Mark Cameron Latest Album is On A Roll

For a man who has been performing for over forty years, I am ashamed to say that this is the first time I have come across Mark Cameron. Granted, his early output throughout the 70s and 80s was with a band called Citizen’s Patrol and occupied the folk rock vein and so I may have missed those. However, this Minnesota born guitar vocalist turned to our beloved genre in 2008 with his debut Life Of Illusion and five others prior to this latest one called On A Roll. (I am even more disappointed in myself as I love everything ‘Twin Cities’ (Minneapolis and St Paul) and relish every new John Sandford novel about Lucas Davenport and the loveable rogue Virgil Flowers as they solve multitudinous crimes with brilliant humour, as well as its flourishing blues scene).

His earlier blues output, now that I have researched, it is well worth seeking out too as songs such as Boxcar Blues and Playing Rough show a thorough understanding of blues…however it is On A Roll that we are here to address.

It all starts with the harp led blues of Trouble Brewin’ and the first thing you will note is the modern and yet authentic sound the band put out. The Strat sounding guitar behind the vocals is neat and the duet with the harp is short and sweet. On Your Way To The Top opens with tasty snare work and than a funk blues guitar pattern and a vocal pitched just right. The harp solo is fiery and fitting but the star is the guitar solo, which is allowed to roam the neck, and carefully picked notes are harmonised with double tracking and it all works a treat. The wonderfully named Dirty Biscuit is next and is not about a smutty Kit-Kat! It is a song about a wild woman and behind the un-smutty lyrics is a light blues chord pattern and Mark develops the melody brilliantly for the solo; the harp solo is damn good too. “She’s down on the floor, don’t go messin’ with a dirty biscuit; leave it where you found it” doesn’t explain it to me but I have already conjured my own theories! Ridin’ The Rails comes across very Canned Heat…but that is a good thing and the addition of flute, with guitar and harp together evoking Purple’s Lazy makes this a fascinating listen: it’s as if Purple and Heat jammed on a hybrid of their individual blues (Deep Heat perhaps?). It is dedicated to departed friend and bassist Serrin Andreas that puts a patina of sadness on a very good song. Title track, On A Roll is a slice of simple and yet multi-layered blues with bass and drums doing the work while Mark illuminates with the occasional run and chord. When we get to the solo however, the laid back roll suddenly gains a little extra bite. Next song, Dicey, is a studio version of a song from Mark’s live album. It is an irresistible jump blues with a spoken lyric that doesn’t jar. After a great bass line the band are joined by what sounds like a horn section and Mark talks and echoes the sung chorus. This is one of those songs that make you tap along regardless of the tendency to dismiss it as lightweight but there is plenty of tasty work behind the monologue that bears listening to. Next Stop Is The Blues is a modern, sort of Robert Cray kind of blues that I (shock, horror!) find too anodyne. However, Mark manages to put sufficient runs behind the vocals a solo that rescues it from the skip button. He more than makes up for it with the pure Delta blues of Where I Got You From: the slide is shiver inducing and uses a recording method that sounds old but crystal clear until midway through the band join in…needless to say the solo is too short but it is superb for as long as it lasts. Movin’ Out is a clever homage to the Rosco Gordon penned Just a Little Bit but with added guitar and harp. Back Seat Boogie conjures up a certain type of athleticism but that is probably just me. It is a swinging slice of blues with understated horns allowing room for some straightforward guitar patterns that get the odd lift with shimmering tremolo work and the sax/guitar duet is genius. Here We Go has a great and slightly discord twin tracked guitar intro before it moves into a swing come jump blues that is lifted above the standard by the harp solo and that guitar riff. What Lucy Says is a great slice of blues with the guitar speaking as much, if not more than the vocals, despite the laid back chords in the background…the solo in particular is varied, exploratory and makes this one the best here. Mojo Shuffle is errr, a shuffle that seems set on teaching us what the blues means, as Mark insists that “if it ain’t too fast, it ain’t too slow, you got mojo.” Another standard blues distinguished this time by the great bass line that has flourishes and fits and lifts the basic backline. The guitar/harp duet works really well and the sax adds depth while remaining subtle. The final track, Dreams, ends the album with a ballad-like composition full of inventive interplay between the harp, sax and guitar and develops into a gospel(ish) blues song of quality and, surprisingly for such a ‘downbeat’ song fits well as a sign-off.

In summary, this is a thoroughly enjoyable and varied romp through blues and Rhythm and Blues. It may not break any new ground but it has the benefit of a skilful band translating good compositions into an album that will be welcome whenever it appears on the iPod. Give it a try.

EIGHTpawprint half inchdoodle paws out of TEN …

Track listing:

  1. Trouble Brewin’
  2. On Your Way To The Top
  3. Dirty Biscuit
  4. Ridin’ The Rails
  5. On A Roll
  6. Dicey
  7. Next Stop Is The Blues
  8. Where I Got You From
  9. Movin’ Out
  10. Back Seat Boogie
  11. Here We Go
  12. What Lucy Says
  13. Mojo Shuffle
  14. Dreams


Musicians:

Mark Cameron: guitar, vocals

Scott Lundberg: bass

Dan Schroeder: drums

Rick Miller: harmonica

Sheri Cameron: sax, flute and percussion

(Plus other ‘guests’ we have not been able to identify)

Recorded at The Bathtub Shrine Recording Studio in Minneapolis, and at The Closet Studios in Owatonna, Minnesota

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