losing your woman to the ghost of the king of rock-n-roll. “Rhythm Doctor” ventures into Little Feat territory complete with a second-line beat plus fine backing vocals from Vicki Carrico and Jonell Mosser. Robinson's staccato guitar licks impress on “What's the Matter Baby” as he attempts to figure out what it will take to keep his woman happy. His musings are answered by Roguie Ray LaMontagne on harmonica.

The hard-driving “Broke Down” is one of several songs that would have benefited from stronger lyrical content. The upper register harp licks from T.J. Clay offer a fitting contrast to the jagged slide licks Robinson pulls out of his instrument. The hurtful edge in his vocal on “Pull My Coat” captures the anguish in the lyrics while his guitar drives the point home.

There are enough strong performances on this one to merit a listen. Mark Robinson once again clearly articulates his musical vision. For the most part his original material holds up to repeated listens, primarily due to his dynamic singing and his restraint from overplaying on guitar. Offering a variety of styles to hold your interest, this one is worth checking out.

Reviewer Mark Thompson retired after twelve years as president of the Crossroads Blues Society in Rockford. IL. and moved to Florida. He has been listening to music of all kinds for over fifty years. Favorite musicians include Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Magic Slim, Magic Sam, Charles Mingus and Count Basie.

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